One of my favorite things to do when I lived in Delaware a decade ago was to head “downstate” to Dewey Beach with friends. The place was a dream for a young person, like Fire Island with roads. But given the timing, our car full of guys always seemed to get caught up in NASCAR traffic, as tens of thousands of people from across the region were descending on Dover International Speedway for the annual Winston Cup Series race.
There I was, headed to one of my favorite places in the world, yet I couldn’t help but envy all those fans — many of them could be seen from the road — barbecuing and sipping Miller Lites next to their RVs in anticipation of that long, hot race. I knew nothing of NASCAR, but I knew I wanted to be with those revelers.
But I still can’t seem to get all that involved in NASCAR. I’ve tried to watch races on television but always change the channel. And I can’t ever remember to keep up with the Sprint Cup Series standings in the paper. I guess that means the sport isn’t for me.
Still, from time to time, I daydream about what it would have been like to grow up around NASCAR. Those odd thoughts often go hand-in-hand with another thing I like to romanticize about — old-time Long Island. I’m talking about when the baby boomers were coming of age, in the ’50s, ’60s, when kids and their dads and friends spent summer days together in garages and driveways, working on cars.
It was a time when Long Island was the mecca for Northeast motorsports fans, from what I understand. Nassau, Suffolk, Brooklyn and Queens once played host to some 40 racetracks, with families regularly packing Islip Speedway with over 10,00 people every Friday night, I’ve been told. Bridgehampton had a famous track on the CanAm circuit. Some argue the modern American sport actually began right here on Long Island, with the storied Motor Parkway. Now there’s just one track, Riverhead Raceway, hardly enough to distract the region’s young people from doing what some of them do best — nothing.
I’ve always had a feeling in my gut that motorsports are in our blood out here. And that it should be again. In a big way. I’m talking Dover National Speedway-type big, 130,000 fans and every hotel and campgrounds across Suffolk County packed once a year. Local eateries changing their names to the Monte Carlo Deli or the Speedway Diner. That big.
In truth, a massive track worthy of hosting NASCAR races in Suffolk — still considered “the country” to many — actually isn’t that grandiose a concept when compared to some of the other development plans floating around.
The possibility of a track is much more realistic than the annoyingly absurd idea of eight themed resorts, including an indoor ski mountain, on 755 acres in Calverton. That plan is being pushed by a group that wants to build a $1 billion complex that would be bigger than Disneyland, yet it can’t seem to come up with a couple million to fulfill the terms of a sales contract with Riverhead Town for the land.
And a big racetrack would stand the test of time, unlike the already outdated Legacy Village proposal of 1,000 housing and 70 rental units, a prefabricated village center with shops and an oddly sized 5,500-person arena in Yaphank. Picture that thing in 60 years!
Let’s go back to square one and start thinking again about a track worthy of hosting at least one big NASCAR event in Yaphank or Calverton. Surround it with a hotel or two and then campgrounds and preserve some woods. I’m not saying it’s definitely the right fit for the area. As always, we’ll have to wait for the experts to conduct their $400,000 studies before making those judgments.
But one thing I do know for sure is we and our elected leaders should be using some common sense out here. And that should start by taking a look at who we really are, and where we came from.