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Illegal street racing in southern California with smoke and cars

Street Racing and Takeovers ‘Staggering’ but Increase Correlates With Closing Drag Strips

The California Highway Patrol is getting millions of dollars to help squelch street racing and takeovers, through tickets, jail, car confiscations, and more. But what happened to local drag strips to help quell straat racing?

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) is touting its recent grant of $2 million from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It’s getting the money to “decrease the number of fatal and injury traffic crashes caused by illegal and dangerous activities.” This comes after the CHP spent $5.5 million from the state for similar endeavors relating to these crimes

“The number of incidents resulting from unsafe driving behaviors, including motorists exceeding 100 mph on state highways, illegal street racing and sideshow activities, and speed-related crashes are occurring at a staggering pace,” said CHP officials in a news release. Living in southern California, we see many telltale signs of takeovers by the circular tire marks left in intersections. So, anecdotally, we see a drastic increase in these illegal activities. 

Should Los Angeles look at past solutions for street racing?

Illegal street racing in southern California in intersection
Illegal street racing in southern California | Pierre Crom/Getty

If you look at these incidents in a larger scope, it is obvious why these activities are happening. It is the same reason street racing in the middle of the last millennium took place. Youth, new to driving and the exhilaration of excess speed, need a release. 

Back in the 1950s, communities and police worked together. One solution was to find a patch of land or an abandoned airport landing strip to make a drag strip. It didn’t stop street racing. But it went a long way toward allowing young drivers an outlet to exercise that need for speed. 

Are the CHP’s efforts lowering incidents of street racing?

Illegal street racing investigation in Chatsworth, California, after sideshow
Illegal street racing in southern California | Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty

Back to the CHP grants and the “staggering” increase in takeovers and street racing. It seems that giving adolescents an organized place to drift or race isn’t being brought up. Maybe it is behind closed doors, but mostly never in public. 

On the substance, it raises many questions. Only looking to enforcement through force, fines, jail, and vehicle confiscation is one approach to deal with the issue. But is it the only way? No.

So, why are grants and taxpayer money going for only one way to quell what, in various ways, has existed for decades and decades? If there is public money going toward “decreasing the number of fatal and injury traffic crashes caused by illegal and dangerous activities.” Those who came before us had some good ideas.

Weren’t there a bunch of drag strips in SoCal?

Street racing protests in Angelino Heights, California
Group of street racing protesters in Angelino Heights, California | PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty

In southern California alone in the 1950s and 1960s, there was Lions Drag Strip in Long Beach, San Gabrial Drag Strip in Baldwin Park, Irwindale Raceway, San Fernando Drag Strip, Fontana Drag City, Carlsbad Raceway, Santa Ana Dragstrip, Pomona Dragstrip, and on and on. Today, the amount of drag strips is almost zero. 

There is now an eighth-mile strip in Irwindale that is being considered for another use, and Pomona Dragstrip, which is limited to the NHRA Winternationals and Finals. There is also an eighth in Barona on Indian property east of San Diego and a brand new one, the Street Legal Dragway (SLD). 

Is the CHP issuing lots of tickets?

Street racing in Compton, California, with tire smoke and cars
Street racing in Compton, California | Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times via Getty

The SLD in Perris, California, is a unique site. It is a 1/16-mile strip, something we’re unaware of at any other venue in the U.S., and it is for the express purpose of providing a place to let off steam and squeeze the trigger for a quick squirt down a dragstrip. SLD is literally for street-legal vehicles. 

What’s interesting is that from January 2022 to June 2023, the CHP has issued over 31,000 tickets for drivers caught driving over 100 mph, according to KTLA News. The CHP’s plan is to form task forces and launch social media campaigns to educate young drivers on the risks. But these drivers are smart enough to know the consequences.

What they might be receptive to is a place for them to drag, drift, and swap some stories. That isn’t being done. So ,while their efforts are better than nothing, there are other avenues that could work much better and teach young adults about competition, organization, and socialization, not to mention how to go faster. 


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