“A shoe upon your soiled house, sir!”
“Caution! The brown acid circulating around us is not specifically too good.”
A boy turns 16, passes his driver’s test, and immediately gets the keys to the custom Mustang that he and his father worked on for three years to get ready for this special occasion: the boy’s rite of passage.
In some African countries, a boy’s passage into manhood might include being circumcised in his teen years while the tribe watches. Not so in America. In America, it’s all about girls, sports and hot rods, baby.
It’s Friday night and the16-year-old and his friends are stoked – they’ll no longer need to hitch rides from parents or take their skateboards, one of their own has scored some wheels. They pile into the classic Mustang, beer and joints in hand (a long way from American Graffiti), and off they burn to the blacktop playground.
Within an hour they’re bouncing up and down in the vehicle, Wayne and Garth-like, going ape-shit to Aerosmith’s Back in the Saddle. True, they’ve never been in this saddle before, but the power and entitlement they feel, with all this horsepower under the hood, gives them a false sense of security. They are high on more than drugs and booze. They are revved on invincibility, and they are aching for a test.
They pull up to a stop sign and, just their luck, sitting across from them is a similar looking Mustang with an Older Cat driving it. The Young Gun burns his wheels, putting the Older Cat on notice. OC ignores the punk, makes his right turn and, in an instant, looks in his rearview and finds the teen’s ‘stang creeping up on his ass. He’s been there/done that and figures it shouldn’t take long.
YG puts the pedal to the medal and hits the left lane of a two-way street, he wants to pass his elder and show him the new kids have arrived on the block.
On corner number three, OC is still not giving ground, he’s driven this road enough to know how to handle it. YG, on the other hand, takes the curve too tightly and his car fishtails out of control and flies off the road into a small ravine. Verdict: Mustang totaled. The boys, luckily, myself one of them, escaped with only a few scratches.
This is the kind of scene which epitomizes how drag racing got it’s start – mano-a-mano. And while street racing has grown immensely, and the cars have gotten more sophisticated, and a lot faster, one thing will never change, and that’s the impetus for taking it to the streets: a competitive challenge rooted in speed, power, ego and danger. The perfect recipe for a male rite of passage. F*ck the circumcision.
Street Racing got it’s start in the 1930s on the main drags and back roads of Southern California. They also raced on dry lake beds – one, where the Space Shuttle actually lands today. By the late 40s, the danger was becoming apparent and attempts to codify the sport were underway.
The first drag strip opened on a Santa Ana airfield in 1950, and in 1951, Wally Parks, editor of Hot Rod magazine, formed the NHRA. The NHRA came about, in the words of Parks, to “create order from chaos.”
In 1953, the NHRA held its first official race in a parking lot of the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds. Today the NHRA is in its fifth decade and is the world’s largest sanctioning body with 140 member tracks, 5,000 member-track events, 35,000 licensed competitors and 80,000 members.
But even though the sport was legitimized, there still weren’t enough organized venues where teens could test their mettle and show off their sweet-ass cars. So they continued to flaunt their wares on their hometown boulevards, engaging in what was quickly labeled “illegal street racing.” They were the rebels, supposedly, without a cause. And their champion was the King of Cool, James Dean, who starred in the film of the same name and died in a head-on crash in his Porsche Spyder just days before the opening.
When street racing began, cars were primarily USA-built. In fact, some of the first cars fashioned into racing vehicles were mom and pop’s station wagon!
These days, American cars are no longer the trend. Because of their size and handling, the weapons of choice are Imports, with Honda Civic’s and Toyota Camry’s the most popular. Of course, factory-bought cars aren’t ready to drag, so therefore, thousands of dollars are spent on remodeling and refitting. It’s not uncommon for someone to spend between $10,000-30,000 on high performance motors, suspension and styling enhancement. And no, it’s impossible to get insurance on an illegal car, so if they wrap it around a pole…
Today’s racer demographic hasn’t changed much from the early days, the majority of participants being 17 to 24-year-old males, of all races. And despite several programs designed to keep them off the street – like “Beat the Heat” in 150 locations across North America, which pits cops racing against kids – illegal racing is still riding rampant.
And, as always, the entertainment industry has helped fuel the curiosity with games like Playstation’s Midnight Club: Street Racing and movies like the Fast and Furious. In fact, immediately after FF1 came out, four people died in three crashes over a three-week period in Los Angeles alone.
But movies and video games don’t kill people, people kill people. And that’s why, in the past couple of years, the LAPD has led an all-out assault on the rebels, with major task forces and new laws that help them curb the problem. An example is Section 41.70.2 LAMC, which went into effect On July 28, 2003. It allows the LAPD to confiscate any vehicles engaged in street racing (and that means cars just there for the show), and also gives them the power to put the drivers and the spectators in jail.
Police in neighboring counties, like Ontario, Fontana and Riverside, have also devised ways of cramping the racers’ style – one of the tactics which has proven effective is shutting down industrial streets and warehouse districts where the yutes go to drag on the weekends.
But where there is authority, young men will always be there to go against it. Although, don’t think rebelling is at the heart of why illegal racing will continue to be popular, it’s only the icing. The greater reason for their cause lies in the abstract world of the male initiation, and can be best captured by a pivotal scene from Rebel Without a Cause.
Dean’s character “Jim” is about to compete in a Chickie Run against his rival Buzz. (A Chickie Run is a high-speed race toward the edge of a steep cliff. The first to jump out before reaching the edge is considered the chicken.)
Buzz: This is the edge. That’s the end.
Jim: Yeah. It certainly is.
Buzz: You know something? I like you. You know that?
Jim: Why do we do this?
Buzz: You got to do something now, don’t you?
Recommended reading: Guys and Cars
We’re living in such an insane period of confusion, subterfuge and clusterfuck. You say “Depression” I say “Recession.” You say “health care” I say “WTF?”
If you’re like me, you don’t know jack about the health care battle. You only know about the psychotics and their guns hanging out with our smooth-ass president, and the right-wing jackasses actually paid to provoke them. That is DEPRESSION in my book. Can’t we EVER “all get along?”
There is a pill, my friends. And it’s got nothing to do with HEALTH CARE. (Basically, you don’t have to worry about sneaking across the border to buy it from a Mexican who got it from a Canadian.) WTF is it? It’s Lloyd Cole’s ANTIDEPRESSANT.
Cole’s playful, alt-rock formula works like this: Distinct Soothing Vocals + Smooth Instrumentals + Witty Newmanian Lyrics = Album You Need To Own. Get it at iTunes.
P.S. The Depression is over, man, get with the anti-program now.