Archive for Thursday, September 6, 2001

Out of Bounds: Secret society of speed

The Fast and the Furious’ inspires columnist to challenge Lawrence motorists

September 6, 2001

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I know they're out there. I just need to find them. But these street-racing gangs, man, they're sneaky.

I saw "The Fast and the Furious" starring Vin Diesel. So did half of America. (It made $140 million at the box office.) I thought the movie rocked. Now I want to be just like Diesel. Or maybe Steve McQueen. Or Bo Duke.

Columnist Seth Jones speeds through a Lawrence intersection in his
1999 Chevrolet Camaro in search of racing opponents.

Columnist Seth Jones speeds through a Lawrence intersection in his 1999 Chevrolet Camaro in search of racing opponents.

But before I can become a street-racing king, I need to find these groups of lawless racers.

They weren't as prevalent in society before "The Fast and the Furious." But then the movie came out, and as we all know, life somehow imitates art. So now every town big enough to have a Sonic is home to street-racing culture, right? But it's apparently a secret. It's like "The Skulls," even though I didn't see that movie. And they're not just going to just let anyone into their club; you have to prove yourself.

It's been two months now, and I'm still racing every station wagon I see, and even occasionally winning (I'm 32-19 since the movie opened), yet not one person has told me the time and place to be at the secret races.

I've asked people with fast cars, people with slow cars, people who work at auto shops, even the cops. But so far it's been like searching for Bigfoot.

The cold equations

I'm out cruising in my Camaro, looking for a race. Not much action today in Lawrence. But I always see a police officer at the corner of Sixth and Michigan streets, so maybe that's a hotspot. I drive by to see.

Of course, there's a cop at the intersection, preventing the street racing altogether. I decide to ask the natural enemy of the street racer if he knows where to find this hidden subculture.

Officer Ken Farrar couldn't tell me exactly the place where the challenges occur just further proving that the Lawrence participants are especially sneaky.

"I don't see people racing too much," he told me. "I think it happens more out in the county but it does occasionally get reported."

He suggested West 15th Street might be a good racing spot. But I told him I live out that way, and there's never any action. After all, I don't want to sell out my hopeful brethren.

I asked him if the number of street-racing incidents has doubled or tripled since "The Fast and the Furious" hit theaters. He laughed and said, "No, it hasn't increased any. I do like that movie though."

I was just about to ask if he wanted to race, but then I remembered what happened when Vin Diesel befriended a police officer: game over.

Desperate for answers, I went to the library. After getting creeped out by walking through the moldy stacks at Watson, I bellied up to a computer and started a different high-speed search.

Turns out that there are two meccas of street racing: San Diego and Toronto. In 1998, San Diego reported 14 street-racing fatalities. The clandestine events occur there almost nightly, and the larger ones draw around 2,000 racers and viewers. But the city is cracking down. In late May of this year, a sting resulted in 68 people ticketed and three cars impounded.

From reading up on the street races in these two cities, I learned that most occur late in the evening, always after midnight. The quieter the streets, the better. So I went out late Sunday in search of these night stalkers.

Race baiting

The streets are quiet. But my radio is loud. Drowning Pool pounds out, "Let the bodies hit the floor!" I figure it's appropriate, and people will realize I'm serious about my racing.

But then there's that problem with half the stoplights in Lawrence after 11 p.m. they flash yellow. How are we supposed to race at a flashing light?

It only takes about five minutes of cruising before I find my first victim. Then I look in his window and realize that this guy is as scary as they get. Long scraggily hair, crazed look take WWF's Mankind and cross him with Charles Manson, and you have my first opponent. He's in a mid-'90s Chevy truck, blue with a silver stripe. We're at the corner of Clinton Parkway and Kasold Drive, heading west.

I roll forward. He rolls forward. I roll forward again. He responds. The light turns green, and we take off! Tires screech, and before we can get past Emerson Biggin's, we're already speeding. I feel like I have a sufficient lead and begin to slow down. My opponent makes a quick left, defeated. I raise my record to 33-19.

I spin around and hit the same intersection again. Looks like another truck to race. I roll up to the light and give my sinister smile.

The light turns green, but the guy wimps out. I'm sure if you ask him, he'll use the boat he's pulling as an excuse. I'm now 34-19.

My next victim meets me at Clinton Parkway and Iowa Street, heading east. He has a new white Malibu to match up against my '99 Camaro. While my engine may be larger, he has three women riding with him. Mr. Malibu, I hate you.

I look at him and smile, then rev my engine. He looks straight ahead. The light turns green. I take off.

My opponent must have not wanted any. Or he already had too much of what he wanted with the three women riding along with him, because he fails to follow.

I cruise down to Mass. Street. Of course, it's impossible to race down here, but maybe I'll see a street gang before they head out to their covert racing spot.

Suddenly, a red Mitsubishi with neon red ground effects and a matching red antenna streaks by me in the other direction. I whip my trusty Camaro around as quickly as possible, but by the time I'm heading his way, the mysterious opponent has vanished into the night.

If the street racers are really out there, I want them to know they may be fast, but their constant hiding just makes me furious.

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