I wonder what having 328,000 people in Calverton over 12 months (probably more like seven without the winter) would look like. Sort of an Englishtown North or something. The number presented by U.S. Motorsports Association was 328,000 people over 84 event days, and if there are two people in every car coming here, it’s about 160,000 cars over about 80 days, or 2,000 cars per event day.
And these are the typical pie-in-the-sky figures any new business presents when they want to sell the town on any kind of new business. I’d be willing to simply let them in under lease of the property, with caveats and riders that put penalties for missed benchmarks for the buildout and tax them on the overall impact of this much traffic in our region.
But it’s not all about the money, as some of the objections from the neighbors and visitors have already started filtering up and which are to be expected, especially the people at the Calverton National Cemetery visiting loved ones in an environment of solitude and peace. I don’t even think diligent shared scheduling will alleviate this, especially with both a dragstrip and a military cemetery sharing Memorial Day, Father’s Day, 4th of July and Labor Day for their common high attendance days.
Englishtown, the Holy Grail of Drag, closed last year, so I understand the desire to create another track for this sport. I’ve participated in a variety of competitive dog sports events over the last 10 years and getting on and off Long Island is a major pain in the neck. And when we hosted those same events ourselves on the Island, the amount of people who preferred not to hassle with traffic and tolls was measurable.
Volvo just stopped building internal combustion engine-only (ICE) cars this year (but they are still producing ICE-electric hybrid power and biodiesel trucks). An all-electric road race was launched in 2014 — OK, so it was all Tesla and it was in Croatia, but hey, whoever thought New Zealand was going to be exciting before “Lord of the Rings”? And an all-electric off-road at Dakar? This is innovation.
I’m also sure there are demographic studies of the race fan and what we’re looking at is a nostalgic wish to preserve the past — motorcars in their heyday. If I were a teacher in the local auto shop class I would be pulling my students into upping their game and learning electricity, electronics, hydraulics and systems management because in 10 years there will be fewer jobs than ever in the internal combustion engine industry. Automation/robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Internet-of-Things (IoT), self-driving cars and semi-tractor-trailers are all under intense development right now—this is in the face of Peak Oil, the rise of Natural Gas (the Bridge Fuel to Nowhere) and major efforts at creating electricity-based mass transit to replace cars. Technology, especially, has no tolerance for nostalgia. Think about how many people you know with a five-year-old cellphone.
Other disruptive technologies and businesses are booming, with Uber, AirBnB, FreshFood and more just hitting the world, mostly software-driven and averse to corporate ownership of physical assets (like cars and hotels and grocery stores).
Up until a few years ago, and looking at the history of motorsports in the world, the point was to improve to the Nth degree the working and maximization of the internal combustion engine. The practical results of all of this was to expect huge advances in this industry (think Carroll Shelby at Mopar) but have now become diminished in the face of the move to electrics in the transportation industry—planes running on biofuel, trucks running on batteries and driverless container ships already on the scene.
Sure, there will be cars for a few more decades and the hobbyists will probably carry these vehicles forward for the rest of their lives, much as you have people showing the earliest Ford Models T and A and ’56 BelAirs right now. But drag racing is not about being a driver (although I had aspirations as a young mechanic in my days of heavy equipment and building cars)—it’s about being an engineer — electric, electronic, hydraulics, fuel cell, etc. Half-million dollar engines and a crew of 40 backing one driver with an engineering degree narrows the field of opportunity for drivers considerably.
So, for the dragstrip idea, consider it of great entertainment value and that it might be an ideal use of the runways at EPCAL, certainly, but it may not necessarily create long-term career paths for large numbers of the younger members of our community by offering machine shops or engineering labs in which to study. The Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook should be required reading for our high school juniors. There are numbers of industry associations which provide this kind of guidance as well, but low on the list is internal combustion engine mechanics and drivers — high on the list is electronic hardware (integrated circuit boards, etc.) and software (which drives the boards).
Specifically, we are in a time of trying to decrease the amount of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere, not increase it, and although the AA-gassers on the dragstrip will probably create tons less CO2 than the 500,000 cars traveling to Greenport during tourist season, bringing 160,000 more cars into the region might be more pollution than we are willing to breathe. In all of our discussions not one person has ever mentioned air pollution from vehicles as a result of tourism in our region. Not one. It’s measurable and the negative impacts are many.
I went to the Islip Speedway a lot when I was a kid, and it fired up my interest in tearing down engines and whole cars (and putting them back together without any extra parts left over), pastimes which became vocational until I was 30. There is nothing like holding your hands over your ears 15 feet away from a modified stock car when it revs up on the start line. The adrenaline was potent and addictive. I get it.
But logically speaking, we need to figure out whether this is a worthwhile activity from every aspect — social, economic and environmental, put our heads together and see if this is a viable, job-creating venture and what the real demographics of attendance are and consider the total carbon footprint in reality.
There are another dozen points to discuss regarding the USMA study, so let’s continue the dialogue.
Mark Haubner lives in Aquebogue. (He is vice president of the North Fork Environmental Council. The views expressed are his own.)
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