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Kent Street Racing

Drag racing and drifting at midnight, not without danger

April 12, 2016

Kent, Washington is quiet by day, but at midnight on weekends, screaming, souped-up engines accelerate through its streets, making the city the center for illegal street racing in the Pacific Northwest.

Kent has been a hub for street racing for decades. A largely warehouse district to the north has smooth, straightaway streets that attract racers, and the warehouses provide parking for onlookers.  This is not just a younger crowd; the Kent racing demographic is just as diverse as the cars they bring — teens to seniors, Civics to Lamborghinis.

Austin (last name withheld by request), a frequent participant, recalls his first time at the race.  “It seemed surreal, it was crazy,” and asks, “How could this possibly be going down every weekend and I don’t know about it?”

Near midnight, racers and observers will meet at a 76 gas station near the Kent-Renton border. Cars pour into the station, and people mingle and check out what’s under the hoods of an impressive variety of cars. Soon, the entire gas station footprint is packed, with cars surrounding pump islands and spilling over to adjacent parking lots.

Racers gather around pump islands, filling the gas station parking lot to capacity.

As racers rumble with impatience, a facilitator — in charge of locating track locations — will climb out of a car and shout out a track name.  “Budweiser!” he hollers, which is code for the street in front of the Budweiser factory, lit brightly with the beer’s signature sign in red neon.

Racers rush to their cars, and the vehicles pour out of the gas station almost at once. Veterans lead, and others fall into fast, centipede-like lines that whip through town towards the location.

At the track, observers park in a deserted warehouse parking lot while racers queue up in one of two lines.  A flagger appears, walking between the cars.

The flagger lines up a pair of cars to a mark, then looks at the racers and asks if they’re ready. They answer with a simple nod, and her arms swing down.  Engines scream.  It’s a drag race, a quarter-mile.  Once they’re off, the queue lurches forward, and it starts again.

“You have to be really attentive as well, look out for cops, and make sure there’s time between races” says 20 year-old Phoenix, a flagger and ex-racer.  

A flagger stands between cars, lining them up to race.

Kent street races go on, rain or shine.  But when it rains, the dynamic is different. On a “drift night” the facilitators select tracks which are more open, to allow participants to pull off fishtailing maneuvers, back-end sliding techniques that require rear wheel-drive cars.

Akiba Drift Crusaderz is a notorious crew that stands out on drift nights.  Their cars are decked out in puzzle pieces, anime/video game memorabilia with bright LED-lit interiors.  They aim to someday perform in Japan, where drifting originated. Keshawn, a Drift Crusaderz member, believes that drifting and the races are a lifestyle.

“Live in Japan and drift,” he says, “I could work a full time job and be happy as long as I’m doing that.”

The Akiba Drift Crusaderz idling at a Chevron gas station in Tacoma, WA.

The Akiba Drift Crusaderz, center, drawing a crowd around their cars.Drift nights are a reminder that Kent street races are unsanctioned, unregulated and illegal.  Kent Police Department Commander Jarod Kasner says the danger comes from having no safety measures and no control, a mix for injury or death.

KIRO 7 News states that, “…Eight people have been killed in street races in South King county over a five-year span.”

“Sometimes our presence deters it, sometimes it does not,” says Kasner.

Police try to bust races from the start, pulling up in the parking lots to flash the blues and reds. Police will vigorously enforce vehicle regulation equipment or speed limits.  If police crack the code and show up at a track, racers and observers alike scatter.  

The city has a Stay Out of Areas of Racing (SOAR) ordinance in effect, which makes it unlawful to be in any SOAR-identified area. Violation SOAR is a gross misdemeanor; fines for racers can reach $5,000 and include jail time.  Even observers are charged with a misdemeanor and are fined up to $1000.

After a bust, depending on the time and mood, racers either call it a night or rendezvous again at the 76 or other various locations.  Sometimes it’s a rinse and repeat cycle that can last until 7:00 a.m.

A racer burns out before lining up to race, a common grand entrance by participants.

Kent police have applied some community outreach, with a hope to move racing off the streets and onto legal tracks.  

“There are other avenues that we try to point them to,” Kasner says. “It’s just whether or not that’s what they want to do.”

Racers complain that tracks aren’t open late and that they’re expensive, and there are few such tracks.  The Kent police department has tried to counter by offering free passes to Pacific Raceways, the local motorsports facility; there haven’t been many takers.

The danger doesn’t deter most of the dedicated Kent racers from going. For some, it’s a free car show that happens every weekend night.  Others are into the adrenaline rush of street racing.  And for many, it’s a lifestyle.

As one regular puts it, “Sometimes you have to start from the ground up and the ground starts with the streets.”




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I street raced for nearly a decade in L.A. and the reason was that the tracks are too expensive, too strict and the time that it is open does not work with regular people's schedules. I had to take days off, and spend about $300 to drive on the track for a total of a few hours.

On the streets, I was never involved in an accident, and I never saw any accidents except for when people who weren't the "usuals" showed up and 9/10 times alcohol was involved. It would be way more effective to simply shut down a stretch of 6 lane or 8 lane wide road that these racers race on and allow 2 people at a time to run an 1/8th or 1000 foot race. and they should do it very often. not 6 weeks in between.

Most of these so called "racers" cars are SLOW and can't even compete against a newer ecoboost taurus or even most crossover SUV's. The danger truthfully is not in the actualy racing. It is in the fear of police, the running, the chasing, and when alcohol gets involved. Even drifting, which, those cars you depicted are extremely pitiful examples of, is relatively SLOW. slamming into a curb at full drifting speed is unlikely to even break a wheel. the G force of a crash at low speeds with a gradual slowing down is far less than being rear ended by a texting driver.

I've raced thousands of times over nearly a decade. Alcohol is the real killer. Closing off an extra wide street is the solution. The racing is slow and relatively safe. Texting claims many many more lives.

You quite honestly don't have a clue what you're talking about.

If you know so much more than this fella please elaborate. He seemed to really know his shit and makes many good arguments.

These street racers and everyone involved are SELFISH, SPOILED, IGNORANT PUNKS who think they're somehow immune to the laws and forget that driving is a PRIVILEDGE, not a RIGHT!!! Y'all don't own the streets and shame on law enforcement for bowing to these JERKS with entitlement attitudes. I don't give a rat's ass that tracks are "too expensive". Too bad! That doesn't mean take over the streets simply because you can't do what you want elsewhere! The SOLUTION is to put your time and energy into more meaningful, productive activities or - better yet - be SLEEPING at 2am instead of keeping everyone ELSE awake!! You racers are nothing but stupid PUNKS and deserve to be locked up and fined!!! GET OFF THE ROADS that us taxpayers are paying for. WE own the streets, NOT YOU!!

shut your mouth, those who telling that racers should be locked in jail go to Germany or other European country their police closing public road to let racers to race because racing on a track is too expansive. America is a police state

Instead of telling those of us who pay our taxes and wish for our roads to remain safe to "shut up", maybe you should go back to Germany or other European countries.  We will gladly waive good bye to your prescence here.

Looks like a pretty emotionally charged comment there bud. Does this one hit a little too close to home? You assume too much. Because they're racers, they don't pay taxes? "We own the streets"? Who is we? Get off your high horse man. And spoiled? It's not like the people who go to street races are the kind of people who get stuff handed to them by their parents. The article states that it's a diverse bunch, kids to adults to older guys just from what I've seen. It's wrong to assume that they're bad people. Some people work odd hours and get off late, so late into the night is the rest of their day. And for others, it's the weekend. Their time off. There's nothing wrong with being up at 2 AM, nor is it wrong to spend their time doing something you would consider unproductive or meaningless on a Saturday night. They worked all week, now they're relaxing and doing what they love. My entire comment can be disregarded because it's obviously illegal, and that's okay. But writing off a diverse group of hundreds as ignorant punks is, well, ignorant. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Those are my two cents ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  

You make this racing sound so passive. It is not so passive when the drivers of these cars whip out into oncoming traffic causing accidents. Last night, a drunk and irresponsible "street racer" hit my sons car and totaled it. Luckily his airbags deployed and he and his girlfriend are walking away with only bruises and very sore muscles. "The street racer driver is a wus." He left the scene of the accident, taking no responsibility for his actions.
This was my son's only vehicle, his way to get to work, and make it to his 2nd job.

I am not so passive about this. Sure, Tlthe insurance will pay off his car but he will be left with out a vehicle thanks to this groups illegal activity. It is sad that the irresponsibility of a few should affect the group as a whole, but In my opinion, the police should arrest all for simply being there.

You cant hold eveyone liable for a couble of bad apples. Ive never been nor do i condone this. I do belive that maybe instead of spending thousands to fight them maybe setring something legal, safe, and sanctioned could a huge portion of the illegal scene. We dont have many tracks. Nine of them run in line with most people shedules. I belive that saftey is key. But i also belive in letting people have the freedom to follow a path that they choose for themselves.

If its too expensive to race on the track, save your money, spend less on your car and work more. There is too much traffic on the road for reckless fools like this to carry licenses and vehicles. BG you are a fool for trying to make drifting sound like a safe activity because its less likely to break through building wall, still plenty likely to injure the spectators/socialmedia-ographers that thrive on this junk. These illegal racing clubs promote a gang mob mentality that says screw everybody thats in the way of my entitled punk ass. Want to use the road for transportation? Screw you. Need to sleep for your job the next morning? Screw you. Don't like seeing ugly donuts (literal street graffiti) on public streets? Screw you. Want to enforce the law on me for not being a respectable citizen of the community? Screw you.