One of the big stories today on the FP was about a street racer getting busted and let off with a warning.
I commented on this thread and there's a pretty decent discussion going on about it as well. When level heads prevail, everybody wins.
Anyway I wanted to detail my experiences with racing on the street and hopefully spark some more discussion on the matter. I'd like to first start off by saying that yes, I am guilty of racing on the street and no this post won't be about trying to convince anybody that it's okay to do that.
I've always been a car nut. From the time I could walk I was hanging around cars and airplanes. When your father owns an aircraft repair facility and spent his life fixing up cars for fun, it kind of rubs off. Of course it didn't help matters hearing about all his car related exploits in his younger years.
Him and his pals cruised what is known as dizzy block here in Greeley Colorado. That cruise loop doesn't exist anymore, but during the mid 70's when my dad was a teenager, it was apparently "THE" thing to do. The Beach Boys made their entire career off of this cruising and car culture.
Anyhow, I digress. When it was my turn for a license and a car, I was all to eager to share in those joys. I didn't have a fast car, but rather a slow truck and it didn't matter. I was out with my buddies every weekend cruising, trying to pick up girls and engaging in street racing activities from time to time.
This was the late 90's, before Fast and Furious hit the theaters and rocketed street racing in to an arguably more public setting. Here in northern Colorado, there's a lot of straight forever, not often traveled roads with a questionable amount of markers or land marks placed in 1/4 mile increments. Every Friday and Saturday night, you could bet on two things.
- There were cars running for bragging rights
- The cops would eventually show up and shoe everyone away
It really was that simple. We'd meet up at the local AutoZone, setup races, then casually leave at staggered intervals and meet up at a per-determined location. We'd have a spotter a mile up the road in each direction looking out for people or traffic. We'd be about an hour and a half of racing in and sure enough the law would show up. They'd flash their lights, get on their loud speaker and tell everybody to go home, which we did.
The late 90's and early 00's may not have been that long ago, but for many things, it was. It wasn't as simple as the days my father spent with his '69 Camaro, but as long as we weren't being egregiously stupid, the local police let us have a bit of fun and sent us home when they decided we'd had enough. In the years between my 16th and 18th birthday when I put street racing aside, I was fortunate enough to never see an accident of any kind. Nobody ever got hurt, there were no wrecks and nobody came to blows over anything. Luck had a bit to play in that scenario, but I also believe that being smart and realizing the consequences, mixed with a police force that monitored from a distance without being intrusive, allowed us to have a marginally safe time while not endangering anybody else.
The Fast and Furious came out in theaters in 2001. I remember going with the car club I was in to see the midnight release showing. The parking lot was packed every make and model of performance car, or want to be performance car you could imagine. Gleaming in every color of the rainbow. The import guys huddled together throwing insults and challenges to the muscle car crowd, who was all to willing to throw a few back. It was mostly for fun.
The movie started, we watched and it ended. Leaving the movie theater is when I first realized that things were about to change. A clutch drop here, a burnout over there. A guy in a stock red civic is trying to do J-turns to impress his pals. To say the scene was chaos was an under statement.
Soon after the videos and the news reports from across the country started coming in. Anybody with four wheels was now a racer. I no longer saw organized meet ups. Instead they were replaced by impromptu light to light runs in heavy traffic. Day or night. This of course caused even more media coverage and accidents started happening. Innocent bystanders are being hit and killed by people driving at increasingly dangerous speeds on high traffic streets.
Cruising still existed for me and the people I hung with, but slowly (or rather rapidly now that I look back on it) those pre-planned meet-ups stopped. The police, once content to keep a watchful, but distant watch racing became more involved. Meet ups were broken up, scattering dozens of modified street cars, on to the city streets. Those safe havens of untraveled tarmac were policed frequently. Citations would be issued to even people spectating.
Being still young and most definitely naive, the logical outcome was that I began to do exactly the same things. Friday and Saturday nights, we cruised looking for light to light races. You couldn't stay in one spot for more than about 10-15 minutes, so that meant the only thing to do was to drive all night, which meant there were usually several races happening at all times over the length of about 5 miles of road. Road that I'll add, had a rush hour's worth of cars all out trying to do the same thing.
It was a mess and I'm sure it was frustrating for the people trying to pass through the area as well as the officers tasked with patrolling it.
And that, brings me to the moment where I made a conscious decision that I simply wasn't going to take part anymore. I was 17, just a week away from my 18th birthday and there I was racing a GSX Eclipse down a dimly lit street in downtown Greeley Colorado. A race that would be held for the full enjoyment of a Greeley cruiser unit that just happened to be at the right place at the right time.
I saw the silver and blue glint of the Crown Victoria pull up to a cross street and a cursory glimpse at the roof and a visible light bar told the rest of the tale. I glanced at the speedometer; 80 mph. This was going to suck.
The next thing I did, was the brightest moment out of a very dark situation. I pulled over, immediately, before the unit had a chance to pull on to the street and turn on the lights. The other car? They decided they'd try their luck at running. No matter, I wasn't driving a car fast enough to out-run the radio.
I sat there with my window down, radio off and hands on my wheel while I watched intently in the rear view mirror. The officer was obviously pulling information from my plates. He finished up, slowly exited his cruiser and approached my door, flashlight in hand. "Do you know why I pulled you over" he asked. "Yes sir, I was street racing." I don't really remember what was said after that, or even who this officer was, but the next thing I remember was him asking if I had a phone. He asked me to call my home. I did so and woke my parents up at 10:35pm. I handed the phone to the officer and let him know my dad was on the line. With a fairly stern response he thanked me and said "good."
The officer paced between his cruiser and my car for about five minutes while we talked with my father. I couldn't hear all of it, but I distinctly remember him telling my dad that he was 17 and into cars once too. It was then that I realized just how lucky I was going to be that night. The officer returned the phone, with my dad still on it. He wanted me home immediately. I hung up and the officer gave me a short lecture about choices and thanked me for being honest and curious. He then sent me on my way. Home, to face my father.
My dad didn't say much to me when I got home. He simply said he was disappointed. No grounding, no revocation of the car, no extra chores. Just disappointment.
I spectated races after that and on occasion rode as a passenger. There was even a time that I really wanted to get back in to street performance, but I was always too afraid of the consequences and what could happen. Not wanting to give up on cars, it forced me full steam to sanctioned racing at legal venues. Drag racing most at first, then to road racing. It's expensive, but the rewards are infinitely better. Besides, having a revoked or restricted license and the insurance that comes with it, is more expensive.
So here we are, full circle. I'm sorry this has been so long and if you've made it this far, thanks! I'll leave you with my opinion on the matter.
Street racing is dangerous and stupid. It's allure however will always draw people (youths most of all) to the activity. It's a problem that you'll never fully solve. However I believe, as with most things, education is key. This gets back to drivers education as a whole. It also means no demonizing wanting to be in the car culture and dad's out there, get your kids involved in legal racing. most 17 year olds can't afford the price of admission to a track to keep them out of trouble. An outing here and there would be good for everybody involved.
Thanks for reading and remember to keep the shiny side up!