Illegal racers: reeducation process
In the first half of the 20th century the most motorized country, the U.S., gave birth to street racing which is a form of auto racing that takes place on streets, either during normal traffic or during empty hours of traffic. Law enforcement officers attempt to stop these races, but the racers either are not caught or get away.
Nowadays street racing is a part of Belarusian subculture. Why do I say “subculture”? It is easy to explain. Street racing on public roads is illegal, as such driving is prohibited by many traffic regulations. Nevertheless, there are speed lovers who are ready to compete and put in danger their health and lives.
Street racing is sometimes even called “outlaw races” to show that this “sport” is beyond the law. All over the world people of different age hanker after forbidden fruit. It is no wonder the “sport” is so popular: speed racing events are frequently included into Hollywood movies as a kind of cool ornament. You will with ease name dozen of motion pictures that show bad guys speed racing at night with only flaming containers to lit their way.
Night racing came to Belarusian streets and was considered to be an underground activity, the leaders of which are always in hiding. Moreover, street racing was considered to be an entertainment for wealthy snobs as only rough wheels partake. Is this true? I tried to find out the answers to these questions during my visit to drag race competition that has recently taken place in the city of Bykhov, in the Mogilev Region. Drag race is the most common form of street racing — a modified stock cars happening late at night on straight public roads with very low traffic that are often illegally closed by the race organizers. In Bykhov drag race takes place on the territory of the former military airfield, one of the largest in Europe, that is abandoned now.
Rising from the underground
The most popular means of transport in Bykhov is a bicycle. Locals use this environmentally sound means of transport both in summer and in winter when roads are covered with ice. In fact, Bykhov’s cyclists have to keep out of the way of foreign-made cars that come to compete in street racing. The city of Bykhov has become a kind of a semiformal capital for street racers. It is the second year running that the runway of the Bykhov former military airfield hosts competition of drag racers.
I would like to stress, this competition is absolutely legal and is held under the auspices of the Belarusian Automobile Federation (BAF). The competition attracts a lot of participants, fans and viewers. Last year there were 60 cars taking part in trips and more than 10,000 viewers came to see the event.
“Don’t think that we advocate illegal sport. On the contrary, we aim at making underground competitions legal,” the head of the drag racing committee with the BAF, Dmitry Kozhuro said.
I used to think that amateur racers were green desperados whose main aim was to depress the accelerator pedal with all their force and sweep along to hell.
In fact, street racers are sane people with prestigious jobs and united families. I agree that these people radiate spirit and passion. At the same time they have no illegal actions on their mind. The participants of drag races are driven by the desire to find out who is cooler and faster. There is no financial interest in the competition, but losses are well expected and considered inevitable. Broken clutch and transmissions that fall to pieces are quite normal things. Far and by only ambition counts. Wait, a wish to force all possible speed from the car, feel brutal competitiveness and get an adrenalin dose is here as well. What is wrong with this? I believe there is nothing to be worried about. At least I hope that street racers will continue ego-tripping in day-to-day situations on public roads.
Chauvinistic male car enthusiasts will immediately give up and forget all jokes about clumsy-women-drivers if they see Yulia Zyatina at the wheel of her canary Honda. Yulia is an assistant of the chief accountant with a large company, based in the city of Minsk, but this fact does not prevent her from efficiently driving her car at a high speed. The fact is that Yulia is crazy about speed and racing. She is ready to whiz in her Honda to work and to outstrip other racers during competitions. Fresh wind and adrenalin are accompanying her. Her five-year old daughter called Ilyana is always nearby. The girl bears company to her mother and supports her, but as soon as she reaches six-year age limit she is to go in for carting. Ilyana keeps talking about cars and races her eyes flashing with anxiety.
Technical perfection knows no limits
Street racers are driven by the only desire. They want to win. It is impossible to win a street racing competition driving a standard car. We are not talking about Ferrari and Porsche, brands designed to explore speed. Street racers upgrade their cars each in his or her own way.
There was one car that took attention of many viewers. It was VW-Golf 2. If only the owners of VW-Holding could see this monster, they would definitely mull employing its owner. The irony was that the engine of the VW was not under the bonnet. The 360-hp jet borrowed from an Audi S-2 rested peacefully on the place where rear seat and trunk usually are. The owner failed to tell me the highest speed the VW was able to reach. He related that the car is able to pick-up 160 kilometer per hour in seven seconds. The VW was the car to place stakes on but the owner had no luck: transmission broke down during the fourth race.
A law is a law
All people I managed to talk to during the drag in Bykhov were inspired by the show. The racing is fascinating, they say. Racers are allowed to release surging need for speed without endangering others. Among the viewers was Gennady Shmayenkov, the deputy head of the traffic police with the department of interior affairs in the Mogilev Region. Shmayenkov was not an exception from people who praised the competition. He also said it was easier to find common language with potential traffic regulations infringers. At the same time Shmayenkov has reasons to take a cautious attitude to drag, assume it is legal.
“New traffic regulations ban any non-factory changes in a vehicle, let it be engine modification or spoiler attaching. “Upgraded’ cars cannot pass vehicle inspection and are banned from roads. To make street racing legal we have to resolve this contradiction. To my mind, racers may be allowed to upgrade and modify their cars as they like but they should use these vehicles only on competition strip. It means, they will have to use trailers to deliver vehicles to the place where competition takes place. Only in this case traffic police will have no claims to racers, and everyone will be pleased,” Shmayenkov said.
Street racing is a profitable business, by the way. Bykhov’s population grows twice when the competition is held. Fans and participants help local shops meet at least a thirty-day sales turnover target within several days. According to the chairman of Bykhov’s executive committee, Valery Shkaptsov, local budget gains quite a thing.
Nevertheless, these figures are nothing compared to possible district development in case Bykhov’s tourist infrastructure was paid attention to.
Street racing is gradually getting to be recognized as a legal sport. There is no use in idealizing this activity and attaching a romantic label to it. It is not worth preventing the development of street racing as a legal show that already has a good deal of fans, either.
by Vladimir Rodenok
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