Like many of you, I tuned in to the recent series premiere of Street Outlaws, Discovery Channel’s new weekly reality program that centers around the underground world of illegal street racing. The show focuses on the racing contested in the state of Oklahoma, considered one of the nation’s hotbeds of hardcore street racing. Here some of the quickest and fastest street cars in the country congregate on the backroads for big stakes. Being rather familiar with the cars and the personalities on the show, I was curious to see how the producers would approach it and just how much reality it would really contain. A lot of folks would and did instantly discredit it based on premise alone, but you can’t form a true opinion if you don’t watch.
It’s just rather unfortunate that what’s good for ratings — or at least what the Discovery Channel producers have determined is best for ratings — spreads a message that’s 180 degrees from the type of message drag racing needs to send.
The overlying point to be made regarding this and any other street racing-esque television program is that yes, it does indeed promote something that shouldn’t be promoted. Street racing is as taboo a subject as they come in our sport, and even though the more serious levels of street racing are still intertwined to some degree with legal drag racing (meaning there are track racers that are also street racers and vice versa), it’s just one of those subjects that everyone keeps close to the hip. Legal drag racers won’t condone the practice regardless, but the news medias’ flagrant and uneducated use of the term “drag racing” has caused serious ramifications for our sport.
If you tuned in to the show, you no doubt questioned the validity of the claimed illegality of it all. After all, there were portable industrial flood lights set up along the race course that would be impossible to hide from the law for long. Just as the Discovery Channel has done with other programs, Moonshiners for example, some fabrication is clearly evident to create drama and the appearance of illegal activity.
But the fact of the matter is that if the Discovery Channel were participating in and promoting a truly illegal act, they’d be just as liable as the folks street racing or making moonshine. Heck, the racing in the premiere episode was contested on what was clearly a closed airport runway, but repeatedly referred to as a “road” to make unobservant viewers believe they were doing something illegal.
Simply put, it’s not real. It’s all for the sake of entertainment, and what you’re seeing is just as real as any other so-called reality television program.
Although we’re not sure of the exact time frame, the pilot episodes and the first season of the program were filmed several months ago, and some folks that were involved in the filming have confirmed that there was a police presence during the filming to block off the streets. This is done that that (fortunately) no innocent bystanders are in any imminent danger as a result of the making of the show, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s promoting the same activity — without a police presence — to others.
In truth, it’s these types of grassroot race cars (and with some capable of running in the 4’s in the 1/8-mile, these ARE race cars) and the dramatic grudge-style racing that appeal to the general public most. It’s just rather unfortunate that what’s good for ratings — or at least what the Discovery Channel producers have determined is best for ratings — spreads a message that’s 180 degrees from the type of message drag racing needs to send.
What further adds to that fact is that what the show is actually presenting, under the surface, is a completely legal form of drag racing. The streets (or runways) are blocked off, the blessing of the police is given, and the racers are fully suited up in all of the standard-issue drag racing safety equipment, most of them in full-cage cars. The only thing missing is the Christmas tree and two guardrails 60 feet apart.
But at the end of the day, for the sake of ratings, the terms “illegal” and “street race” are thrown in to gain interest. We can’t help but think that grudge racing, with it’s own interesting mix of characters, bitchin’ cars, and real-life drama would’ve made for a better program that doesn’t have to create a facade to gather in viewers…one that would help the cause rather than break it down. But we’re just magazine editors and not television producers, so what do we really know. That’s showbiz!