From Issue #7
Illegal Street Racing
The Real World of the Fast & The Furious
By Kevin Ketchen
a Saturday night in the back streets of a large North American
city. Sitting behind the wheel of small import cars
with engines revving are two young men staring each other down.
Their feet poised over the gas pedal, they anxiously await the
thumbs up. When given, the car is dropped into gear, the pedal
is slammed to the floor and the two cars are quickly off, screeching
their tires and sending up clouds of dust.
Sounds like a plot from a summer
blockbuster movie. It is - and it isn't.
Cars and movies have teamed up
for many memorable films over the years. Most recent, Fast and
The Furious brought the high-powered cars of today's street
racing scene to the big screen. But, what many of today's street
racers will tell you is that it's not all about taking risks.
One racer lays out his rules of
the road: "Don't race on busy streets, be it day or night,
especially if there is a school in the area; If you want to
act cool in front of your friends, you shouldn't be racing;
If it's not your car, you shouldn't be racing it; Know your
if you don't know the road or the area, you are asking
for big trouble; and, use common sense. Think before you go,
and if you don't think it's safe, it's probably not."
These sentiments are echoed in
many chat rooms and on message boards that appear all over the
Web, hosted and visited by both street and legal track racers.
"Remember that a car can kill
you in any situation and that a real man lifts off the throttle
in a dangerous situation," says one racer known only as
The racers are also very adamant
about flying solo.
"I will NOT race with someone
in my car, no way, never," says Turboed 2. "I know
what I am doing is stupid, and I should be the only one to pay
if something happens."
"I never drive stupid when
I have a passenger in my car," says noslow5oh. "Usually
it's my girlfriend and I couldn't live with myself if I did
something that got her killed."
They all agree on the rush they
get from pushing their cars, and their luck, to the limit.
"I race because it's a rush.
I don't do drugs or any of that garbage, so racing is my high
for that moment," says Zakk, 19. "It's a rush running
from the cops."
A typical racer is a male aged
17-24 and most likely driving an import. Honda Civics and Camrys
are definitely the new car of choice because of their size and
street handling. The money being spent to supe up, remodel and
refit these machines is commonly in the thousands of dollars.
"They're definitely spending
a lot of money on outfitting their cars," says Lee, 16,
whose boyfriend is a street racer. "Doing body jobs, painting,
putting in systems, new tires, black lights, stuff like that.
Making the car look nice is pretty much essential in this game."
But you cannot forget about making
the car faster by dropping in a powerful engine and modified
air-intake and exhaust equipment.
"The sky is the limit as to
how much we spend on our cars," says Zakk. "I've probably
spent about $4,000 worth of mods into my car. At $17,000, I've
invested about 20% of the original cost back into the car. However,
it is not uncommon to see kids dropping $10-30,000 on high performance
motors, suspension, and styling enhancements."
Race nights can sometimes attract
crowds of up to 400 or 500 people. The meets begin with an inspection,
by drivers and onlookers, under the hoods of the cars. Popular
meeting sites in Toronto are on the Queensway, Steeles and Kennedy,
Finch and Weston, and the Tim Hortons at Woodbine and 16th according
to Toronto police. Another popular area to race is Ellesmere
road. Police just ranked the intersection at Warden and Ellesmere
as Toronto's most dangerous in terms of accidents. Another popular
stretch, Gore Road, says Sgt. Ted Holtzheuser of the Toronto
Police traffic safety program, even had start and finish lines
painted on it.
"Racers like to use streets
on jurisdictional borders," said Holtzheuser in a Toronto
Star article, "so they can disappear a few blocks away,
then resume when the cruiser turns around."
Many of the racers like to use
industrial parks and country roads "out in the stick",
referring to the countryside. Most, but not all, say that racing
on main streets is just asking for trouble.
"A lot of people view street
racing as these hellions who like to race in the middle of the
city and endanger the public," says a racer known as LT.
"In this, like anything, you have your morons [and] these
people are your morons. The rest of us go far out in the sticks
to avoid hurting anyone and causing anyone trouble."
Unfortunately, these 'morons' exist
and people are getting killed. Such was the case in Ottawa this
past summer. Two cars were racing on a busy street when one
of the cars, a black Acura carrying four teens, lost control
and smashed into a light standard. The driver was pinned in
the driver's seat and died before police could get him out.
An 18-year-old male was taken to hospital with fractures. The
other two teenagers were treated in hospital and released.
"Witnesses indicate that the
vehicles were racing each other at a high rate of speed and
one of the drivers - perhaps inexperience has a lot to do with
it - over-steered coming around a curve at a high speed and
hit the pole," said Constable Dan Melchiorre.
It was estimated by police that
the cars were traveling at speeds of 150km/h just before the
More recently, on November 28,
2001 in Toronto, a street race killed a pedestrian. At 1:30
in the afternoon two seventeen-year-olds were racing east on
Ellesmere Avenue in Scarborough in a Ford Explorer and a Mazda
MX-3. The Explorer went out of control after bumping the Mazda,
mounted the sidewalk and slammed into Steven Francisco, 18,
before coming to rest on its roof.
The high school student had been
walking listening to music on his Walkman and never heard the
truck coming. Francisco was pronounced dead at the scene. The
drivers of the two cars were unhurt and both were charged with
criminal negligence causing death.
"There's not one teenage male
who drives that hasn't raced on the streets at one point or
another. But it's instances like these that re-affirm my beliefs
that the police should sanction racing on closed roads on certain
nights during the week," said one racer in response to
the incident. "At all other times, racing should be dealt
with very strictly. They're not going to make the problem go
away, but why not make it safer and eliminate the possibility
of another innocent bystander's life being taken?"
Sanctioned racing on closed roads
as a means to getting the racers off the streets may be a stretch,
but police do recognize that a problem exists. Constable David
Mitchell of the Traffic Unit, York Regional Police Service and
Constable Steven Barcham, Aurora Detachment of the Ontario Provincial
Police recently developed strategies to coordinate the efforts
of police agencies in the GTA. Police received instruction on
laws regarding stock and modified motor vehicles.
A total of 1,687 vehicles were
stopped between a four-month period and 1,001 charges were laid
under various legislation such as the Highway Act, Environmental
Protection Act and Criminal Code violations.
On Canadian roads, the 16-24-age
group is posting staggering numbers of auto accidents causing
serious injury or death. This group makes up only 13% of the
drivers on our roads - 7% male and 6% female - yet they account
for 26% of road fatalities and 26% of serious injury caused
by an accident. Further, 31% of passengers that died in car
accidents and 34% that were seriously injured, also fall in
the 16-24-age group.
Realizing that the young people
are using city streets to race, Police forces across North America
are coming up with ideas to get the cars off the roads and onto
"Beat the Heat" is a
program that brings together teens and police officers to build
and modify cars and then pits the young drivers against the
officers in races. Started in the States, there are currently
over 150 Beat the Heat programs across North America.
Saskatoon has its own Beat the
Heat chapter called Street Legal that runs under the motto "If
you want to race, the street is not the place!" Officially
started on August 22, 2000, drivers between the ages of 16 and
24 are invited to race on a track in a controlled environment
while learning about vehicle and traffic safety. For $15, they
get to race from 6 PM until dark. Reaction from teens, says
Constable Tim Bayly of the Saskatoon Police Service, has been
positive. "We average 70-80 cars. They have an object they
and touch as well as take on the cops in a race at the track.
It also provides a chance for them to speak to officers on racing
and cars in a positive manner."
The racers generally just want
to use the awesome power of their cars and to show off the money
and work they have put into them. If they have nowhere to do
it legally they are going to continue to race along city streets.
"In Saskatoon, we have a large
street running East/West called 8th Street," says Bayly.
"It has 3 lanes each direction separated by a raised boulevard.
This street has been the local "cruise strip" for
many years. It is also where the illegal racing generally takes
place. My partner and I stopped 2 guys racing on 8th street
and 3 weeks later one had been killed while racing. He never
did make it out to the track."
What is the one thing that Constable
Bayly would say to a teen thinking of getting involved in street
racing? "You cannot control all the factors while racing
on City streets and sooner or later, you will have to face consequences
for your actions. Come out to the track and try and "Beat
the Heat!" You will find that police officers are easy
to talk to and we look forward to seeing you there."
But, the burden of making the right
choice ultimately lies on the shoulders of those looking for
a place to get the rush from speed.
must remember to respect our machines," says a racer named
Sean. "No matter how much money you've invested in beefed
up braking, once you get a few thousand pounds of metal, glass,
rubber and plastic moving at a high rate of speed, and you lose
control, well that is a weapon and it's likely to hurt you or
On Canadian Roads, 16 – 24 year olds:
Make up 13% of drivers (7% male, 6% female)
Account for 26% of road fatalities
Account for 26% of serious injuries caused by an accident
Make up 31% of passengers that died in a car accident
Make up 34% of passengers that were seriously injured
(Source: Statistics Canada 2000)