Urban Drag Racing: Glamorizing the Unthinkable
One week after the release of "The Fast and the Furious," two accidents illustrate the selfish insanity that characterize those who drag race on city streets.
by Jerome F. Winzig
On June 22 Universal Pictures released "The Fast and the Furious." The film features street youth gangs racing cars illegally on city streets in Los Angeles, zigzagging under moving semis and trying to outrun trains. Exactly one week later, at 5:30 p.m. on a lazy Friday afternoon, two pairs of young people raced their cars down 15th Avenue, a quiet, tree-lined residential street in south Minneapolis just a block from our church. The parked cars on both sides of the street did not deter these insane drivers, nor did the presence of children playing on the sidewalks.
Headed south, one driver ran a two-way stop sign at 50 miles an hour. Seconds later, our neighbor and friend drove into the intersection, traveling east on his way to his high-school reunion as the second driver ran the same stop sign in hot pursuit. He struck our friend's car broadside. Both driver's side doors were caved in as the car was propelled through the intersection into a concrete retaining wall. The occupants of the car that hit our friend ran from their car. Their racing buddies circled the block to pick up their friends. All four then fled the scene Our friend, who was left unconscious and bleeding, sustained fractures to four of his vertebrae and will need to wear a brace for three months. Fortunately, however, he apparently has no nerve damage or other major injuries.
Less than 12 hours later, at 5:00 a.m., another urban racing accident had worse results. Two other young drivers raced each other on southbound Robert Street, a busy urban thoroughfare in St. Paul. As they approached the city border a few blocks from my sister's house, one driver rammed the other driver's car. Locked together, the two cars smashed through the wall of a small corner business at 100 miles an hour. The two occupants of the first car, one a 16-year-old girl, were killed. The 18-year-old driver of the second car fled on foot but was arrested later with a blood alcohol level over 0.10 percent.
In the days after the accidents, friends began leaving flowers at the West St. Paul intersection in tribute to the two who died there. Strangely, they also began leaving empty liquor bottles with the flowers. Was this a sick way of toasting their drinking buddies? For several days running, people also congregated at the corner, drinking alcohol in public for hours and spray-painting the walls, windows, and sidewalks of the corner business that the drivers had already smashed with their cars. Finally, the entire building and much of the sidewalk had to be painted and the sidewalk had to be cordoned off to keep people from doing further damage.
A week after these two senseless accidents, the Minneapolis Star Tribune ran a front-page story entitled "Racing after Dark." The caption over the large accompanying photo, showing two cars getting ready to race at night, read, "Illegal street racing has been around since, well, since guys and cars started going steady. Long before the movie 'The Fast and the Furious.' In the Twin Cities, the place to be, or not to be, is Red Rock." The article describes an industrial area on the eastern edge of St. Paul as the popular location of a "dangerous and sometimes deadly pastime" where racers can have "12 seconds of 100-mile-per-hour thrills"
Going steady? Pastime? Thrills? Such words -- and the tone of the article -- belie the fact that racing on city streets is utterly insane and totally self-centered. Going steady does not apply to cars turned into weapons. Pastimes do not needlessly and carelessly risk the lives of their participants. Thrill seeking at the expense of innocent bystanders is perverted.
Universal Pictures seems to know this; its web site has this disclaimer, "All of the racing stunts in 'The Fast and the Furious' were performed in a staged environment by professionals with years of training and experience. Please do not try any of these yourself." This may get them off the hook legally. But the moral consequences of glamorizing behavior that is unthinkable are not so easily dismissed.