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A look at illegal street racing: Going from the streets to the track

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Courtesy from Matthew DeYoung

So you like to live your life a quarter mile at a time?  You might want to think twice if that quarter mile is on the street.

Tucson has had issues with street racing and has been a part of the local culture as far back as 1996. 

One Tucson resident, Jim Hughes, has embraced it.

Jim Hughes, track manager at the Tucson Dragway and an ex-professional drag racer with four division titles, multiple race victories, and National Hot Rod Association Drag Racing level experience, created an event called Beyond 1320 to do what the Tucson Dragway was originally designed to do: to take street racers off public roads. His goal was to create an event with a safe environment for street racers to compete against one another. 

According to Tucson Police Department records, the majority of street racing related cases in Tucson have been linked only to speeding. Most have been reasonably above the speed limit but some cases saw drivers exceeding the speed limit by 20 mph or more.  In the past five years there have only been a handful of D.U.I. cases. Only 30 people in the last five years were guilty of being under the influence of alcohol, others under the influence of marijuana.  Of those 30 people, 12 were guilty of DUI with a Blood Alcohol Content of .08 or more, 8 of DUI impaired to the slightest degree, 6 of possessing, selling, transporting or using marijuana, three of possessing, selling, or manufacturing drug paraphernalia, and one minor guilty of driving after drinking.  

Dylan Deforge, a sophomore at the University of Arizona majoring in computer science and ex- street racer, embraced the importance of events like Beyond 1320.

“A lot of people have been smartening up and racing on the track,” Deforge said. He mentioned that TPD has also been cracking down hard on street racing.  

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In 2017, Tucson passed an ordinance to prohibit street racing (Tucson City Code Sec 20-161, Ord. 11452, § 1, 4-19-17). Under this new ordinance, street racers that are caught will be arrested and have their vehicle impounded. To educate the public on street racing and the new ordinance, TPD has produced videos in English and Spanish, describing the dangers and penalties associated with it.

Deforge was previously arrested after being caught street racing.  He said that he spent that particular night in jail, and also talked about some of the repercussions of it. Because his car was impounded he had to pay $275 dollars to get his car out of the impound lot, was charged with three misdemeanors and had to do a drivers retraining course. Deforge said in the end it was roughly a $5,500 mistake.  

He said that street racing normally happens in large groups, with people lining the road to look for cops. When he was caught street racing he was only with one other person.  

Along with creating a safe environment, Hughes wanted the event to feel as realistic as possible.  To accomplish this, participants of Beyond 1320 are allowed to choose their opponent to race.  

The event also takes place at the back end of the dragway without the traditional grandstands overlooking the starting area to make it feel more like a true street racing venue. However, unlike racing on the street, it is much safer. Full fire and medical services are at the end of the track in case they are needed.

Racers and bystanders can stand as close to the action as possible, while still being behind a safety wall. The lights are also turned off at the other end of the track to add to the street racing feel.

Deforge also said that one of his really good street racing friends is helping to organize the Beyond 1320 events, getting racers off of the street and on to the track. 

“He’s trying to kind of convert it into being smarter because a lot of people have been ruining their lives over it,” said Deforge. He also mentioned that it’s much more worth it to pay the $20 to $30 for a track day rather than risk your life and the lives of other drivers on the street.  

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Deforge had endless stories about his friends crashing at one of the street racing hot spots in Tucson, Mount Lemmon.  More than one of his friends had rolled their cars on Mount Lemmon after crashing.  He also said the Pima County Fairgrounds and South Houghton Road were well-known street racing hot spots in Tucson.

The future of racing will be on the track, not on the street.  Events like Beyond 1320 are leading the charge of getting racers off of the street.  Racing can continue in a safe environment in a responsible manner.


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