Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!
Damon asks: A couple years ago, I bought a Subaru WRX STI and use it as my daily driver. It’s the first sports car I’ve owned. One thing that surprised me is the number of people that challenge me to race them while I’m just driving around. It usually happens at least once per month. Passing people on the interstate seems to trigger them and it’s usually someone driving another fast car, but one time I was just sitting at a red light and a sport bike in the lane next to me made the finger-pointing “let’s go” sign. Another time I was going around 90 and passed some a diesel pickup truck on the highway in Pennsylvania. He must have had his truck hopped up because next thing I knew, he blew by me going well over a hundred. We ran like this for about 10 miles before he got off the highway.
I usually run with them for a little while if it’s safe to do so, then back off, or they turn off or whatever. But I have to admit it’s pretty awkward for me since I don’t understand if we’re both just having fun or if I’m getting into dick-waving competition without trying. To me, it’s all good fun, but I don’t want to contribute to road rage if someone thinks I’m challenging their manhood. I didn’t grow up around any sort of street racing or motorsports scene, so can you give any insight into the mindset and etiquette in these situations?
I love your site and your writing!
My reply: Nothing new here; I dealt with the same back in the day – and still today.
What’s interesting today is that my car of yesterday (my Great Pumpkin, the ’76 TA) rarely gets challenged anymore; probably because it’s an antique at this point and so elicits a different response. But when I am driving a new performance car, I get what you get: The Challenge.
Which I sometimes accept, if it seems like good fun and the situation is safe (i.e., not in heavy traffic) but sometimes it’s not. I’ve learned to defuse the situation if the other guy is being a douche; I’ll just ignore him – or wave him past or (if necessary) pull off briefly.
Also: The stuff we’re talking ’bout here, Willis, isn;t really street racing. That is a very different thing – usually taking place on a back road, with a marked quarter mile or some such and sometimes for money, if it’s serious. It’s also something that’s more organized; you have to know where the action is going to be and you’ll usually only know about it if you’re in the circle, for all the obvious reasons – the chief one being the hugely illegal nature the thing.
An impromptu “race” from a red light is something much less formal and something you can just elect not to do – and which you can stop doing (by slowing down) once you’ve started. The street race is higher stakes/higher risk; everyone is jacked up. There are often witnesses – and there is big pressure to make the maximum effort and not “chicken out.”
On the street, the best way to avoid the jagoffs who want to race you from every red light is to drive a car that doesn’t look like it’s ready to race. The STi, of course, does – just as my bright orange Trans-Am with its hood scoop and whale tail did, back in the day (and kinda still does, but in an artifact kind of way).
One of the most fun new vehicles I’ve driven recently was the Jeep Trackhawk- which looks like a harmless Grand Cherokee but is packing the Challenger Hellcat’s 707 hp engine and can run an 11 second quarter mile!
The best way to win races is for your victims to never know what hit ’em!
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