Gone Racin'... Illegal Street Racing
The News is rife with stories of illegal street racing. In Southern Asia, gamblers bribe officials to cordon off the streets so that huge sums can be wagered on car and motorcycle races. Innocent people are injured or killed when cars go out of control and cities are reporting rising numbers of unsafe and dangerous street racing events, some spontaneous and others well planned. Each event is treated with surprise, and yet, why should we feel this way. Illegal street racing predates the automobile. European dandies of the 18th century were infamous for acts of thugism and reckless acts in their horse drawn hansoms and coaches. No period of history is safe from the trepidation of those who feel the excitement of the chase or the race. It's as if we feel that merely wishing away such dangerous sport is enough. We say that it shouldn't happen and that people need to be logical and follow an altruistic course of action. Such hogwash shows that educated and urbane men and women are just as foolish in neglecting facts and human psychology as are the more ignorant and unlettered.
Every generation seeks its own identity and flaunts the laws and mores of their parents. Eventually, given time and experience, most of us mature and develop into more rational citizens. As parents, we hope that our children will survive long enough to learn wisdom and make proper decisions. Why is it any different today. Illegal street racing was widespread during the 1930-40's, and then declined during the next generation. There are many reasons for an increase in street racing:
1) fewer sanctioned race tracks,
2) legal opposition by local homeowners to organized racing,
3) a new generation of "muscle cars,"
4) new trends toward street racing among young people,
5) movies that glamorize a by-gone era,
6) the excitement of speed,
7) fewer cities and police departments willing to spend resources on prevention or control,
8) the mindset that those who are illegally street racing aren't really "their children,"
9) a disinclination among non-racing adults to see any benefit at all in any kind of Motorsports racing, and
10) the demise of the car clubs.
What caused the decline of street racing a generation ago? Powerful forces were arrayed against it. Policemen took a major step in reaching out to their generation's youth. They fought for new venues to race and often gave those arrested a choice. Help make the new tracks work, pay the fines or go to jail. The S.C.T.A. (Southern California Timing Association) and other car clubs rallied their members together and exerted a positive control over themselves and other young people. Sometimes they even used a little negative force as well to bring order. But they were respected and they took the lead on the streets. NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) was organized in 1951 and took a strong presence in denouncing illegal street racing. I saw my father act on two guest appearances in the 1950's, once on "The Life of Riley" with William Bendix, and a second time with Ozzie and Harriet Nelson on their show. Both Television shows based their plots on showing that street racing wasn't smart, and that there was an alternative in legalized and sanctioned racetracks. The Petersen Publishing Company and other magazines and newspapers threw their considerable support behind organized track racing. Governors, mayors and politicians of all kinds put their support behind safe racing. President Richard Nixon invited the Motorsports racing community to the White House on several occasions to show his concern and support.
There was illicit street racing, even during the heyday of track racing, but it barely existed against the powerful forces that opposed it during the 1950-80's. Today, what do we have at hand to defeat illegal street racing? Where are all the supervised and safe tracks that we used to race on? They have been turned into tract homes and shopping centers. The police have seen their budgets cut year after year and their "priorities" weighted down with drug and street gang violence. The car clubs that once numbered in the tens of thousands throughout the nation have dwindled down to a fraction of that number. The sheer numbers and energy devoted to controlling street racing has diminished. Is it any wonder that "the problem" has returned? We can learn from the past and create new programs tailored to the needs of our youth today. The city of Anaheim has invested time, energy and money into youth programs that have reduced street racing and improved their image in the community. NHRA has joined with The Automobile Club of Southern California to sponsor youth racing programs and the JR Drag Racing League. California Speedway and Irwindale Speedway have begun development of new racing tracks for street racers. There is far more that needs to be done and we, as a community, have yet to invest the resources needed to deter street racing. But the lives saved are worth the effort. Do we have a choice?
Gone Racin' is at www.oilstick.com