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Drag racing at the Calverton Enterprise Park got a green light for 2022 from the Riverhead Town Board Wednesday.

The board approved four events to be organized by André Baxter and Peter Scalzo, who both held separate events at EPCAL last year.

All events will be held on the 10,000-foot, town-owned runway or its taxiway at the former Grumman site. Scalzo’s events will be held on a portion of the taxiway, while Baxter’s races will take place on the runway itself. Baxter held his 2021 event on the 10,000-foot runway, which while rarely used, is still an active runway. It was shut down to air traffic on the weekend of his event. Scalzo’s series of events last year took place on the 7,000-foot runway, which is inactive.

[See prior coverage: Riverhead eyes drag racing return in 2022]

The first event of the year, “Scrambul: Cold Fusion,” is organized by Baxter and is scheduled to take place on the afternoons of March 5-6, with a rain date of March 12-13, and a maximum of 1,000 people in attendance.

The other three events approved by the board are organized by Scalzo, and are scheduled to take place during 11 weekends. One series runs in April, and the other two series run from August through October. The events are to be held from the afternoon into the evening on Saturdays and from the morning into the afternoon on Sundays. Rain dates are scheduled for the afternoon.

Scalzo’s events are nearly double in size from his previous events, increasing from 1,300 to 2,200 people. Scalzo said he wanted to use the 10,000-foot runway this year to avoid any possible conflicts with the town’s agreement with Insurance Auto Auctions, which has an option to lease the 7,000-foot runway for flood-damaged auto storage in the event of a major storm. Last summer, Insurance Auto Auctions exercised its option to use the runway, prompting Scalzo to withdraw an application for an October event he’d sought approval for.

The dates are as follows:

“Race Track, Not Street Spring Classic” scheduled dates:

April 2-3
April 9-10
April 16
No rain dates

“Race Track, Not Street Summer Classic” scheduled dates:

Aug. 20-21
Aug. 27-28
Sept. 3-4
Sept. 9-10
Rain dates: Sept. 17-18

“Race Track, Not Street Fall Classic” scheduled dates:
Sept. 24-25
Oct. 1-2
Oct. 8-9
Oct. 15-16
Rain dates: Oct. 22-23

The dates of several days changed from Scalzo’s original applications, which were filed in October. The dates of his Spring Classic were changed from weekends in April and May, to only being in April. The number of dates was also reduced from five to eight. This would avoid racing during the nesting season of local birds, which caused a rescheduling of last year’s races

Scalzo had originally scheduled the Spring Classic to avoid bird nesting season, however, the dates he originally scheduled around changed. He said all dates are before the season except April 16, which is on the cusp of the season. Scalzo told the town board that he had consulted with Rob Marsh of the Department of Environmental Conservation, who gave him approval for the event on April 16.  Marsh could not immediately be reached for comment.

The other change from the original proposal came last minute, when during the meeting Councilman Tim Hubbard said he would not be comfortable having one of Scalzo’s drag racing events on Sept. 11 with Calverton National Cemetery across the street. 

Scalzo agreed and said he would reschedule that day from Sept. 11 to that Friday, Sept. 9. The resolution authorizing the event with that date was passed with an amendment.

Although the board approved Scalzo’s events unanimously, Baxter’s event drew two “no” votes, from Supervisor Yvette Aguiar and Councilman Tim Hubbard. The resolution approving his event passed 3-2.

The reason for their dissent was a topic brought up in discussion during the Jan. 6 work session, when Aguiar recommended the town require all future drag racing events be sanctioned by the National Hot Rod Association, or NHRA. Scalzo’s previous event was NHRA sanctioned, while Baxter’s was not.

Baxter objected to NHRA sanctioning as a requirement. He said the jersey barriers, which are required by NHRA, can potentially be more dangerous for a driver who loses control of his vehicle. He said the barriers are for the safety of the spectators, not the drivers, and would be positioned behind the starting line for spectators, similar to their placement at his event last year.

Hubbard said he was not comfortable with the event being held without jersey barriers on both sides of the track and between racing vehicles. 

“Although Mr. Baxter said the opposite of how I felt, I did dig into a little bit of research and I’m much more comfortable with the jersey barriers going down the full length as they have been done in Mr. Scalzo’s operation, part of what the NHRA requires,” Hubbard said before casting his vote.

Aguiar stood by her comments on her belief that all the drag racing events should require NHRA sanctioning. 

“We are a self-insured town. If we have an accident, serious injury and deaths there it’s going to possibly affect all the other leases,” she said. “And I’m going to be very cautious and unfortunately I don’t think we should go forward, based on what the NHRA states. And they are the authority, they are the word. And so I’m gonna take their guidance and I’m gonna vote no.”

A certificate of public liability insurance that covers both the town and the applicant is one of the conditions of approval outlined in Chapter 255 — the town code that governs parades, assemblies and special events. An application can be approved without submitting the certificate, but the applicant will be charged a $50 administrative fee and must file the certificate with the town clerk at least 30 days prior to the event, the code states. The town board can rescind a permit it issues if the applicant fails to comply with any permit conditions.

“I think they had a successful event and I’m sure that our fire marshal and our chief of police will make sure that every safety precaution is instituted,” Councilman Frank Beyrodt said before voting to approve the permit.

Residents complain about action on permits without public hearing

Before the board voted, several comments were made by the public regarding the absence of a public hearing on the applications. Riverhead resident Ellen Hoil was the first to bring up the subject.

“It was on the work session, on the video, it was promised that we would have a public hearing regarding this matter and now that’s not happening,” Hoil said.

“There was no promise, that’s your interpretation,” Aguiar said. “And let it be known that she is a former candidate for assessor.”

“I’m still a citizen,” Hoil said. “So for the next 20 years you are going to announce that?”

“We did make a statement that there would be a public hearing… and it came to my attention thereafter that it’s not necessary for a 255 application — and we already had one and that was just as a precaution to hear from the entire community,” Aguiar said. “People can… speak now before resolutions and at the end after the resolutions on any comments. The public is still going to have an input.”

“It’s not the same as if it was a public hearing,” Hoil said.

Although the town board did not hold a public hearing on last year’s drag racing events, it heard from numerous residents, both for and against the events, before the board voted on the permits. During a Jan. 6 work session, the board indicated there would be a public hearing on the applications.

Riverhead resident John McAuliff asked the board to reconsider having a vote without a hearing.

“I understand that you reconsider that but I think in terms of good faith with the community that you should table all of these resolutions so that you can have the hearing first,” he said. “I think we need to recognize that there was pretty deep division within the community, especially the people who are in the immediate neighborhood of the races.”

The town board received numerous letters about last year’s events, including from residents who live in the area complaining about noise during the events. The Riverhead Police Department found no violation of the town’s noise ordinance during the events.

Last year’s events were also widely celebrated in Long Island’s motorsports community, including the L.I. Drag Racing Club, the group behind the Long Island Needs a Drag Strip Facebook page, which has lobbied for motorsports events at EPCAL for years.

Correction: This story has been updated to clarify that the “Race Track, Not Street” series will take place on a portion of the taxiway adjoining the 10,000-foot runway.

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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]