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Empire Dragway revived under new ownership

During the last several years, the husband and wife tandem of Jerry and Clara Scaccia have made plenty of passes down the drag strip at Empire Dragway in Leicester.

Instead of getting behind the wheel there, the Scaccias now own the track.

Leicester is about an hour east of Buffalo and many Western New Yorkers either drag race or are spectators at Empire each week.

The Scaccias, who live in Leicester, have made a concerted effort to improve the racing and the physical structure of Empire since purchasing the facility on New Year’s Eve, 2013, from the Metcalfe family, who had owned the track for many years.

Now in the midst of their second full season at the helm of Empire, the new ownership team, accompanied by their staff and officials, seems to be succeeding.

“I take care of the racing, the physical structure and other things and Clara runs the office and takes care of all those many responsibilities,” Jerry Scaccia said. “Running this track has been a very different experience compared to just racing at this track but I’m very happy with the way things are progressing at Empire.

“We’ve been very busy cleaning up the place with painting, landscaping and things like that. We’ve rebuilt an existing concession stand and built a second stand. I put a lot of new drainage and stone into the property. So far, since we bought the track we have spent about $200,000 on the physical improvements here. But we’ve got a long way to go and it will take a few years.”

The couple owns eight race/show cars in their personal stable, including a couple of street-legal hot rods. In addition, Clara’s on-track race vehicle is an S-10 pick-up truck that she has run in the Pro class. Jerry has three race cars he has driven in competition, including a 9.90 car, a 4.70 car and a Top Sportsman entry. All three of Jerry’s race cars are 1967 Novas.

“I got to race my race cars in the past years as has Clara but we don’t race any more,” Jerry said. “My personal philosophy is that you can’t drive at a track that you are running.”

Next month Jerry will complete his 49th year of running the family business, Jimmy’s Sales and Service, which he inherited from his father. He plans on retiring from the business perhaps as early as next year.

“I’m not one to just sit still,” he said. “I wanted something to do when I retire and that was the main reason we decided to buy Empire. Also I cater to the divisions that feature the faster cars because those faster cars are the ones people come to see.”

Empire is a busy place on weekends, often running events three times a week on average. Fridays are reserved for test and tunes nights. On Saturdays the track showcases the heart of its racing menu, the weekly IHRA points races that feature the Super Pro, Pro, Street, Bike/Sleds and Junior Dragsters classes along with specials for such divisions as Top Sportsman and Top Dragster. The program appears healthy as 202 race cars came out to race at Empire on May 30.

In an effort to increase the crowds, an adult spectator-side-only ticket for the IHRA Saturday program is only $5 per ticket, with youth under 14 admitted free.

Empire will showcase its biggest event since the Scaccia era began when an IHRA Divisional event is held Aug. 22-23. Prior to that, another season highlight will occur with the running of the fifth annual Gold Cup Weekend, July 24-26.

“We are trying to do the best we can to make Empire a place that people will want to come to race at and to watch drag racing,” Jerry Scaccia said. “I hope we can make a difference and I think we are on the road to doing that.”

The future of Empire is very important as this area’s drag racers have only two options for competing within an hour of Buffalo – Empire and Lancaster National Speedway and Dragway. It is imperative that both tracks work together as much as possible to help ensure the health of the overall state of drag racing in this area.

Washout at Little Valley

Dating back to last season, Little Valley Speedway suffered its fourth rainout in its last seven special event races when the program was washed away by heavy rain on Friday.

Little Valley promoter John Charlesworth waited until 5 p.m. before calling off the 7 p.m. program. He believes that last season some fans were critical of Little Valley management, claiming that stock car events at the Cattaraugus County Fairgrounds-based dirt track were being canceled too early when rain was threatening. Charlesworth explained that on Friday he waited until the last practical minute to cancel the evening’s event to answer and quiet those critics.

Little Valley will next attempt to throw the green flag on July 3, when it showcases a Patriot Sprint Tour/Super Late Model doubleheader.

Pit stops

Gary Lindberg on Saturday night won for the fifth time this season in the Sportsman class at Merrittville Speedway, in Thorold, Ont. … Greg Oakes took the checkered flag in the Super Late Model feature Saturday at Stateline Speedway. It was Oakes’ first win there since June 23, 2012.