Street Racing Culture in Los Angeles Examined by National Geographic

Street racing is something that virtually all of us have done at one time or another. Most of us do not make a habit of it and it becomes something that we generally leave behind as we grow more sophisticated and mature. However, there  is a hard-core segment within the hot rod culture for whom street racing is not only an irresistible adrenaline rush but also a way of life.

National Geographic filmmakers have produced a program examining the street racing phenomenon. Originally broadcast on the NatGeo channel and now also posted on YouTube, the documentary focused on a group of Los Angeles street racers in an attempt to understand what motivates them to continue to participate in this highly dangerous behavior despite its inherent risks and negative consequences.

There is no disputing that street racing is an extremely dangerous practice that can inflict enormous harm upon participants and innocent bystanders alike. Penalties for participating and promoting these illicit races can include lengthy jail sentences as well as costly fines, loss of driving privileges and even having your beloved car scrapped! Yet  street racing devotees continue to pursue their passion despite all these pitfalls. 

Street racing it is also not without some redeeming social qualities. As the video documentary shows, many of the people involved have had previous contact or connection with street gangs. It also communicates that street racing has kept many young people from the violent and drug-infested gang world and has helped to foster an atmosphere where people who under other circumstances would be mortal enemies, find a way to associate and establish friendships. It has also provided the opportunity for many street racing enthusiasts to learn mechanical and other skills that enable them to enter occupations related to the automotive and high-performance industries. Certainly there are silver linings associated to street racing’s dark clouds.

The work also shows a dichotomy between the established racers at the legal racing facilities and the street racers as they make an attempt to ‘go legit.’ The street racers find that their boulevard reputations garner them little respect from the drag strip veterans and soon learn that success at the race track is much more difficult to achieve than ‘street cred.’ However, the learning curve of competing at sanctioned race tracks is something that all racers must accomplish no matter when or where the education begins. So really there is no sustained disadvantage for inexperience. We all started somewhere!

Credit should be given to the NatGeo producers for neither glorifying nor condemning the cultural segment that they sought to examine. What they presented was an unvarnished and accurate view of the lives, behaviors and activities of some Los Angeles street racers in their native habitat. It is up to the individual viewer to take in the information provided and from there make informed opinions of the activity and decisions on how the community should react, or not, to the situations at hand.

Even the best street pilots will make rookie mistakes when they first encounter the racing facilities. But lest we forget, we were all green as grass when we began our racing experiences and didn't get proficient overnight!

But there stands the question…should street racing be accepted in the automotive culture at all? Are there enough beneficial circumstances created by street racing activities that would allow something less than a zero tolerance policy towards them? Can illicit street races be completely eliminated from the public roads? Where do you stand?


About the author

Paul Lambert

Paul Lambert is an independent writer who grew up during a time in Southern California car culture when big horsepower and high speed were celebrated above all. He now understands that turning, stopping, appearance and comfort are equal in importance...almost! Paul tries to find something likeable and interesting about anything with wheels and thinks that the people, history, and culture of hot rodding are often as important to the story as the cars and events being featured.
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