Fast, furious and putting lives in danger

Dec. 20, 2001, midnight | By Stephanie Hernandez | 19 years, 3 months ago

Drag racing becomes a local and national trend as teens disregard the law and their safety

"I was kind of nervous, but I encouraged him to go faster anyway," says senior William Zepeda, recounting the rush of adrenaline that pumped through his veins as he and his friends raced at 100 miles an hour on the New Carrollton drag strip. Then it happened. The driver, who was not wearing a seatbelt, lost control of the car. Luckily, Zepeda was unharmed when the car, after slowing considerably, rammed into a pole. Unfazed, he came back the next weekend for more races, more cars and more thrills.

In an informal Silver Chips poll of 100 students conducted Dec 6, 74 percent said that they know of another student who either regularly drag races at the New Carrollton Metro station or races on public roads. The illegal pastime is popular among Blazers who enjoy putting the pedal to the metal in an effort to either show off a hooked-up car, release aggression or just engage in what they describe as adolescent fun.

Race go-ers glam it up

The drag racing adventures of mischievous teens across the country have prompted Hollywood to take notice of adolescents' need for speed. The movie The Fast and the Furious glamorized the danger and subsequent appeal of drag racing.

Seniors Felipe Escano and Douglas Hernandez hope to follow in the footsteps of the big screen's biggest racers by starting the Rate Per Minute Racing Club at Blair. They want the club to be a haven for Blair's race go-ers and risk takers. The members will compare notes on each others' car engines, scan the web for car racing competitions and exchange the phone number of a good mechanic or two.

According to Hernandez, half the fun of racing cars is showing off the interior and exterior details of a car. "It's a big deal to prove that your car is fast at Metro," he says. "Putting turbo chargers, air-intake, exhaust and body kits in your engines really pays off."

For Escano, nothing is more rewarding than crossing the finish line in his 1996 Honda Civic seconds before his opponents. "I race because people know who I am and respect me and my car after I win," he says.

Ready, set, go!

While most drag racers just want to have a good time, others are looking to release aggression. Senior Michael Coe, who admits to having raced fairly frequently on public roads, says that car racing is for risk takers looking to innocently take out some anger. "The one-on-one situation is a great way to take out all your aggression," he says.

Clinical psychologist Jenny Caro says that teenagers who drag race are seeking a thrill in order to experience the rush of adrenaline that comes with doing something dangerous. "The fact that [car racing] is unsafe is something really appealing," she explains.

According to junior Anna Wong, the faster she goes when racing, the more exhilarated she feels after finishing a race. Even a curfew or possible consequences of $500 fines or 30 days in jail can't stop Wong from racing cars at Metro. She says she has frequently snuck out of her house after midnight, taken her father's red 1999 Prelude and raced it—without a driver's license.

The New Carrollton Metro station has become an area full of police waiting to give out citations. But the flashing red and blue lights cannot stop Hernandez from rolling a pair of dangerous dice on his freedom. Zepeda agrees that visiting drag racing's largest local hot spot, Metro, is well worth the risk of an arrest.

On a typical night at Metro, two men first ask anywhere between 200 and 500 people to clear off of Martin Luther King Blvd so two or three cars can race along the narrow, quarter-mile-long road in front of the New Carrollton Metro station's parking lot.

After speeding down the street at more than 100 miles per hour, the winner will proudly flash his or her hazard lights in celebration of victory. Between 1:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m. the police, at times accompanied by state troopers and helicopters, will crash the party. Hundreds of people then disperse into nearby church parking lots and gas stations. Most check out each other's cars along the way, some showing a reserved envy, others a satisfied arrogance.

Ten to 15 minutes later, keys are again placed in ignitions, rear-view mirrors are adjusted and accelerators are slammed as the hundreds return to the strip to race or hang out. The police, however, will no doubt be back.

But the racers don't seem to care. "The police can come three or four times a night, but they can't catch hundreds of people," says senior Jonathan Dubon, who is a familiar face at the strip.

However, the police care when a night of fun turns into the last night of a racer's life. Two men in their twenties who were racing against another group of men in the early morning hours of June 23 were killed shortly after leaving New Carrollton when they lost control of their car. In March of this year, a man was killed after losing control of his car in a drag race with four other cars in Washington, D.C.

The Washington Post reported four deaths this past year as a result of drag racing in the area. According to the Los Angeles Times, 25 deaths have been reported in Hollywood, California, as a result of drag races since 1995. In San Diego, California, street racing has killed at least 14 people in the last three years.

Hernandez, like Zepeda, has seen the dangers of street racing for himself. He remembers an incident in which two cars, running from the police at Metro, collided and flipped over. One of the drivers, Hernandez's friend, escaped without harm while the other driver was driven away in an ambulance. "The police wouldn't let us near the accident," he says. "For a while we didn't know if our friend was alright or not."

Problem, officer?

Patrolling cops sometimes catch students who continually take risks. The night The Fast and the Furious opened, Coe drove to Blair around 11:00 p.m. and decided to race some of his baseball teammates from one end of the parking lot to the other. After his third race, a police officer driving on University Blvd spotted Coe and pulled him over. Coe was fined $270 and had five points placed on his license.

But Coe maintains that he was simply having some fun with friends and did not deserve the punishment. "I didn't think I was putting myself or anyone else in danger," he says.

Although some racers are able to escape the police without punishment, not everyone will be so fortunate in the future, according to Caro, who predicts street racers will eventually be nabbed.

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Stephanie Hernandez. Stephanie Hernandez is a senior and the Opinions/Editorials editor for the paper. She took honors classes throughout her freshman year and transfered into the CAP program her sophmore year. She has won several awards throughout her academic career, including two plaques from her junior high … More »

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