The real life ‘Fast and Furious’

Exploring Los Angeles’ illegal street racing scene

By Jason Lewis OW Contributor | 6/5/2014, midnight
“I live my life a quarter mile at a time. Nothing else matters. Not the mortgage, not the store … ...
Cover Design By Andrew Nunez

“I live my life a quarter mile at a time. Nothing else matters. Not the mortgage, not the store … For those 10 seconds or less, I’m free.”

—Dominic Toretto, played by Vin Diesel, “The Fast and the Furious”

In pop culture, that is just a line from a movie. A movie which is spinning off its sixth sequel, has earned more than $2 billion worldwide, and has captured the attention of many people who are looking to watch something exciting on the big screen.

But for some, the action in these movies is real. They are in the streets racing for the thrill of it, racing for competition, racing for bragging rights, and racing for money. This ‘high-octane’ activity has become a part of pop culture, but there is a multicultural sub-culture that is actually living it and not just watching it on a movie screen.

“Quarter-mile, 1,320 feet, that’s what we do,” said Martin Marinov, owner of Custom Performance Racing in Gardena, describing a popular phrase within the lifestyle.

For some people there is a need for speed, which leads them to racing cars, whether it is doing it the legal way on a track or drag strip or the illegal way on the streets of Los Angeles. Auto racing is an expensive sport, and doing it legally prices many people out, which leads some racers to hit the streets. For many, the illegal version of this sport is not only more cost effective, but it has become more appealing.

“You get an adrenaline rush out of it, more so on the streets than on the track because there is the element of getting caught, or getting chased (by cops),” Marinov said. “That and there is a lot less control over what goes on in terms of actual racing on the streets verses the track. You set your own rules. It’s really open to negotiation. A lot of the guys want to set their own terms, which you can’t do at the track.”

Street racers control how they race. They set where the race starts, where it finishes, what the handicap is, if one is needed. They also do not have to follow the racing guidelines of the tracks, which have strict safety rules. Many street racers can afford to make their cars go fast, but spending the extra money to meet safety requirements can be an issue. There are also restrictions at the track that can slow the car down, which does not appeal to the typical street racer.

This sub-section of the car culture has been around since the inception of the automobile, and it has a rich tradition in the Los Angeles area. ‘Big Willie’ Robinson, who was the founding president of the National and International Brotherhood of Street Racers back in the 1960s was a key figure in street racing lore. He brought organization to this illegal activity, and he was able to gain use of a drag strip on Terminal Island, which is located between the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach Harbor.