The family that races together, stays together. Joe Gorton Sr. inspired Joe Jr. to build h
Youd expect Michigan, home to the Big Three, to have more than a few gearheads. A huge percentage of the states engineers, technicians, and businessmen work for one of the car companies or their suppliers. A good majority of these folks are car guys. Car guys like car shows. Car guys like car cruises. Car guys like car racing. And car racing always implies street racing. So it shouldnt come as any surprise that Michigans street racing scene is crawling with insomniac power junkies. And their cars are flying. Were wont pretend weve exhaustively surveyed the street scene across the nation or even across Michigan, so well talk about what we know, and the street scene were most familiar with happens deep in the working class, blue-collar city of Flint.
Flint is about 1-½ hours northwest of Detroit, and its almost as big a part of American car history. You see, Flint was Buick City, where Buicks were designed, engineered, and assembled until just a few years ago. Late in the night, youd find Flint street racers lining em up on a freaky three-lane road on the outskirts of the Buick City complex. This road, Industrial Boulevard, had two lanes side-by-side for racing and a third one for return. The only barrier between the return and the race lanes was the double yellow line, so you hoped the racing didnt get too squirrelly when you cruised back to the starting line. Third-shift factory workers would emerge from the plants during their breaks to catch a front-row seat for the racing action.
Its even rumored that in the mid-80s certain Buick engineers ran their Grand National development vehicles on Industrial Boulevard to refine high-performance computer calibrations, harking back to the musclecar days of test-and-tune sessions on Detroits Woodward Avenue. Every weekend late-night, the heart of Flint pumped thick gearhead blood.
The camouflage of behemoth buildings and factory noise in Buick City kept a low profile over Flint street racing. Now that Buick City is no more, the old strip has all but been abandoned too. Racers converge instead on Dort Highway, mere minutes from Buick City, and race a few blocks away on a desolate service drive. Its a four-lane road, separated by a boulevard that runs parallel with the freeway, whose drone helps mask the screaming seven-grand big-block powershifts on late weekend nights.
The casual atmosphere of Flints racing scene has a lot to do with how the city polices the street action, and how amicably the racers and spectators behave. Street racing is dangerouswhats new? But most Flint street racers are simply out to run cars and make a little money. Weve never seen a racer drink or use drugs. As usual, its the spectators that are cause for concern. We always seem to get at least one Yall smoke weed? solicitation every time were out, and there are a scary amount of paper-bag-wrapped drinks consumed around the race scene. As youd expect, there have been some serious problems in the past. One street racer recalled a girl shot in a drive-by. Another saw a guy take a couple of blows to the head with a tire iron. These incidents happened a few years back when local gangs started crashing the street racing scene; fortunately, theyve mostly moved on. But what social scene is without these kind of risks? Show us a bar or a club in this neighborhood with a better safety record, and well show you a liar. Big money, often the cause of serious violence at street races, gets exchanged very rarely in the Flint scene.
Detroit has suffered more serious tragedies, probably because the wagers are considerably higher. That, and recent negative media attention directed toward street racing in general has prompted Wayne County to seize street race cars caught in the act. No, theyre not merely impounding carstheres absolutely no guarantee that youll ever see your car again.
Race gas and high-compression motors cost big money, so although there arent a lot of money-wager races in Flint, they do occur, usually late in the nights action. Money races are more typical of the Detroit scene. In fact, like travelling card sharks, racers from Detroit and Saginaw occasionally show up in Flint hoping to lock in races with locals who arent savvy to out-of-towners reputations. The money cars often dip into the 9s, arrive on trailers, and wont come off the ramps for less than $500 a race. Capable of 140-plus quarter-mile blasts, these cars are run on a nearby strip of freeway where they can safely slow down from these whiplash speeds. Weve only witnessed a couple of these races. Because of the large amounts of cash involved, the cars owners usually squabble away the night setting up the terms to penalize the faster car. Whether its running on street tires, turning off the bottle, or giving up the leave and a few car lengths, each racer tries to direct the win in his favor. If they cant settle on mutually agreeable terms, the cars never come off their trailers. So what keeps the parking lot packed with gearheads, often until five in the morning? What warms us from the cold of night and awakens us from the drain of sleep deprivation? The mere potential that, if the conditions are met, 1,000-plus cubic inches will catapult two wild drag cars into the single-digits on the freeway tonight.
How bout the import scene? One Flint street racer told us, Imports are pretty non-existent around here. In Michigan, a hopped-up import has clear taillights, a chip, and after-cat exhaust. Nobody here is too serious about the imports yet, but why would you be when there are millions of huge, cheap V-8s?