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Association suggests giving young drivers a safe, legal place to practice

Members of the group Long Island Needs a

Members of the group Long Island Needs a Dragstrip pack the auditorium for a news conference about a drag racing committee in the Suffolk County Legislature in Hauppauge in February 2017. Credit: Ed Betz

Five years ago on Mother’s Day, an illegal drag race in Farmingdale left five teenagers dead, two others injured and one of the drivers behind bars.

The driver, Cory Gloe, ended up pleading guilty to 17 charges — including five counts of manslaughter — in return for 6 months in jail. The other driver, Tristan Reichle, was one of the dead. Both drivers were 17. 

Maureen McCormick prosecuted Gloe. She remembers the 2014 crash well.

"It was so heartbreaking," said McCormick, chief of the vehicular crimes bureau at the Nassau district attorney's office. "The youngest victim was just 14. Such an absolute tragedy."

Hundreds of deaths nationwide are tied to street racing every year, statistics show. For 2018, the death toll was nearly 400, according to the U.S. Motorsports Association.

Young drivers race up and down the streets on Long Island. They might be less tempted if they had a sanctioned track where they could compete, according to the white paper put out by the association.

A new track could save lives and prevent injuries by training and educating teens about responsible driving, the white paper said. They would practice avoiding crashes and learn how to control their cars better. 

"If we had a place for these kids to go, they wouldn't be out there in the streets racing," said Dennis Quitoni, 76, of West Hempstead, who has been drag racing for more than 50 years. "If we don't teach them the right way then they'll go the wrong way."

Since 2014, Nassau and Suffolk police together have issued 92 citations for drag racing, made 25 arrests and seized 22 vehicles, according to data from the two departments.

Suffolk's figures have been steadily declining for the past five years, said Dep. Insp. David Regina, commanding officer of the Highway Patrol Bureau.

Regina isn't sure why. Maybe it's because stricter enforcement is paying dividends. Maybe it's because drivers are getting better at hiding their races.

"They may just be getting smarter," Regina said. "With social media they can set up a race, drop in and out and be gone in a minute. … We can't be everywhere at once."

An auto safety expert is skeptical that a drag strip would cut down on illegal drag racing. 

"I have a feeling that some street racers like the spontaneity of their 'sport,' " said Robert Sinclair Jr., AAA Northeast spokesman. "Drag strips have schedules. Back roads do not."

Still, Regina thinks a sanctioned track would be worth the investment if even one life were saved. 

"We are for anything that has a chance to improve public safety," he said. "Any time you travel at these kinds of speed you put your life, and everyone else's life, in danger."

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