The History of Street Racing

by Sandra WebsterUpdated October 25, 2017
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Legally organized street racing events bring large amounts of revenue to the locations in which they are held. Safety issues are in place to protect racers, passengers and onlookers. Unfortunately, illegal street racing provides more of an allure to many young racers because of the danger of the race, and the danger of being caught in the illegal act.


Street racing became popular in the 1950s in the United States. C.J ."Pappy" Hart first brought drag racing to Orange County, California, when he, and Creighton Hunter, founded the Santa Ana Drag Strip on an unused runway at the Orange County Airport in 1950. Though Goleta, California had the first drag strip of record, Hart's was the first professional dragstrip that charged admission.

The movie "Rebel Without a Cause" (1955) brought the organized sport of drag racing away from the safety of the runway and onto the more dangerous and exciting street venue. As more and more young people became enthralled with the "need for speed," an entire subculture was formed.


According to Const. Kent Taylor of the Ontario Provincial Police in the article Street Racing: Too Fast, Too Furious, that appeared on CBC News Online, June 15, 2006, there are three types of illegal street races. An impromptu race occurs spontaneously, when drivers pull up beside each other, perhaps at a stoplight, or stop sign. An organized race is planned in advance and the road is blocked off for the race. These races usually occur in a remote location, either late at night or early in the morning, and include several spectators. Hat Races may include several racers who are competing for money, or "pinks." A pink is a registration or ownership paper on the vehicle. These races may not be confined to certain roads, and are often for long distances, like from one city to another.

There are two common forms of street racing practiced today. Drag racing involves two or more racers racing in a straight line for a specific distance, usually a quarter of a mile. The car that reaches the finish line first wins. Touge racing, or drifting, refers to racing through mountain passes, either one car at a time, or in a chase format.

Several years ago there was another popular form of street racing known as the Cannonball Run. This was an illegal point-to point race that involved several racers. Today such races have become legally organized and are referred to as road rallies.


The street racing phenomenon is not limited to the United States. It is prevalent in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Turkey, Japan, England and France. Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia and the Philippines see high rates of both car and motorcycle street racing. Within the continental United States, it is most prevalent in California and New York.


While accidents and deaths sometimes occur in sanctioned street racing events, they are much more common in illegal races. According to a report entitled "Street Racing," by Kenneth J. Peak and Ronald W. Glensor, December 2004, and provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, an average of 50 people are killed every year in illegal street racing events. Some of these victims are innocent bystanders, and occasionally police officers.

Other problems related to the illegal street racing subculture include: auto theft, assault, curfew violations, destruction of property and substance abuse.


Laws vary from state to state, but getting caught participating in an illegal street race, whether actually racing, or just watching the event, can have serious consequences. In some cases you can be arrested, and your car may be impounded for up to 30 days. If convicted, you may be sentenced to up to three months of jail time, and fined up to $1,000. Your driver's license may be revoked, and your insurance rate may either be increased, or your insurance canceled altogether.

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