Elana Scherr December 2022 1668786712

Give the Hot-Rodders a Place to Play

From the December 2022 issue of Car and Driver.

Car hooliganism is in the news. A bystander was killed during a street takeover in Kansas City, Missouri. People hold Challengers in 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 newspaper 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 walk their horses. In a 1966 police sting in Los Angeles, police arrested 66 racers and impounded 29 cars, many of which were “undeniably modified for racing.” Brock Yates covered Detroit’s storied street racing scene for Car and Driver in the 1970s, and while the kids in the ’80s and ’90s had to work harder to keep the tires spinning on their Malaise Era hand-me-downs, there was no shortage of worried think pieces about the dangers of unsanctioned matches. The news stories hit the airwaves fast and furious and continue to this day.

Which makes me wonder: Why, with over 100 years of the street racing “plague” (like the Vancouver Sun declared it in 2003), do we have so few places to race and do donuts? Newspapers with arrests and police figures have also published reports suggesting that more racetracks mean less street fighting.

Local tracks have a track record of success. Both police and politicians acknowledge that during the heyday of the fraternity and its Terminal Island drag strip, there was a measurable decrease in street mayhem.

“A lot of these kids who attend the takeovers are just looking for something to do,” said Donald Galaz, an active member of the Brotherhood of Street Racers, which was started in the 1960s by the famous “Big Willie” Robinson to combat racial violence. stunts and car mayhem in Los Angeles through legal and organized racing. Galaz points out that racers are educated in automotive work. “They modify and build their own cars,” he says, and he thinks those are useful skills for the community. He is worried that no one is giving them a place to work and race. “Instead, the city just whisks them from one town to another.”

Local tracks have a track record of success. Both police and politicians acknowledge that during the heyday of the fraternity and its Terminal Island drag strip, there was a measurable decrease in street mayhem. “They told us it was down 70, 75 percent at the time,” Galaz says. He hopes to revive Brotherhood Raceway, either on Terminal Island or elsewhere in the San Pedro and Long Beach area, but is struggling to get city councils to consider his proposals. “They say, ‘LA’s got a cut,’ in Irwindale.” Which is true, but Irwindale is a good two-hour drive from Long Beach, and what’s more, it just sold, so there’s a high probability 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 it,” says Bay stunt manager Mathew Jensen. “Drifters and racers don’t really have it.” These days, Jensen has access to private properties and racetracks, but most people don’t. “It doesn’t even have to be a track, just an empty parking lot with some safety barriers where we won’t get into trouble,” he says.

Elyse Morales, who runs a professional timing and scoring company, would love to get people from the LA area to go to the monthly drag meets and open drive days at Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond, but she admits how expensive and time-consuming it is can be to travel the 90 or so miles to the high desert. “We need more tracks,” Morales says. “There is enough interest to support it.” More tracks? Providing a place to race is not a new idea. But if local governments were to make it happen, it would be newsworthy.

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