A second drag racing event at the Enterprise Park in Calverton will proceed this weekend after safety concerns raised by Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar were addressed during a town board work session Thursday.
A presentation with comments from Town Attorney Bob Kozakiewicz, Police Chief David Hegermiller, Chief Fire Marshal Craig Zitek and event promoter Andre Baxter put the supervisor’s concerns at rest for Baxter’s event, the Scrambul Runway Challenge, which will take place on Saturday and Sunday on the 10,000-foot runway at EPCAL.
Aguiar’s concerns included a lack of concrete barriers for the whole length of the drag strip, questions on safety inspection protocols and helmet requirements, and concerns about the event’s insurance coverage.
She said the lack of barriers can pose a risk to drivers, and compared the event’s operations and safety protocols with the last drag racing event, “Race Track, Not Street,” which was organized by veteran promoter Pete Scalzo. Aguiar said an accident during Scalzo’s event opened her eyes to the issue and that minimal damage was caused to the driver because of the barriers. She said it was the responsibility of the town board, even after they approved the events, to make sure they go on safely.
Some of Aguiar’s concerns were pulled from a letter the town board received from Mike Scano, who is employed as safety engineer at the South Mountain Raceway in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania, and owns MS Racing Components, which sells various engine tools.
Scano attended the “Race Track, Not Street” event, and is also a member of the “Long Island Needs a Drag Strip” Facebook group. His letter asks the town board to postpone the event until concerns are addressed.
Kozakiewicz said that racers accept a risk when drag racing. He said comments Aguiar received saying the event would result in serious injury or death were “speculative,” and that he, Hegermiller and Zitek had all approved the event’s current safety plans.
Although both Baxter’s event and Scalzo’s event feature drag racing, the events are noticeably different in a few ways. While Scalzo’s event was a single eighth-mile track, Baxter’s event will have two tracks — an eighth-mile track and a quarter-mile track — and will also include rolling races, where a car starts the race at 35mph, Baxter said.
Baxter’s event will only have concrete barriers in place for spectators and not for racers, in contrast to Scalzo’s event, which had barriers on both sides of the track protecting the cars from each other and spectators along the track. Barriers only need to protect spectators, and are not legally required for the racing cars under state law, town officials said. The barrier requirement is a condition of National Hot Rod Association sanctioned events; Scalzo’s event was NHRA-sanctioned, Baxter’s is not. Kozakiewicz said barriers were not in the original site plan agreement the town approved.
Aguiar also questioned the conditions of a waiver/liability agreement for the racers of the event. She was in doubt whether an insurance company would insure the event with the conditions and asked Kozakiewicz to explain whether the disclosures should be of any concern to the town or the event.
Kozakiewicz said the agreement is, in fact, longer and more extensive when compared to Scalzo’s, and that both the insurance company and the town board had accepted the liability agreement when the application for the event was approved.
The few things that have changed for the event are the amount of security staff — which has been increased from 15 people to 20 — and an increase of insurance coverage limits from $1-2 million to $1-5 million, Kozakiewicz said. The insurance has also been changed to include Riverhead Building Supply, whose site runs parallel to the runway at EPCAL, as they own part of the runway’s taxiway, Kozakiewicz said.
There are no issues brought about by the Insurance Auto Auctions’ use of the 7,000 ft runway, Kozakiewicz said, noting Baxter had decided not to use the 7,000-foot runway even before Tropical Storm Ida. Baxter told RiverheadLOCAL right after the IAA use deal was signed that he had decided against using the runway a month before the storm.
The Scrambul event announced the cancellation of the half-mile races Wednesday morning, resulting in numerous angry comments on Facebook. In a response to a comment on a Facebook post Monday, Scrambul said the cancelation of the half-mile race was “beyond our control,” contradicting town officials’ statements and his own to RiverheadLOCAL.
“The fact is we do not own the land and if the town wants to let the insurance company put flood cars on one of the runways, there is nothing we can do about that,” the Scrambul comment reads.
Scrambul is offering a ticket exchange for its next event, which is yet to be scheduled, and the company said it will prioritize a half-mile race. People unable to go to the next event can get a full refund, according to a Facebook post.
Baxter said the event this weekend will have a 175-mph limit, but doubted that any car will reach over 140 in a ¼ mile race. Baxter said that if racers will exceed 165 mph, they will need to wear fire safety equipment and use steel roll bars.
The board was also concerned with the potential noise coming from the event. Town police responded to one noise complaint from Scalzo’s event, but there were no town code violations, Hegermiller told the board. The town board also received five written complaints listed in correspondence to the board in this week’s meeting agenda.
Baxter told the board that the event currently has 400 driver tickets and 500 spectator tickets sold. The event will take place on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Gates open for drivers at 8 a.m., with the drivers meeting taking place at 10:30 a.m., while gates open for spectators at 10 a.m..
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