Atlanta’s Considering Limited Legal Street Racing

Beyond just requiring careful car prep, racing also usually takes place on special-purpose tracks or courses. However, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic emptying roads, more people are starting to treat streets as their own personal racetracks. That means more speeding tickets, and more chances for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians to get injured or worse. But, just like racing organizations are changing to match the virus, so too are local legislatures. However, at first glance, Atlanta, Georgia’s proposal seems rather odd: legalize street racing. Could it be crazy enough to work?

Atlanta’s legal street racing plan details

Illegal Street racing in Compton
LOS ANGELES, CA – APRIL 15: Illegal Street racing activities on Ana Street in Compton on April 13, 2015. (Photo by Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

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To be sure, Atlanta’s government isn’t proposing turning the whole city into a Fast and Furious backdrop, The Drive explains. Instead, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ 18-year-old son proposed the idea of making a designated street racing space. And the idea isn’t just a teenaged fantasy, Motor1 reports. The city is working with consulting agency Bloomberg Associates to consider multiple ways of combating illegal street racing, burnouts, donuts, and other unsafe automotive exuberance.

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However, not everyone’s on board with the street racing space idea. Atlanta Council member Dustin Hills, CBS46 reports, believes creating such a space would remove the illicit “thrill” street racing brings. Thus, people would still race elsewhere, making the proposed space pointless. It is worth point out that the city already has a racetrack, Atlanta Motor Speedway. However, it’s predominately focused on NASCAR oval racing, with few concessions to other styles.

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As of this writing, there is a petition asking Mayor Bottoms to consider moving forward with the street racing space. Any decision would be some time away, as CBS46 reports officials are “still in the very early stages of research.” In the meantime, people are still racing illegally. AJC reports that, over the weekend of May 17th, 2020, police made 44 street-racing-related arrests.

However, solving street racing through legalization does have some precedence.

Other cities offer legal drag racing opportunities

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One of the first cities to offer a sanctioned form of drag racing, ABC News reports, was Medley, Florida. True, it’s not quite on the street, but on a prepped dragstrip. But now, instead of racers running from the police, they’re racing the cops head-to-head. So, instead of the situation feeling like an ‘us vs. them’ scenario, racers and cops can compete in a healthy and safe environment. There’s still a thrill of competition, but no innocent civilians get endangered.

In 2009, roughly 30 states held some form of “Beat the Heat” race. And reportedly, the Miami PD’s efforts were so successful, the department disbanded its anti-street racing task force.

In California’s Bay Area, the program’s still up-and-running at the Sonoma Motor Speedway. As long as your car or motorcycle passes a safety inspection, and you’ve got a license, you can race, NBC reports.

There’s also a variation of the idea in Detroit. Since 2016, the annual Woodward Dream Cruise has hosted legal drag racing on Woodward Avenue. And since 2018, Motor Trend’s sponsored multi-day events.

There’s also another Detroit event that may preview the future of Atlanta’s, and other cities’, street racing scenes.

Would legalizing help solve the problem?

Detroit’s ‘Sunday Funday,’ Jalopnik reports, is what’s commonly called a ‘sideshow.’ Instead of just racing, participants shut down streets to slide, do burnouts, and in general, show off their cars. And, naturally, police tend to shut these down to protect the populace.

However, in March 2020, the police didn’t shut the event down completely, Detroit’s WXYZ reports. Instead, Police Chief James Craig worked with the organizers to create a designated space for all the donuts, 360s and slides the drivers want. Organizers Daryl Hairston and Will Quarles told WXYZ that the drivers don’t want people to get hurt, or even hold up traffic. They just want to have fun, as the video below (NSFW language warning) shows.

True, someone was lightly struck when Sunday Funday moved to private property, Click on Detroit reports. But there were no injuries, and the person involved was standing too close to the staging area. The biggest problem is finding more space to spread everyone out.

Obviously, there will always be someone who starts trouble. I’ve personally seen Cars & Coffee participants accelerate dangerously, right in view of the cops. But hopefully, Atlanta’s street racing can find a way to provide fun without reckless danger.

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