Street racing has a long history, dating back to the prohibition days of the 1930s. In some parts of the U.S., smugglers would modify their vehicles to achieve better power and handling from their engines and suspension. Many historians feel that the prohibition era in the United States was the origin of stock car racing and even drag racing, as well. The 1950s saw the full emergence of street racing with such Hollywood movies as "Rebel Without a Cause" in 1955, which associated street racing with the powerful angst of youth culture. This pairing of counter cultures was culminated with the popular "Grease" movie in 1978, which featured an exciting street race scene.
There are strong racing cultures in many parts of the world. Some cities and urban areas have become classified as street racing "hot spots." These are places that stage coordinated races, that are organized and scheduled well in advance. Race planners have even been reported to have monitored GPS positioning of police vehicles to avoid detection. These street racing hot spots also are associated with illegal gambling and underground gang activity. Southern California and Dallas are two street racing hot spots in the United States. In California, there are more outlets for race enthusiasts to safely and legally participate in the sport. However, in Houston, authorities are fighting to control a race culture with few sanctioned race venues. Officers for Harris County there reported receiving roughly 100 service calls related to street racing in their county during 2007, many including fatal accidents. Street racing hot spots like Tokyo and Hong Kong have even gained worldwide attention. However, their notoriety is partially due to the gruesome and horrific accidents that typify a street racing hot spot.
Starting a Street Race
There are very few rules when it comes to street racing but there is a recognizable format. The drivers usually line up while traveling the speed limit and wait for other racers. Sometimes a driver will sound his horn three times to start the race. The leader chooses the course and a winner is determined by simply outrunning the other racers. Another popular way to signal the start of a race is by employing a spectator. Like the starting tree of a drag race, the spectator raises their hand and signals the start with a drop of her hat. This image has been echoed in movies like "Heavenly Kid", music videos from ZZ Top, and has become a recognizable symbol of street racing.
Some critics of street racing question the allure of such a dangerous sport. Yet, some participants enjoy being a part of such an unsanctioned racing environment, without rules or restraints. A community of car enthusiasts can grow from a street racing hot spot, providing a social scene for an under-served demographic. There are no age restrictions and street racing can provide entertainment for young drivers who are not yet admitted into bars and clubs. Many drivers take pride in the modifications made to their cars and enjoy displaying their upgrades to street racing enthusiasts. This has caused a significant rise in the aftermarket auto industry, as drivers and enthusiasts alike purchase more accessories for their rides.
Street races are often wagered on by both the participants and the observers. Most street racing wagers are the result of personal arguments and disputes which get settled on the road. As a prize, the winner of the race gets cash or can even win his opponent's vehicle. This is termed "racing for pinks" where the winner keeps the losing vehicle as a trophy. This racing theme helped inspire the Speed Channel's original series called "Pinks," where contestants race for vehicle ownership.
Street racing can be dangerous to both drivers and spectators. There are also problems with the legality of racing performance vehicles on the public roads. Most street racing cars are not equipped with roll cages or added safety features. Drivers are mostly untrained and lack professional racing experience. Also, the normal driving public is not prepared to handle and avoid an impromptu street race. This increases the likelihood of collisions and fatal accidents. There can be extensive wear and tear placed on roads and private property where street races are held. This could mean fences, pavement and asphalt that has to be repaired by the taxpayers' dollar. Street racing hot spots can also double as illegal gambling dens, where millions of dollars exchange hands. This can lead to increased gang activity and auto thefts. Even the major Hollywood movies that portray street racing include the underground criminal influences of gambling and street gangs. Police have a zero-tolerance policy toward illegal street racing. In nearly all the racing hot spots, penalties can include severe fines, imprisonment and loss of the vehicle.
Popular Movies and Games
The overall popularity of the street racing culture can be partially attributed to the portrayal of street racing culture in popular forms of media like movies and video games. Movies like "Nitro" and "Death Race 2000" were heavily influenced by street racing but none had an impact on street racing quite like the "Fast and the Furious" series. Grossing more than $80 million dollars in its first 10 days, this film was wildly successful. The studio executives released public service announcements to deter illegal street racing, but could not compete with the allure of its own daring races and street stunts. The movie also displayed street racing favorites like the Mitsubishi Eclipse and Lancer Evolution. "Fast and the Furious" was a beginner's guide to everything from drifting and nitrous oxide, to illegal gambling and cop chases. Video games like Midnight Club, Need for Speed and Grand Theft Auto also share similar popularity and profitability. They are available on several platforms and allow players to modify, steal and race their cars. The Need for Speed series even incorporates police chases and vehicle damage into the actual gameplay. There is considerable debate as to whether or not these simulated illegal races with their disregard for police life and property adversely affect young gamers. Although most of these games do not come with a parental advisory sticker, their street racing themes often feature auto theft, vulgar language and incentive-based crashes.
Author: Fred Blackmon