People wearing "L.I. Needs a Dragstrip" shirts fill the audience...

People wearing "L.I. Needs a Dragstrip" shirts fill the audience of the Legislature during a meeting about a Yaphank master plan at the Suffolk County Legislature in Smithtown, Dec. 1, 2016. Credit: Ed Betz

More than 100 T-shirt clad drag-racing fans jammed a Suffolk legislative committee meeting Wednesday to press for delay of a master plan for the Yaphank county center property to allow for consideration of a racetrack at the site.

But after two hours of testimony, the Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously to approve the master plan — which recommends parkland for unused acreage on the property — so the full legislature can vote on it next Tuesday.

Lawmakers said there’s not enough surplus space available amid the existing county buildings that is long enough to accommodate a drag-racing track.

“I understand your plight,” said Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley), noting that her two sons are racing fans. “But I don’t know where we would put this.”

However, Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) called for the creation of a legislative task force to help find a suitable alternative site that could be used for a track.

Advocates wearing white “Long Island Needs a Drag Strip” T-shirts said a track would help revive Long Island’s rich auto racing history after closure of drag strips in Center Moriches, Islip and Westhampton, which was the last to be shuttered in 2004. Fans must go to New Jersey or Pennsylvania to race or watch dragsters.

“The hundred here represent thousands and thousands of families, who have a passion for the sport,” said Edward Eaton of Bay Shore.

For two years, Newsday has followed and filmed various Long Island drag racers. While some practice the sport legally, there exists a sub-culture of racers who do not. The consequences of those illegal street races have, at times, led to tragedy. For decades, there were three sanctioned drag strips on Long Island. But each has been shuttered, leaving many in the film to wonder, if Long Island still had a legal drag strip, would that curtail the amount of illegal racing? (Newsday staff)

Backers said a track would generate more than a $100 million a year in economic activity, spur a cottage industry of motor sport businesses nearby and generate tax revenue for Suffolk County, which is facing budget deficits.

They also said a track would help curb an increase in dangerous street racing in Suffolk County that often ends in fatalities.

“We need a place where young people can stay out of trouble and stay alive,” said Donna Nicosia of Massapequa. “I don’t want a call that says come down and identify some kid.”

The dragsters came out after a proposed master plan for the 638-acre Yaphank center estimated the county will need 30 to 50 acres for future expansion of existing county facilities including the jail and police headquarters. Whatever is left over from 197 vacant acres should be kept as parkland, according to the plan.

Supporters of the master plan say rural Yaphank is endangered by industrial development such as the rail hub, and cite the need to protect the nearby Carmans River.

Mary Ann Johnston, president of Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization, said it would be “schizophrenic planning” to sell the land for a track.

“You can’t ask the public to buy open space, when you don’t preserve the open space we have.”

But James Barr, recently retired as county parks superintendent and an avid motorcyclist, said, “We have more county parkland than we know what to do with. The last thing we need is more county parks that we can’t afford to improve.”

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