Drag racers cheating death


Nov. 11, 2004, midnight | By Kiran Bhat | 16 years ago


Where only first names appear, names have been changed to protect the identities of the sources.

The smell of gasoline wafts through the midnight air one Friday in August as Dave, a junior, revs the engine of his Honda in a parking lot directly off Route 355. Onlookers mingle as organizers collect entrance fees, cordon off surrounding roads and listen intently to a scanner radio monitoring police chatter. In just moments, the vehicles at the starting line will belch fire, as they approach speeds of up to 125 miles per hour.

Once the start signal is given, Dave keeps his hand on the wheel and his foot on the gas. His surroundings begin to blur as the Honda rips through the air like a bullet. His heart races, adrenaline pumping through his veins. Then, as fast as it began, the race is over. He hasn't won the $1,000 pot, but he does escape the race with his life.

The risks associated with illegal street racing hit close to home on Oct. 2, the day Blair graduate Carlos Brenes was killed in what police believed to be a drag race on University Boulevard, according to The Washington Post. Fifteen youths in addition to Brenes have been killed in car accidents across the area in the space of only five weeks, two in racing-related crashes. Although the recent carnage involving risky driving has some drag-racing Blazers reconsidering their pastime, others simply shrug off the harrowing evidence.

The motivation to race

Soon after he learned to drive at age 12, Dave started saving up his weekly allowance to buy the Honda that he now treasures. He traveled as far as New York to witness illegal races, and before long he was hitting local streets on late nights to race. "A group of people say, 'Let's go race,' and they go race," he says.

Another Blazer illegally races his cousin's BMW Z4 Roadster. "To me, it's not really that important. I just do it for fun," says Derrick, a 14-year-old freshman who ignores the fact that he is still too young to even legally drive. He races for the publicity drag racing garners him among peers and finds the possible profits and attention from girls to be enticing extras.

Unlike Derrick, Dave says that drag racing has a deeper meaning and that he uses it as an outlet for frustration. After family arguments, Dave often takes his Honda out to find a quick race. "Problems that lead kids to do drugs lead me to drag race," he says. Dave feels that drag racing is "pretty clean cut" compared to other illegal activities, and he believes that a skilled driver puts no one in danger but himself.

However, Gregg Guenthard, Director of Racers Against Street Racing warns, "If you're out on a two lane black top and eat it and hit a telephone pole or something, you're probably going to die."

Racing's harsh realities

Dangers aside, drag racers also face several legal repercussions. Maryland penalizes five points on a driver's license and fines drivers $275 for speeding 30 miles or more over the posted speed limit, which is the charge often levied upon racers because cases of racing are not always separately documented.

However, fear of police should be the smallest of a teen drag racer's worries, according to Montgomery County Police Department Public Information Officer Julia Gilroy. "I don't know what the thrill is, but it's not worth it," she says. "Obviously if you die, you won't be there to mourn the loss, but if you're paralyzed, that's something you have to live with for the rest of your life."

According to an Oct. 8 Gazette article, 31 percent of fatal car accidents in Maryland were speed-related, and the National Hot Rod Association estimates that one in 20 illegal street racers experience severe injury or even death.

Guenthard, whose organization supports teen drivers wishing to race their cars legally at government-sanctioned tracks, admits to drag racing as a youth. However, he decided to become involved in the movement against illegal street racing after witnessing a horrific accident. "When I was younger, I used to indulge, but then I saw a guy get pinned between two cars," he says, his voice quivering.

Despite the obvious risks involved with drag racing, Guenthard acknowledges that it takes a concrete physical experience to deter teens from doing it. "They'll [race] until they hit something. They'll race until they can't race," he says.

Willing to take the risk

While admitting that most drag racers take a cavalier attitude towards the risks of their hobby, Derrick is fully aware that he could be severely injured or even die. "Something can go wrong with the car, and you never know what's going to happen," he says. "If I witnessed [a car crash], that'd...scare me. Everyone sees them on TV, but if you're there it's different," he says. Still, Derrick insists that he is a safe driver and will continue to race until he or someone he knows gets injured.

After a friend's death in a crash in New York about two months ago, Dave is fully aware of the risks of his drag racing. When speaking of the accident, his voice becomes softer. "I regret my friend getting in trouble. He couldn't use his brakes; he was going so fast and crashed. I don't know," he says, sighing.

Even with that experience, all the warnings from authorities and the string of recent fatal crashes in Montgomery County involving speed, Dave dismisses the notion that he has any level of fear. "I'm not scared of dying. I know I'm going to die sooner or later; might as well live it up when I have the chance," he says brashly.

But for friends and family who are left behind, the pain is excruciating. Junior Jesse Dubon still has not come to terms with the death of Brenes, his cousin. The anguish palpable in his voice, Dubon unequivocally condemns drag racing. "I don't see a point to it. It's not that hard to find another way to get an adrenaline rush," he says.




Kiran Bhat. Kiran Bhat is a senior who loves the Washington Redskins, 24, Coldplay, Kanye West, Damien Rice, Outkast and Common (Sense). He aspires to be the next Sanjay Gupta. He will miraculously grow a Guptaesque telegenic face and sculpted body by the age of 30. In … More »

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