Marty Johnson has a dream.
And Johnson, the founder and CEO of the Long Island Motorsports Association, said his vision for a drag strip at Enterprise Park at Calverton is entirely do-able.
His vision, Johnson said, includes a drag strip and a road course at EPCAL in Calverton similar to what once existed in Bridgehampton and Westhampton.
The plan, he said, would take little time to execute. Should all forces align, Johnson said his organization would like to rent the space and the space at least temporarily for drag racing. Jersey barriers, or concrete walls, would have to be set up; Johnson said the operation could be up and running in weeks. "We've asked the board to give us the time to do this for one season."
A season is approximately four to five months, Johnson said. The rest of the year, the facility would be quiet, with grass that was mowed and no chemicals or fertilizer used, as is done at golf courses.
A motorsports facility, Johnson said, would be a win-win. "You would now have the draw in your backyard," he said. "What better opportunity to do something positive for the town?"
The problem, Johnson believes, is public miconception of the sport. "There are a lot of untruths," he said. "There's a lot of bigotry and ignorant people casting their opinion, saying that drag racing is for dirtbags and hoodlums. It's silly. I want to tell them there's a good chance that the doctors or lawyers they use could be drag racers."
Johnson added, "It's a family sport. When I went to the track as a little kid years ago, I sat with my mom and dad, aunts and uncles."
Part of the problem, Johnson said, is that many associate drag racing with people breaking the law and street racing accidents.
Racing fans, Johnson said, now have to travel long distances to pursue their passion, spending money on gas and other expenses and infusing cash into other locales that could be spent close to home if a strip was sited at EPCAL. "You have a very large motorsports community in the Town of Riverhead, but pretty much everyone's spending their money in New Jersey or Connecticut," where motorsports parks are located, he said.
In recent weeks, Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter has said one option for EPCAL could include a with a quarter mile track. But he added that the bottom line is that before any future use can be discussed, the subdivision process and environmental review by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation must be completed first.
Recently, Walter , saying that a recent tape leaked, on which Walter allegedly says he would try to quietly approve drag racing at Enterprise Park at Calverton, could slam the brakes on any future drag racing discussions. Walter said by moving forward before the process was complete, Johnson "is destroying drag racing on Long Island."
Johnson responded to that statement this week: "I'm tried of him using my people to get votes and stringing them along with a carrot," he said. Johnson said he asked many members of his group to call Walters' office. "He got annoyed and then made those disparaging comments in the paper. So I released the tape."
Walter said he does not believe he got any phone calls at his office. "Marty Johnson is just using this as his 15 minutes of fame. He has no clout."
Johnson also said environmental concerns raised by some are unfounded and that golf courses are the source of the greatest pollutants on Long Island. When the drag strip was removed in Westhampton, Johnson added, "there was no property contamination." EPCAL, the former Grumman Corp site, was a place where planes were constructed, and the best thing to do "would be to pave over it" to prevent effects of any possible past contamination, he said.
Although some elected officials including Senator Ken LaValle are "against this," Johnson said, and are asking for other uses at the parcel, he doesn't understand why the site can't accomodate everyone; the racing strip would only need approximately 1320 feet. "Why can't we have it all? The noise won't bother anyone."
To that end, Johnson says he's been asking the board for a noise test for the past seven or eight years -- and plans to come back before the board at their next public meeting in two weeks to try again.
Walter said Johnson is "barking up the wrong tree" if he plans to come to the town board. "I'm not doing anything until we get through the Department of Environmental Conservation and the subdivision process. I'm not jeopardizing a $1 billion potential subdivision for a noise test. If we're ever going to build anything here that's racing related it has to be built correctly, not just built on an open runway."
A philanthropic group, Johnson added that the motorsports community opens their hearts to those in needs, such as when, before car show enthusiast Don Coady died last week, over $60,000 was raised to help him.
Long Island, he added, was the birthplace of motorsports in the United States, with over 40 tracks.
"There is a huge need," Johnson said. "Much large than anyone thinks. The motorsports community that is displaced right now is in the six digits."
Walter said his brother and friends are motorsports fans and quarter mile racers. "I'm a guy that loves drag racing. If I had the money I'd own a '64 Thunderbolt. But Marty Johnson is doing more than any other individual to hurt drag racing," Walter said. "He's trying to force a square peg into a round hole. We're just not ready for this."