“I live my life a quarter mile at a time.” Since Dom said it in Fast and the Furious, others started to live by that code.
It’s easy to assume drag racing is no more than the youth looking for an adrenaline rush. But there’s much more to the culture than meetups leading to hiding from authorities. Drag racing is where people find community–and sometimes a bit of themselves.
Meetups in Nashville began about three years ago, and that’s where Tae Stuart found a home. After his father’s passing, Tae became angry and uninterested in any extracurricular activity his mother offered him. Until they started talking about cars.
“I’m proud of Tae. Being a young black boy, he had a lot of things stacked against him. A couple of his friends–they’re in jail.”
Meeting in empty parking lots, industrial areas, and virtually anywhere away from the public and police eyes, the car meetups let groups showcase their cars in a safer and organized way. Some are just car enthusiasts, but some like Tae, are creating a family and rehabilitating their lives. Angela Alvarado, a former gang member and mother, leads another crew in Nashville where she insists drag racing is much safer with an adult there with them. The alternative? Her past.
“I lived in the streets, I slept under bridges and did whatever I could to survive. I didn’t have my parents there. I didn’t want to be that parent to not be there for them.”
Understanding there are risks involved with drag racing, Angela says that her presence during these illegal meets is still better than her past choices, despite other parents disapproving of her role. But the risk will never subside completely.
“I am afraid every time we go to a meet. I know that anything can happen. I know that something can go wrong–the car can flip over, they can hit other cars. But if I try to stop them, they’re going to try to do it anyways. It’s good to have someone there.”
Just like with most illegal activities, the ability to legalize, register, and have a safe space to participate would almost immediately tlimit most of the risks involved–but of course not all of them. Complete safety may even be impossible to achieve with cars being driven as they are at these meets. But the risk of incarceration or the domino effect of being charged with a criminal charge, that’s a risk anyone but especially person of color would limit if they could.
“I think it’s safer for us to be in a parking lot than out on the streets,” says Kashaf Iqbal of another crew.
The need for a safe space has never been more prominent in drag racing, especially for groups that are already at a social and economic disadvantage. Allowing this community to grow as it will regardless of legality, could potentially save lives and it’s extremely naive to assume meetups won’t continue.
Angela says “I know it might not be legal, but we’re trying to get it out there. Why can’t we have a place to race these cars? Why can’t they have something to do instead of be in the streets and doing illegal–more illegal–than what we’re doing?”