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LA Street Racers

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“The biggest secret about street racers is that we don’t exist. While people are asleep in bed at 1, 2, 3 in the morning, we’re out racing.” Anonymous

Yeah, that opening quote is brimming with grandiosity. Nevertheless, the point is valid. Street racing is a fact of life. It happens in all corners of the country, and the people who are participating in it could be your neighbor, relative, coworker, or classmate. You don’t really know. These aren’t the guys you see crashing their cars into telephone poles in time to make the 11 p.m. news, either. The real racers operate in the early hours of the morning. They descend on vacant pavement in industrial areas or remote roads in far corners of their cities, run their races, and vanish into the night as quickly as they appeared. Their cars are fast. Very fast—like 10 seconds or quicker. Several of these cars make 1,000 hp to the wheels and are capable of reaching speeds of 150 mph on the street in a quarter-mile’s distance.

We spent a month mingling with the racers of Los Angeles, attempting to gain an in-depth look at their world, what they are driving, and what’s driving them. What we found was something much more sophisticated than we expected. Looking past the hype of big-money races and the trash talking that precedes them, we found a highly dedicated group of guys passionate about making power. Many of them are on the leading edge of technology, too, embracing turbochargers, fuel injection with home-brewed engine- management systems, and E85 fuel rather than gasoline. Most are doing the work themselves, learning what works by trial and error. They aren’t afraid to assemble an engine one week only to remove it from the car the next because the cam doesn’t work with the heads, or because the torque converter doesn’t match the engine’s powerband. The majority of them are doing this on a tight budget, too. Very few L.A. street racers have a surplus of cash. The rest get by with what they’ve got, often pooling their resources with friends.

Before going further, we must clearly state that Car Craft does not endorse street racing. It is illegal, it is reckless, and it can be deadly. However, so is driving and texting, yet that doesn’t stop some people from engaging in those activities. So while we’re not endorsing street racing, we can’t ignore it and the technology these guys are using to make their cars fast.

Our guide through this shadowy world is a dude named Fabian, a street racer from years ago and a long-time member of the Brotherhood of Street Racers. The Brotherhood traces its roots back to the street-racing scene of South Central Los Angeles in the ’60s. Since its inception, the group has lobbied the city and the county of Los Angeles to provide a safe venue for people to race their cars, and for a while it operated a successful dragstrip on Terminal Island near the Port of Los Angeles. Fabian’s decades-long affiliation with the group means he knows nearly everyone in the scene: new-school dudes and OGs. We spent many hours with him, crisscrossing not only Los Angeles County, but Orange and San Bernardino Counties as well, immersing ourselves in the culture. We met an amazing cast of characters, from guys with gang affiliations to successful entrepreneurs and businessmen; one racer was even in the process of getting a doctorate degree in psychology. No kidding—Dr. Streetracer, PhD. Imagine the bench-racing therapy sessions he could provide.

The Individuals

A good place to start is with Jorge (call him George) Cota. He lives in a modest house in Compton and builds his cars with nothing but used parts. Among his other projects, he’s got an S-10 pickup and a Vega, both powered by small-block Chevys. He scours the swap meets religiously, buys parts from websites like RacingJunk.com, and trades parts with friends. He picked up some Manley valvesprings for $20 online and paid a friend $400 for the Procharger.

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