If Sliding a Car Is a Crime, Then Give the Hot-Rodders a Place to Play
From the December 2022 issue of Car and Driver.
Automotive hooliganism is in the news. A spectator died during a street take-over in Kansas City, Missouri. Folks keep crashing Challengers into the newly opened Sixth Street Bridge in Los Angeles. Someone wrecked on a popular canyon road—which happens every weekend, but not always with media coverage.
Just because it’s in the news doesn’t mean it’s new. A paper in Reading, Pennsylvania, reported that Harry Laird and Joseph Wells were disciplined for street racing on January 22. In 1879. The men were told to keep their horses to a walk. In a 1966 police sting in Los Angeles, the cops arrested 66 racers and impounded 29 cars, many of which were “unmistakably modified for racing.” Brock Yates famously covered Detroit’s street-racing scene for Car and Driver in the 1970s, and while the kids in the ’80s and ’90s had to work harder to spin the tires on their Malaise Era hand-me-downs, there was no shortage of concerned think pieces about the dangers of unsanctioned matchups. The news stories came fast and furious in the aughts and continue to the present day.
Which leaves me wondering: Why, with more than 100 years of the street-racing “scourge” (as the Vancouver Sun declared it in 2003), do we have so few places to race and do donuts? Newspapers listing arrests and police figures have also published stories suggesting that more racetracks make for fewer street shenanigans.
Local tracks have a record of success. Both police and politicians admit that during the heyday of the brotherhood and its Terminal Island drag strip, there was a measurable decline in street mayhem.
“A lot of these kids who attend the takeovers are just looking for something to do,” says Donald Galaz, an active member of the Brotherhood of Street Racers, started by the famed “Big Willie” Robinson in the 1960s to stem racial violence and automotive chaos in Los Angeles through legal and organized racing. Galaz points out that racers are educated in automotive work. “They’re modifying and building their own cars,” he says, and he thinks those are useful skills for the community. He’s worried that no one is giving them a place to work and race. “Instead, the city just beats them from one town to another.”
Local tracks have a record of success. Both police and politicians admit that during the heyday of the brotherhood and its Terminal Island drag strip, there was a measurable decline in street mayhem. “They told us it went down by 70, 75 percent back then,” Galaz says. He’s hoping to revive Brotherhood Raceway, either on Terminal Island or elsewhere in the San Pedro and Long Beach area, but is having trouble getting city councils to consider his proposals. “They say, ‘L.A. has a track,’ in Irwindale.” Which is true, but Irwindale is a good two-hour drive from Long Beach, and what’s more, it’s just been sold, so there’s a high likelihood it will join the growing list of defunct tracks nationwide.
“If I wanted to play basketball after work or after school, I could easily find a place to do that,” says Bay Area stunt driver Mathew Jensen. “Drifters and racers don’t really have that.” These days Jensen has access to private properties and racetracks, but most people don’t. “It doesn’t even need to be a track, just an empty parking lot with some safety barriers where we won’t get in trouble,” he says.
Elyse Morales, who runs a professional timing and scoring company, would love to get folks from the L.A. area to go to the monthly drag events and open drift days at Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond, but she acknowledges how expensive and time consuming it can be to travel the roughly 90 miles to the high desert. “We need more tracks,” Morales says. “There’s enough interest to support it.” More tracks? Providing a place to race isn’t a new idea. But if local governments would make it happen, then that would be newsworthy.
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