Wednesday, November 07, 2007

City Life

The Fast And The Furious: The Real Story
By Janette Lynott

Since the 1950s, drag racing has been a way for rebellious and rambunctious adolescents to act out their aggression, and a series of drag racing movies fed this youthful exuberance. Drag racing movie produced slowed down until the early 1990s when they resurfaced as underground films. The movies are now evolving and different forms of racing are emerging among auto obsessors.

In Philadelphia, three main areas outside of the inner city highlight the fastest, flashiest, and most illegal drag races in the city. Due to fear of arrests, meeting locations are spread by word-of-mouth and kept at a subtle whisper. At the race however, it is nothing but noise. Jon Hartley, 22, a former street bike racer was a regular at these races until losing one-third of his skin in a non-race related accident. He describes these races as "all bout the thrill."

Not only are they thrilling but incredibly dangerous. Police raids result in reckless driving that lead to accidents. However, this is not the only danger. If a driver decides to indulge in such races, one must have a hard head, quick tongue and in case something goes wrong; a hard fist to go with it. A recent incident occurred when a man entered a race, lost and refused to pay the winner. This resulted in a 20 to 30-person riot. The losing car was smashed with baseball bats and the man was dragged from it and beaten unconscious. Minutes later his car was flipped.

Not all races are quite like this one, and not all are totally illegal. In Elizabethtown, NJ, another former dragster Frank Hayden, 51, enjoys bringing his hand-built cars to the races. His current project is a 1969 Camaro. Hayden says he chooses these races and these types of cars because "new cars are not as unique as the old ones." When asked if he used a Nitris tank commonly used for illegal street races as an extra boost in third or fourth gear, he replied with great confidence, "No, mine don't need it." The races that Hayden attends usually bring in the "muscle car crowds" and are all NHA (National Hot Rod Association) regulated.

Another form of drag racing, which has evolved a bit of a new twist, is "drifting." Drifting as opposed to drag involves twists and turns and is a more abrupt style. Around every turn, it is unwritten law that there must be a cloud of smoke coming from your tires. This form of racing originally started in Tokyo and made its way to California where it was popularized in the Vin Diesel film, "The Fast And The Furious."

Jamal Gilbert, 19, who has been attending and driving in drift races since age 14 insists that the film is nothing like the actual thing. "Drifting has become its own subculture. It is a life style. Anyone can learn drag racing in a day but it takes very long to master drifting," he said. Whether it is legal or not, the main crowd drawn to the drift are, "computer nerds and auto freaks" said Gilbert.

When asked to compare the crowd, Gilbert says, "all different people go to drag racing, you can bring your mother to a drag race. Drifting involves ‘the beautiful people.’ Your typical 9-5ers and of course the nerds.” Gilbert has quite a bit of racing experience considering his age. He confesses that he has crashed quite a few times. But when you choose such a challenging form of racing and try it out at 14, that doesn't come as much of a surprise.

At any given time, more than 300 drag racing strips are operating worldwide, according to Wikipedia. Both dragging and drifting has created and maintained an audience that doesn’t look like it is going away any time soon. These races continue to show up in film and video as well as other forms of media. Then there is NASCAR, which is a popular sporting event surviving almost purely on advertising. This also has its’ own unique culture. NASCAR usually brings in a more middle class audience. There are many other areas of racing, but these are some of the major ones. The main difference between is how the cars are built, NHA regulated or street regulated, and of course the racing legality.

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