Racing promoter Pete Scalzo of Florida addressing the town board at its meeting June 2. Photo: Denise Civiletti

There’s a dispute brewing over how many people can attend each of the “Race Track, Not Street” drag racing events on the Calverton runways this summer. The series of two-day events is scheduled for four consecutive weekends beginning Aug. 21.

“Race Track, Not Street” Facebook page posted on June 5 up to 4,000 people are allowed to attend each of the eight events under the “large event” permit approved by the town — and the organizer will do everything possible to accommodate all that we can.”

But the runway use agreement approved by the town board June 2 limits the number of tickets to be sold for each event to 1,100 tickets, including both spectators and racers.

In an interview today, organizer and promoter Peter Scalzo denied the event is limited to 1,100 people. He said the number he proposed to the town board when in negotiation — around 1,300 people — was an estimate and that the permit itself allows up to 4,000 people per event. 

Chapter 255 of the Riverhead Town Code, which governs special events, has three categories for special events, based on the number of people expected to attend: small gathering is up to 1,000 people; large gathering is 1,001 to 4,000 people; and “massive gathering” for 4,001 people or more. 

The town board resolution approving the special event application on June 2 does not set any attendance limits on the racing events. But the runway use agreement approved by the board the same day set the 1,100-ticket limit.

John McAuliff, a member of the EPCAL Watch Coalition, raised the issue of the Facebook posts in emails to the town board and again at its meeting Tuesday night. He asked what the town would do about Scalzo advertising attendance in excess of the number allowed in the runway use agreement and if the town would be able to limit the sale of tickets to pre-event, with no ticket sales at the gate, to make sure the capacity agreement would be honored.

“That was what was voted on,” McAuliff said, referring to the June 2 resolution. “That was what the people of the town thought you were agreeing to.”

Town board members Tuesday night said they were confident the event would run smoothly. They said Scalzo has a meeting with the police chief and the fire marshall on Friday to discuss the event’s safety plan.

“We always can stop it on a moment’s notice if it’s not what we agreed to,” Councilman Tim Hubbard  said. “The number in the contract is the number that we agreed to,” he said to end the conversation. “If that number is not adhered to or if he wants to go more than that number, he’s not going to have the event.”

Councilman Ken Rothwell, town board liaison for the event, in an interview today reiterated Hubbard’s comments that the town will abide by the runway use agreement. 

Scalzo can, however, request an amendment to the agreement to increase the number of people allowed at the events, Rothwell said. 

“I’m putting my confidence in the chief of police and our fire marshal to make sure that they outline with him, and they only approve, a safe venue. And that’s going to include the total number of occupants permitted on the facility,” Rothwell said.

Rothwell said that Scalzo won’t be selling any tickets until the planning for the event is approved. In reference to the June 5 Facebook post, he said 4,000 people at the event would probably be too many.

“I think that that’s probably too much for the first time that we’re having an event of this magnitude,” Rothwell said. “I think I would prefer to see lesser numbers and less of a traffic issue and pedestrian issue.”

The event will only have advance ticket sales during its first weekend to avoid any problems. Scalzo said he will cooperate with the town’s police chief to make sure the event is as safe as possible and that traffic control doesn’t become a problem. 

“We want to do everything we can to be good neighbors,” Scalzo said. “We’re going to prove the point that we do not create noise, and we’re going to prove the point that this is a well-run, wholesome family entertainment event.”

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: [email protected]