Where rubber meets the road: Street racing in Manhattan

Illegal street race locations are a tightly kept secret but the often occur on roads like Seths Child. (Rowan Jones | Collegian Media Group)

Editor’s note: Given the sensitive and illegal nature of street racing, street-racer sources were granted anonymity for this story. They are referred to by pseudonyms.

Illegal street racing, along with a litany of other crimes popularized by Hollywood culture, is often misrepresented or misunderstood by those outside the community. Unlike in the blockbusters “Fast and Furious” or even “Grease,” racing for pink slips is rarely practiced. Most races are predominantly for pocket cash and the thrill of the race.

When all the work of setting the meet-up reaches fruition, typically only two to three runs occur before police officials start arriving to shut down the festivities. One source said street race officials often move the event around to plan for officer shift transition periods, meaning races could happen between 2 and 4 a.m.

There are two different types of races — digs and rolls — with their own advantages or disadvantages. Rolls come to pass when the drivers are already at highway speed.

Digs are what would be referred to as a drag race, where the racers take off from a stand still, favoring someone with a AWD transmission over a RWD transmission. These races are often more dangerous in the first few seconds due to the rapid acceleration that could force the rear of the vehicle to swerve or because braking at speeds upward of 70 mph can be ineffective.

One racers, who referred to himself as “Jefe,” said one of the safer options is to go to a professional track, which can be a very expensive venture.

“You’re looking at, let’s say like $200 to $300 for a track day, then you got to spend a lot of money [on] tires and then got to spend a lot of money on brakes, on gas and racing gear and the homologation regulated stuff,” Jefe said. “And so you just get to a point where you’re at these kind of day or weekend [trips] and you’re spending, upwards of $1000 when you can put that money towards more car parts and you can just do a couple drag races on the street where there’s no one around.”

Jefe, a self-proclaimed gearhead, comes from a background of racing on and off the track, starting as soon as he received his license. He said he understands just how wrong things can go on the track or on the streets, having suffered trauma.

Now, Jefe is a spectator, not actively participating in the physical races anymore.

“I would say, if you’re going to partake in something like this, I would take a defensive driving course,” Jefe said. “I’d take, any kind of course that involves taking your car on a track to where you’re able to know the limitations of your car, able to know the proper footwork of a manual transmission or how to use paddle shifters or something like that. So if your clock starts to spin out or you’re going into a corner too hard, you know what to do if something happens.”

Getting in the driver’s seat

The way to get into this world starts with a local car meet, typically involving the dissemination of the location via social media. People usually attend these events three to four times, and if they’ve rubbed the right shoulders, they might be approached with an invitation to attend a street race.

Similar to a job interview, new attendees must be vetted because trust makes the wheels turn in this community.

Communicating to each other via walkie-talkies, these teams or convoys travel to the staging area called “Mexico” — a slang term for the final destination that only the lead car knows. Upon arriving at “Mexico,” teams of trucks and dirt bikes work in tandem to block off roadways and maintain observation points to cause distractions or warn of approaching police officers.

As opposed to the local scene, for racers like Michael Porter (, who races his 2013 Corvette LS3 along I-15 on the outskirts of Las Vegas, people need to “quit dreaming and start driving.”

Porter said he doesn’t see himself as a bad person, but simply as someone who wants to have fun. Personally, he avoids residential areas because he thinks it gives racers a bad name.

The world of racing is not confined to four wheels, and as John Richards, a Wichita biker who rides on a 300CC Yamaha YZF-R3, explained the hazards he faces. Most of the dangers come from loose gravel, grass from when people mow and blow it into the road and sand.

“We have the road we like to take called ‘Thunder Road,'” Richards said. “It’s got decent turns and straightaways. I’ve never been chased down, but on the same road a cop switched on his lights for a second to pretty much say slow it down. I think [other bikers] were going about 30 over, and me being pretty new to biking, I got a bit cocky and took a turn too fast and didn’t counter-steer enough and almost wiped out over a 15-foot drop off. Luckily I have pretty good brakes and stopped dead in the other lane.”

Law enforcement

Here in Manhattan, the Riley County Police Department does not tolerate any illegal activity that endangers the public, and based on the circumstances, the penalty is severe if an officer witnesses illegal street racing. Fines can range anywhere from $1,000, and prison time can amount to six months on first conviction. Second conviction can result in up to a year in prison and a $2,500 fine.

“Keep yourself and our community safe, do not participate in illegal street racing,” Lt. Tim Schuck, RCPD officer, said. “There are local venues you can use to test the limits of your vehicle’s prowess. Wrecks often lead to property damage, arrests, fines and increased insurance costs.”

Schuck said the RCPD issued 26 citations or arrests for illegal street racing in 2017. In the last 12 months or so, Schuck estimated they had received 70 calls about racing or reckless driving as well. As of Nov. 30, RCPD has issued 18 citations or arrests for illegal street racing in 2018.