High on speed

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By Philip Stavrou

Friday night is prime for show’n’shines, attracting racers who want to show off their cars, blast music and eventually burn some rubber.

These informal gatherings can attract anywhere from 200 to 1,500 cars a night, says Toronto police traffic services Sgt. Brian Kenny. “It’s [the GTA] one of the biggest venues for street racing in North America,” says Kenny, who admits “We have a major problem up here. At the end of 2001, there were 14 racing-related fatalities and since then, another five.”

Last week, a man was sent to jail for two years after his modified Honda Civic, racing over 170 km/h, t-boned another car and killed the driver. He has been banned from driving for life.

“You’ve got a motor vehicle hurtling down the street with somebody with no experience behind the wheel. The inevitable will happen … it’s not the racer that I’m worried about as much as the innocent public,” says Kenny.

Matthew John, a former sales rep for Formula Honda, has also seen how devastating the extreme sport can be.

Last year, two customers came into the dealership where he worked to have a supped-up Acura Integra services. That night, the two young men were stopped by police for speeding, and later on, died in a street racing crash.

“That shocked us and woke us up in the sense where we felt there was a need to educate [people] about street racing and the implications,” says John, who, along with his boss at Formula Honda, formed an alliance with Toronto police.

Together, they created an awareness group called Police and Community Educating Racer, launched last May. Police involved will sometimes go to the show’n’shines to speak with the racers and show them what’s legal (and what’s not) on their cars. Drivers must be able to place two fingers between their tire and wheel well or else police can give tickets for riding their cars too low. Exhausts can’t be too loud or headlights too bright either.

In addition to a possible ad campaign and a series of 5-minute TV spots, P.A.C.E.R. is currently producing a 15-minute video illuminating the repercussions of street racing — loss of insurance, criminal charges, and most serious of all, death.

John says that the video will be targeted towards G1 and G2 drivers who range in age between 17 and 19. And with the double cohort approaching, the age of student drivers entering university next September is younger than ever.

“We could involve universities to help P.A.C.E.R. educate racers,” says John, who said he would be happy to see older racers in university get involved in educating the younger, more dangerous crowd.

He said P.A.C.E.R. may come to a university’s administration in search of advertising space to promote the program. Unsuspecting students may find themselves face-to-face with a poster of a crumpled race car with the word P.A.C.E.R. stamped menacingly above it — a stark warning to cut down on “aggressive” driving.

Tarik Talundzic, a first-year Ryerosn mechanical engineering student, used to race for fun. He says his interest in cars could propel him to check out a P.A.C.E.R. event — depending on how it was pitched. He’s not sure, though, that more serious racers would take their message to heart.

“On the dangers? I don’t think they’d care. No matter how dangerous it is, if they like it, they’ll keep on doing it,” says Talundzic.

For many racers, the danger is the essence of the sport, that excitement is essential.

“It’s a rush, it’s almost like a skydiving feeling. It’s like a thrill … when you’re doing that it’s like tunnel vision … all you’re worried about is that little thrill of beating the guy,” says one racer.

John disagrees that racers aren’t getting the message. “I get tremendous amounts of e-mail from people who say that P.A.C.E.R. is a good program, that people want to help participate. They love to race but they want it to be safe,” says John.

Ontario Performance, a racing club in Toronto, is on board with P.A.C.E.R. Co-founder Charled Ruocco says it was a good idea because by teaming up, they would help promote one another.

At the show’n’shine in Woodbridge, Ont. Last Sunday, many of the cars actually had a P.A.C.E.R. sticker on their window. Many of these enthusiasts agree that racing is dangerous, and that having a formal racetrack in the GTA would help.

Nearly 50 per cent of those surveyed on the Ontario Performance website said that having a one-quarter mile race track within city limits would cut down on the amount of illegal street racing.

“It will minimize street racing. More people will pay to go to the track because they’ll know their times and they’ll know it’s safe. They’ll know that paying $30 will save them a $400 ticket and possibly their license being suspended,” says Charles.

Building a track within the GTA is an option that P.A.C.E.R. is strongly considering. But Kenny says that none of the car teams have sat down in unison and formulated a business plan to make a GTA track a possibility.

“I’m a firm believer in finding them a place to play. If you don’t give them a place they’re going to use the street. A racetrack is definitely a viable answer for Toronto,” says John. Right now, the nearest track is in Cayuga, Ont., more than an hour away from Toronto.

And while a street race is free, drivers have to pay around $40 to use the track. While he sees it as an expensive option, Kenny says that many cities like Saskatoon, Calgary and Edmonton have virtually solved their street-racing problems by building a track for the racers.

“A track in the GTA would be a good thing,” says Jason, “but for now the best race track is [Highway] 401.”

There’s nobody on this strip tonight because it’s early October and the night is about to give in to rain. But the memories of summer are preserved on the street with skid marks masking the pavement like strokes of paint on a canvas.

“I lost two buddies to racing,” says Jason, unflinching at the silence his comment creates. One died while racing his motorcycle but the other guy was a passenger in a friend’s Mustang. The Mustang was cut off while racing and eventually spun out of control cutting a light pole in two.”

“He was split right in half,” says Jason as he turns down Hanlan Rd., a popular racing strip in Woodbridge. Undeterred by the death of his friends, his engine is hot and his eyes are on the lookout for a worthy opponent.

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