Patterico's Pontifications


The Dangerous Game of Street-Racing

Filed under: Crime — DRJ @ 6:41 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

I may be overly sensitive on this subject but my first reaction is that these victims of a Maryland street-racing incident were unlucky and incredibly foolish:

“A car plowed into a crowd that had gathered to watch a drag race on a suburban road early Saturday, killing eight people and injuring at least five, police said.

Police said the white sedan was not involved in the street race but accidentally drove into the crowd of about 50 people that had spilled onto the highway to watch two racing cars speed off.
According to police, two cars had lined up for a race on the smooth and relatively flat and straight stretch of highway. They spun their wheels, kicking up smoke, then sped off, Copeland said.

The crowd then moved into the road to watch the cars drive away. The combination of the smoke and the dark morning likely meant the driver of the approaching white sedan could not see the crowd. No charges were pending.”

Based on the preliminary report, I feel more sympathy for the driver of the sedan and his deceased passenger than I do for the pedestrian victims.

Street-racing has become an epidemic in large and small communities and has resulted in many deaths. Post-2001 statistics are hard to find because few agencies record street-racing accidents, but there are anecdotal estimates that at least 50 people a year are killed and many more injured as a result of street-racing. This 2004 DOJ publication almost foreshadows what happened in Maryland (pp. 17-18):

Street races typically involve racers and spectators meeting at a popular gathering place, often on a relatively remote street in an industrial area. Here they decide where to race; they then convoy to the site, where a one-eighth or one-quarter mile track is marked off. Cars line up at the starting line, where a starter stands between them and drops his or her hands to begin the race. Several hundred spectators may be watching. Unlike racetracks that allow spectators to observe races in a safe, closed environment, these illegal street races encourage spectators to stand near possibly inexperienced drivers and poorly maintained vehicles–a combination that can be deadly for onlookers standing a few feet away from vehicles racing at highway speed.”

Unfortunately, many people and even some in law enforcement think of street-racing with the nostalgia that reminds us of James Dean and Happy Days, but those days are long gone.


21 Responses to “The Dangerous Game of Street-Racing”

  1. More wreckless beahvior that leads to such incedents and not one mention from the blood a day news media

    krazy kagu (fbcc60)

  2. This was unusual in that the collision vehicle was not part of the race. An innocent driving by who never expected to encounter a crowd standing in & on a dark open roadway. Spectator foolishness is the cause in this case, not speed. These people weren’t thinking.

    [Latest is the deceased in the vehicle was a spectator, not a passenger.] Horrible is right.

    ManlyDad (d62cf6)

  3. Based on the preliminary report, I feel more sympathy for the driver of the sedan and his deceased passenger than I do for the pedestrian victims.

    100% agreement, DRJ.

    Unfortunately, many people and even some in law enforcement think of street-racing with the nostalgia that reminds us of James Dean and Happy Days.

    More like The Fast and the Furious, Turbo and the other recent movies that glorified street racing…and reckless behavior.

    Paul (bcc0a7)

  4. True, Paul, but I’m from a much older generation.

    DRJ (3eda28)

  5. The crowd hid in a smoke screen, on the highway, at night. This is the same as herding livestock onto the highway with the intention to harm an innocent motorist. The remainder of that family deserves criminal charges for conspiring to harm the driver of the white sedan. How do people like that live long enough to have offspring?

    bjhines (ea6e07)

  6. True, Paul, but I’m from a much older generation.

    I refuse to accept this as truth. :)

    The drivers of the cars that were racing should be charged with Felony Murder.

    Scott Jacobs (a1de9d)

  7. The driver of the white sedan had been interviewed and did not appear to be seriously hurt, Police Capt. Donald Frick said. Police said a body found in the car was one of the spectators and not a passenger as they had previously reported.

    So no innocent was hurt. Just thinning the herd after all.

    nk (6ef207)

  8. DRJ nailed it when he said that the public’s attitude about it really has to change.

    I sat in on a trial prosecuted by my brother of a street racer who killed his girlfriend. The genius decided a two lane road was a great place for an impromptu drag race. And when an oncoming car came at him while he was in the wrong lane, this brain surgeon thought the best thing to do was go to his left, onto the gravel shoulder going close to 100. He flipped, his girlfriend passenger was thrown and died.

    On basically undisputed facts, the jury decided against the charge of involuntary manslaughter (recklessness standard) in favor of a relatively light negligence charge.

    The fool will be out and about in a year. It’s really terrible.

    Nessuno (6fcffc)

  9. My. God.

    That disgusts me, Nessuno…

    I hope that guy is someone’s wife right now behind bars… Seem sthe only way anything even close to justice will be served.

    Scott Jacobs (a1de9d)

  10. Growing up is hard to do! Must take a village to make such happen, eh?

    I’ve lost friends in street racing, our quarter mile was out there, measured and painted, and somehow, the race starter got nailed. Willie Brewer was his name.

    Convince me of the good to society that comes from raping a generally good young person over what is an accident? Avoidable? Hell yes, aren’t all accidents?

    Now and again, a train tips over, a plane crashes, and cars of course will run off the road with undesired and equally unexpected results.

    But really, if you decide to stand in the middle of an open highway in the middle of the night, you have handed off your expectation to make it home. Shit happens. Deal with it.

    Face it mom/dad, you musta failed somewhere! Or else you kid finally took your advice and went and played in the road.

    Though the story is sad, and it is actually beyond horrible. I know the driver that hit the kids on the highway, no completely different situation, but carrying around the burden that because of others activities, you were the instrument of their demise.

    That burden NEVER gets left behind.

    TC (1cf350)

  11. When I was a kid we dragged all the time. Give a guy the finger and yelled, “Meet me at the bridge.” And the onlookers always lined the stretch of highway. However, due to cops we always posted someone about 100 yards in back of the start. Drag racing on the highway was a state wide problem which was solved by most communities either building a place to race or converting an existing piece of land. These conversions have been taken over by developments (condos, malls etc.) so there are no places for kids to do what kids have done since they stopped riding dinosaurs and switched to horses. “I’m faster than you, asshole,” is the teen age mantra.

    Howard Veit (cc8b85)

  12. Back in the day, I ran a “race-gutted” ’55 Chevy at Lions Drag Strip that was located off the 405fwy in Wilmington, CA. I was sixteen. I owned the car and could drive it on the street, but a friend who was eighteen + was needed to drive it on the drag strip. I was, nevertheless, “engaged”. The drag strip was named “Lions” because it was sponsored by Lions Club International to get, you guessed it, “the kids off the streets”! As well, the Lions Club gave the imprimatur to drag racing that attracted adult support and supervision. It was very popular. It was also closed in 1972 because of the land owner, the LA Harbor Commissions need for more money. The present use of this land is as a container truck terminal. There used to be drag strips in the San Gabriel and San Fernando Valley’s and Orange County as well. They are also gone. There will always be, however, young men and old boys with cars.

    Point is, as “geezer-hood” has now approached me, I notice that the ringing in my ears are the lyrics of a 60’s song that goes: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”. LA has lots of soccer fields and golf courses, Soccer Mom’s and Country Club Dad’s, but no drag strips for the young and mechanically inclined teenager (or adult). Perhaps, sometimes, there is a wisdom in conserving the annoying in order to avoid the tragic.

    Norris (e937a2)

  13. BTW, didn’t James Dean’s character in “Rebel…” die from a racing incident?

    All of us miss Lion’s, OC Raceway, San Gabriel River, and the other drag venues that florished in the late 50’s, and early 60’s. A lot of bragging rights were settled in a controlled, run-what-you-brung environement.

    Life goes on!

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  14. Today’s Washington Post covered the accident at length, as one might expect. What I found rather curious was that a 61-year old man (who was killed), his daughter, and a 13 year old granddaughter were present. Thank God the younger members of his family were OK, but what is a 13 year old doing out at 3:40AM watching such crap–even on a Saturday morning? TC is correct–there’s something to be said for Darwinism at work when one engages in stupid activities and bad things happen. The story isn’t over yet–some witnesses indicated that the driver of the vehicle which hit the victims may not have had lights on. What a godawful mess.

    chuck (f55d57)

  15. Another Drew,

    I don’t think Dean’s character died but I remember the character Buzz died in a racing game of chicken. Of course, Dean actually did die in a car wreck that was believed to have been due to excessive speed on a rural road.


    I’m sure the investigation will find out more of what happened but what I read is that one witness said she did not see the car’s lights. However, the police thought the lights may not have been visible due to the smoke, so it was not necessarily proof that the car’s lights weren’t on. In other words, the same thing that made the driver fail to see the people in the road may also have prevented the people from seeing the car.

    DRJ (3eda28)

  16. Hot Rod did a few articles on the dwindling drag strips. Heck, Pomona is only open occasionally because people bought the “cheap” land around the strip and built homes. Now, they want the track closed. I see this with airports, too. There should be a law that when you move next to an existing farm, airport or race way, you can’t not try to close them because they annoy you.

    I’m an older fart that enjoys flogging my T-Bird on the track, not the streets.

    PCD (c378fd)

  17. An unfortunate tragedy and no doubt a traumatic experience for all. Let us examine this sad affair from our virtual perch here in the blogosphere.

    The apparent victim appears to be the driver of the white car who quite possibly is suffering from guilt, anxiety, trauma, and vehicle damage. Yet obviously he was driving his car too fast for the road conditions, he exceeded his limits of visibility. Should he have been ticketed? Probably not.

    The crowd from whom the casualties were so forcefully extracted, well risky behavior has foreseeable consequences and outcomes. A life lesson learned for those who survived, sadder and wiser.

    But boys will be boys. Is drag racing on the street really such a horrifically dangerous pursuit? The statistics quoted of 50 antidotal deaths is surely sad for all those involved. But 50 deaths out of how many races? The chances of death and disfigurement are probably higher than your chances of being hit by lightning in this country but I’d bet not much higher. Hardly an “epidemic” to worry about.

    But to the purveyors of an ever bigger and better nanny state, every hazard no matter how remote is a matter of grave concern.

    “many people and even some in law enforcement think of street-racing with the nostalgia that reminds us of James Dean and Happy Days, but those days are long gone”

    Really? Get a grip. Let us compare this with some activities and outcomes of certain criminal subsets of modern youth, raised without effective families, fatherless, and with poor role models at best. Gangs, murder, rape and robbery, drugs and no education. Why not look at street racing with a certain nostalgia when “bad boys” burned rubber instead of crack or meth.

    And speaking of getting a grip, Scott Jacobs your comments are appalling and beyond the pale. Am I to understand you correctly that homosexual rape is acceptable? Not just acceptable but a satisfactory outcome of a foolish and unfortunate mistake. Methinks that is not only barbaric but cruel and unusual punishment indeed. Cruel and unusual punishment that the state needs to be held accountable for, if the state chooses to make men their wards by imprisoning them.

    Amused Observer (52f129)

  18. Amused Observer:

    Why not look at street racing with a certain nostalgia when “bad boys” burned rubber instead of crack or meth.

    Because, fortunately, I haven’t been permanently and severely injured by bad boys on crack or meth. I can’t say the same about bad boys who street race.

    DRJ (3eda28)

  19. Please, can’t we just appreciate the beauty of Natural Selection? If standing in the middle of a dark, in use hyway, in a crowd of fellow lawbreakers (i.e., morons) isn’t an excellent way to drain the shallow end of the gene pool, want is?

    Darwin Award Honorable Mention (cfa06f)

  20. In my youth I went to easily a hundred nights of street racing. While we didnt pick a highway, occasionally a car would interupt. They would see the HUNDREDS of people. And HUNDREDS of cars. And slow down, and not not run over 50 people. Driving without headlights?!? This wasnt a NHRA race. How much smoke? Come on. This guy got away with extreme stupidity and others (who are arguably equally as foolish) paid the price. I dont condone street racing at all, but lets say things as they are. You have the responsibility as a drive to watch the road, look for deer, dogs, kids, or a disabled motorist. How can you not see a crowd, a bunch of car, and a bunch of people?

    captain obvios (b834a7)

  21. My friend from high school was driving back from his honey-moon with his wife, he was a real racer, NHRA. He was driving east when a 92 Civic on NOS going over 130mph was racing a 94 Civic going 127mph, they were going south and t-boned my friend. Killing him, the driver of the 92 Civic, and injuring my friends wife, the driver of the 94 Civic was just let go with a speeding ticket and his car impounded, he’s 17!!!

    The driver of the 92 was 16!!! (And he had NOS, what the hell?!?!?!)

    That’s one of 7 of my friends that have been killed or injured by street racing, and even though most of them were track racers or had moded cars none of them were doing anything illegal.

    Mat (3f1680)

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