Drag Illustrated Issue 171, September / October 2021 | Page 54


On the Road with Van Abernethy

It ’ s always encouraging to see aging dragstrips receive dramatic improvements , where practically every square inch of the facility receives some time and attention . It ’ s amazing what kind of transformation comes to life just from cutting weeds and slapping some new paint everywhere , so you can imagine how dramatic $ 3.5 million worth of upgrades would be !

I encountered this exact situation in late July when I journeyed to the rolling hills of western New York to visit Empire Dragway . I first came to this facility in 1994 for the IHRA Empire Nationals , back when the track was still called New York International Raceway Park . There had been a 27-year gap since I last visited this track , and believe me when I say that I was blown away with the recent updates !
The facelift of this nearly 50-year-old track can be traced back to New Year ’ s Eve 2013 . That ’ s when Jerry Scaccia and wife , Clara , signed papers to buy the track from its longtime owner , Bob Metcalf . By 2013 , the track needed lots of updates in every direction , and Scaccia began with a complete remodeling of the women ’ s bathrooms , which were such a wreck that people standing outside could actually see inside the bathrooms ! “ I want this track to be a family facility . That ’ s why I don ’ t sell beer ,” Scaccia says .
Next , he remodeled the kitchen and began offering several scratchmade items that have become very popular , especially the signature line of breakfast sandwiches .
After those updates were completed
, Scaccia went to work on improving the racing surface by ripping up the track and pouring new concrete to the 660-foot mark . The concrete was milled and polished , while an additional quarter mile of blacktop was laid beyond the 660 . Empire Dragway is exceptionally long , with a half mile of shutdown . Amazingly , it had just one turnoff , but Scaccia added another in recent years .
In 2019 , Scaccia launched yet another a massive upgrade project , which included the installation of poured concrete walls the length of the track . Next came a brandnew Accutime timing system , new
scoreboards , new speakers , 80 new lights in the pits and some upgraded drains .
Between Scaccia and his partner , Tommy Terry , they ’ ve dumped way more money into renovations than Scaccia paid for the place . When I dropped by in late July there was yet another massive earth-moving effort in full swing directly beside the staging lanes and will serve as additional pit parking to host larger events .
On the weekend I was here , the Northeast Outlaw Pro Mod series was scheduled to hold their first-ever race at this facility in the Pro Mod club ’ s lengthy history , which is astounding since this group got started in 1992 . It would appear that a New York track would be the perfect fit for a Northeastbased doorslammer club , and in many ways , it is . Ironically , though , Empire Dragway is located approximately six hours from Long Island , where many of the Pro Mod club members reside , so getting here is quite a haul .
Regardless , 26 hot cars from the group showed up to do battle , and
the Saturday crowd was phenomenal , with packed grandstands on both sides of the track . It was the largest crowd this track has seen in several years – and that ’ s even with the Canadian border still closed due to COVID . “ We ’ re only an hour from Canada , so the border being closed greatly affects us ,” Scaccia says .
Among the Pro Mod contingent who live the closest to this greatlyimproved facility is Buffalo-area racer Melanie Salemi , whose awesome
“ Purple Reign ” ’ 68 Firebird appears in this month ’ s column photo . Salemi and team usually have to travel great distances for a Pro Mod event , so it was a pleasant change of pace having an event so close to home .
Meanwhile , Scaccia was so pleased with the turnout , he wants the Northeast Pro Mod group back twice next year . “ That ’ s the primary reason for the expanded pit parking project we ’ re currently working on : we want to bring in more events just like the one we had this weekend !” Scaccia smiles .
Empire hosted an awesome nitro show a few weeks before the Pro Mod race , featuring some nitro Funny Cars and some alky floppers . “ It rained all around us , but not here , so we still had a decent show . That ’ s the thing that ’ s challenging in this part of the country : we ’ ve got brutal winters and rainy summers ,” he says .
While being located in the rural part of New York can have its drawbacks , Scaccia points out the advantages too , primarily the fact that Empire Dragway can operate any night of the week with absolutely no curfew . “’ Doc ’ from Street Outlaws was passing through this area and stopped and tested here , and he referred to our track as a ‘ jewel in the woods ,’” Scaccia laughs . “ He says , ‘ I ’ m not trying to make fun or anything – I like it – but man , this place is out in the country !’”
Consequently , it ’ s a jewel that is also becoming more valuable with every high-dollar update they perform , and I ’ m very eager to continue watching this transformation unfold . DI
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