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If you’re into performance vehicles and going fast, chances are at some point in your life you lined up with someone and drag raced illegally down a public road and hopefully you won. Some of you might not be proud of it and some of you might be very proud of it. Either way, that doesn’t change the fact that street racing is an illegal ever popular form of auto racing that has been around for decades and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
It’s fact its popularity seems to be growing, partly due to TV shows like Street Outlaws, popular media outlets like YouTube and it goes along with fewer and fewer places to drag race legally. As tracks across the country close due to financial issues or new town noise ordinances as sprawling suburbs grow up around existing tracks this leads to fewer places for “adrenaline junkies” to race legally. But, many places across the county have even started to hold sanctioned legal street races.
But who wants to wait around a couple of weeks for a town sanctioned legal street race or for the weekly test n tune where your car might fail pre-race inspection and then you won’t be allowed to race anyway. Not to mention if you want to line up with your buddy what you’ll have to go through to do so, if the track will even let you. Yes some tracks are that difficult. Reasons like that are exactly why people will instead go down the street or onto the local highway to race their buddies’ car to see how much faster the new modifications made it!
Maybe you don’t have a track that’s within reasonable driving distance? Personally for me where I live currently, there is one 1/8 mile drag strip within 90 minutes of my house and it’s shut down area not only ends with a bunch of trees and mobile homes at the end, but it’s so short that if you’re running even just 7’s you’ll have to literately turn around to get the return lane, that is if you don’t end up taking out someone’s house or get wrapped up in a tree. Reasons like that are exactly why street races exist and will likely continue to exist for decades to come. Heck in my case it might even be safer to race on the local highway!?
Illegal Street Racing History
They say street racing has been around since the second production car rolled off the assembly line, but it really gained popularity after the Second World War when young veterans came back and started tinkering with their cars to improve their performance. It was all about the next best part or what tuning tricks could be done to make the car run better than it did from the factory. A different jet in the carburetor, an extra turn of the screwdriver, a custom made ram air intake, a little turning of the distributor to up the timing, different rear end gears, traction bars and the list goes on and on and on. It sounds a lot like today doesn’t it? Except today there are computers involved.
I remember hearing stories of my father racing his 66 GTO 389 with three deuces at the “Ohio Street Drag Strip” which was a long strip of road in the downtown area of where we lived. It was a rundown area of an old steel mill. Years later I got to personally drag race down that same area, how ironic?
Laws of the Land
While street racing is not what it once was, at least not if you do it illegally. Since it’s more “mainstream” now and more bad incidents tied to it in the media are heard more often. In many cases if you’re caught doing it you will lose your license, sometimes your car and could even land yourself in prison for a while. The days where you get a friendly warning are long gone in most cases. Some areas have even passed laws where spectators of illegal street racing can get fines and/or jail time.
A good example of this is the annual TX2Kx event in Houston Texas that is considered by many to be the “super bowl of street racing”. These events attract hundreds if not thousands of high powered cars that come to town for primarily racing. Although there are many sanctioned events during this time it still brings about hundreds of illegal street races with some cars pushing over 2,000 horsepower. More information about TX2Kx here.
There in Houston they’ve passed a law “bill 2087” which makes it illegal to even watch a street race putting anyone within 150 feet of an illegal drag race in jail for up to 90 days.
Legal Street Races
Some towns across the country have actually held street races at special events and many times on a monthly schedule. Town officials will block off a two lane road and barricade for safety. With on site fire and rescue personnel. Really the only restrictions at these events require drivers to wear safety equipment and for cars to be registered and insured.
The Sayre Street Races in Sayre Oklahoma are a great example of this. Here almost on a monthly basis weather permitting the town holds a huge cruise in car show followed by the street races. This event is a run what you brung as long as it’s street legal with plates. It takes place in the Sayre Industrial Park on one of the exit roads and has going on since 2014 and you can bet there is money on the line for some of these races. There have even been guard rails installed on part of the road for spectator safety. There has been many famous names in the street racing world who have raced here. Some of the most notable racers are Daddy Dave, Barefoot Ronnie and Murder Nova from Street Outlaws.
Another form of “legal” street racing actually happens at the track and is called No Prep. This is where one of two things will happen. The most common “No Prep“is when the drag strip simply doesn’t prep the track like they would for normal sanctioned events. However there is still a good bit of “stickiness” from all the rubber put down on the surface. The clocks are off and the winner has to simply get to the finish line first. The other “No Prep” way is when the track officials will literately turn around the track and have racers start at the end which usually takes place in the “traps” area or near the return lanes. This simulates a true public road experience and can be very dangerous because many of these cars will hit over 150mph before trying to slow down before getting to the starting line and staging area.
Types of Street Races
- Roll: From a Roll is a race that usually happens on the highway and will be from a rolling start, usually in second gear from around 30-50mph. These types of races can easily end up going 150 mph.
- Dig: From a Dig is a traditional drag race which happens from a stop, usually flagged by someone or from a stop light of an intersection.
- Roll & Dig racing are the most common.
- Drift: Drifting is to deliberately over-steer into corners causing the car to fish tail as long as possible through the corner without losing control.
- Touge: This is a form of racing which originated in Japan where two cars chase each other through twisty mountain roads.
Street Raced Cars
While it can be an exhilarating experience, it seems that most street racers spend their nights worrying about the police and arguing about race details, who won or cheated. It’s really a way of life for some, and I’m not here to judge.
Cars that are street raced can range from your average slow hammy down Honda Civic to a twin turbo Nissan GTR tuned to kill or even a fully built back off “race car” that simply has a VIN number, headlights and taillights, which once was a Camaro or Mustang and now produces over 2,000 horsepower. Many will argue about this too, but with all that aside a “street raced car” is really anything with 4 wheels that the owner wants to modify and race on the streets, period.
Street Racers Terminology
Here’s some of the more common terminology or “slang” you might hear from racers around the world.
- Nitrous: AKA, the juice, the squeeze, the bottle, nawz, spray, juicing, on kill, the dope, on the guns, pill it, on the hit, the jug, the needle, on the hose, the sauce, nitro, gangster tune.
- Small Tire: Rear tires usually no bigger than 13” wide and 28.5” tall.
- Big Tire: Rear tires are bigger than 13” wide and are taller than 28.5”.
- David vs Goliath: Small tire car races a big tire car.
- Set out Lengths: One racer is given a 1 car or more head start. Usually the handicap racer will start at the starting line while the other will be able to start a head of the starting line. This is how many higher powered racers will get slower guys to race them, even hustling them for money in some cases.
- The Hit (aka Go, Jump, Break, Kick, the Move): Usually this type of race happens without a flagger. This is when 1 car gets “the hit” and they will start the race. The other car will then go once the other car goes resulting in a second or two head start.
Racing in the Street Crashes
Since illegal street racing occurs in unsanctioned areas it’s more common that property damage can occur to private residence and places of business. However most street racers do take great pride in racing in rural unpopulated areas, that doesn’t mean it never happens in busy areas or that accidents will not occur.
Check out this web site which posts most nationwide street racing related accidents and you will see that it is a common occurrence.
In 2016 NHSTA preliminary estimates say that 40,200 people died from traffic accidents. From 2001 and 2006 the NHSTA reported approximately 804 street racing related deaths occurred across the country. So yes that number is small compared to regular traffic deaths, however the chance of an accident ending fatality is 6 times greater at speeds over 65 mph, which likely 99% of street races go above those speeds. Unfortunately most traffic accidents in general end in the innocent losing their lives.
Street Racing Video Games
There have been many racing games over the years, but just a few have actually made a name for themselves and we’ll discuss those. First the Shutokou Battle series which is one of the first and oldest street racing video games first starting in 1994 on the Super Famicom in Japan. Other names it is known by are Tokyo Xtreme Racer, Tokyo Highway Challenge, Street Supremacy and Import Tuner Challenge. The games inspiration comes from wangan, Tōge and track racing styles. Another very popular game that came out of Japan was the Initial D series which took place in the mountains and featured a track circuit style of racing with a car modification interface. The arcade version featured the ability for people to save their cars and game progress with a “memory card” that looked like a credit card.
Moving on to ones you’ve probably heard of are video games like the Midnight Club franchise which was very successful on many platforms in many different markets. Most of these were released on PlayStation and Xbox consoles.
The Need for Speed franchise also first starting out in 1994 is arguably the most popular street racing video game series in the United States. Perhaps one of the best parts of this game was the eventual ability to go online and race other people all across the country. Of course games like Forza and Grand Theft Auto have now adopted this type of multi-player racing online which has made giant virtual worlds for people to play in.
Another honorably mention is the Cruis’n USA arcade video game series. This game could literately be found just about any place where arcade games were found such as, arcades, bowling alleys, malls, and department stores just to name a few.
The above games are just a few of the street racing related video games that have been around and have been able to stay popular despite all of the competition.
Movies Based on Street Racing
Of course the most successful movie franchise in this category is The Fast and The Furious series, there are many other great racing movies and below is a list of some. Here some classics and modern films worth mentioning that are based on street racing.
- Two Lane Blacktop
- American Graffiti
- Hot Rod aka Rebel of the Road
- The Cannonball Run
- The California Kid
- Initial D-Drift Racer
- Biker Boys
- Death Race 2000
- Speed Racer
- The Wraith
- Fast Track No Limits
- Born to Race
- Born to Race Fast Track
Street Race Videos
Well there are plenty of "street racer" documentaries and other videos around the internet. Here we've compiled a list of the best YouTube channels that show street racing as it really is and not how the mainstream media makes it out to be. Of course it's still illegal and dangerous.