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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This does not mention the “other” kind of street racing, the kind that takes place in the mountain passes. All kinds of stories about how it got started; in the US it seems to have started with the moonshine runners in the east and Mulholland Drive in the west. Nowadays most people think it started in Japan (it didn’t), because knowing your own country’s car culture history is, like, SO last century. Still occasionally happens; everyone seems to have different rules for it (7/10ths, never cut center, etc.) while others have highly secret setups they use to make sure the road is clear of cars.
The one thing that frosts me about “fast mountain driving” in general is that on just about every car forum I go to, most of the people (at least the ones who don’t think speeding is tantamount to attempted murder) are literally more OK with cutting the center line (where there’s visibility) than with getting “too close” to the edge of the road. No prizes for guessing why, of course. (Hint: it’s something which is very difficult to reliably sweep for and will not be detected by any of those top secret traffic spotter setups nor by any other known method of seeing other cars coming!)
You’re right about this, of course. Back in the day (Gen X nascent Geezer Alarm sounding) we could drive all out, or close to it, on the country backroads because (1980s) it was extremely unlikely you’d encounter a cyclist or pedestrian on those roads.
This isn’t a tirade against cyclists – just a statement about different times. You could also buy “catalytic converter test pipes” at auto parts stores. Yes. Really. I don’t hate on cyclists – for reasons already laid out in several articles. It’s not their fault but it does change things.
Chuck, when racing(and you can see around a curve)the road is the track, every fraction of an inch. The main things I ever contended with were tractors and livestock. Hitting a 2500 lb bull is a game changer and if you’re running tight together, it can be a game changer for a couple cars.
There was a time when two way radios were the ticket if you had someone willing to run out in front a few miles in front of the racers. You could pick roads that literally had no side roads other than the driveway to the barn you generally couldn’t see. This was about as safe of racing I ever did other than the roads that you can see around each curve and down the straight for a ways. For the most part racing on roads with nothing but big ranches there was nearly no traffic.
Drag racing is boring and the biggest problem I had with road racing was finding someone else who would do that sort of racing. They were few and far between.
At night the big danger was livestock and game like deer and hogs. There were no pedestrians in the middle of nowhere nor cyclists.
Eric and Eightsouthman – now you’re starting to get at why I have such a beef with non-drivers. Bicycle defenders can bray on and on about I have a right I have a right I have a right and whatabout whatabout whatabout but in the end, that misses the point entirely, because the point is, the range of car culture which can be ethically partaken of is much smaller now than it once was, because of non-drivers. Not because of wild animals, or some faceless collective of clovers, or even overzealous ex-military Law Enforcers; specifically because of non-drivers. If you (as in anyone reading this) are OK with that and are OK with being a part of the reason for that, then I supposed you do technically have a right and I can’t stop you, but don’t expect me to even pretend I don’t hate it!
(And meanwhile, I’m in another argument with yet more misinformed “true believer” types on another forum who think we’re all going to die if we don’t stop all internal combustion within 10 years. I get so freaking tired of these people because I know that beating them is going to take more tedious research than I really feel like, and also that it won’t make a single bit of difference if I actually do the research because to these people anything that doesn’t support the standard doom-and-gloom narrative is automatically “biased” or a “conspiracy theory”.)
We are impaled on the horns of our times. I wrote an article a few months back about my theory regarding the rise of adult on-road cycling as a mainstream activity. It is to a great extent a consequence of the slow-motion no-funning of driving. People ride because it is fun – like driving used to be. I cannot blame them for this – though at the same time, I acknowledge your point as well.
What to do?
Cher is right; you can’t turn back time. But in the future – after the inevitable reset – car culture may rise again and if it does, I expect cycling to revert to what it was, for the most part: Something not generally done on major roads and in much smaller numbers.
I used to love street racing. It didn’t always end at a quarter of a mile and then sometimes it ended at 2 blocks. I’ve had people just put on the brakes and turn around.
I think it was 69 and the local DPS Fury with a 440 sat in the shop every day for close to two weeks. Curiosity killed the cat so I stopped by one day and asked my friend who owned the shop what in hell took so long to fix on a Plymouth.
It was pretty hilarious when he said ” Albert is trying to get it to stay with your car” and then we both broke out laughing. He might have got close if he’d cut the car off right behind the driver’s seat. Mopar owners suffered greatly since they were sure that Malibu was going to be toast and they never got close.
Lubbock’s finest sat across the alley in the mortuary’s parking lot and waited for me. It became obvious I should move so middle of the night, my best friend and I loaded everything we had in my car and left for parts unknown(to them). That new 429 fastback stand cranked up and followed. I did a bit of fancy driving and found out just how desperate he was to do over 100mph down an alley or two. He lost a lot and I just hit a road I knew didn’t have stop signs and nailed it till I could hit another street doing the same. After a few turns he was gone. Didn’t see him again till I was under an overpass one day going opposite of him. There were guard rails between the lanes. I went over a steep hill and turned left onto a little known street that some friends lived on. I slid up to their place just as they were leaving. When they found out why the high speed entrance we all had a laugh and went to our fav Mexican food place where it was all you could eat. Of course they hated us there since we could eat four people’s fair share each. They tried the same thing every time and never caught on. Every time we needed “more” they brought something with much more fire which was right down our alley so we’d scarf that down and they’d try to top what they served before which was even better…..to us. Probably if they’d brought out a pot of stewed habaneros we’d have eaten them and asked for more.
Probably our “look” put them off more than a little. One guy looked just like Bill Molesby in the Devil’ Rejects, a hell of a nice guy with the moniker of Milky Way. His roomy was a dead ringer for Castro(Crazy Charlie) and even dressed just like him every day. My best friend looked like a frat boy walking the wild side and I was the longhair cowboy shitkicker wrestler. We really enjoyed life then and seemed to really either piss people off or make them want to hang out with us. Joe Ely wrote a song about us but the record company nixed it due to fear of retaliation from the narc set. Naturally, the PoLeez hated us.