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Ethnography Of Santa Maria Street Racing Cultural Studies Essay

3569 words (14 pages) Essay in Cultural Studies

5/12/16 Cultural Studies Reference this

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California has always been friendly to the car enthusiast, with its drive in movie theaters, retro dinners, and burger joints Like in and Out, early hot rods and greasers took over what was becoming the beginning of street racing. Street racing in America had got it s initially boost into a past time largely during the mid to late 1960 s. When manufacturing city s like Detroit started pumping out American made rear wheel drive V8 muscle cars. In the beginning, these early enthusiast would take their cars to the drag strips and compete mainly in quarter mile times. Which were important to tuners because it was raw acceleration and on the street top speed doesn t normally become the determining factor in who wins the race, most races where done on a stop light to stoplight distance which only allowed for pure acceleration to come out as king. These first performance cars included the Chevrolet Camaro, Chevelle, and Corvette, the Dodge Challenger and Charger, Fords Mustang, and Torino the Plymouth Barracuda, and Road Runner, and Pontiacs Firebird, and GTO. There were other muscle car manufactures such as AMC, Mercury, and Oldsmobile. Now these are all of the major United States auto manufactures making cars built for speed and strait line drag strip racing. A lot of the cars the professional racers would drive in NASCAR where only slightly souped up versions of their street car twin, which drove people to modify and race their cars just like the pros because they now had the same or similar cars. These first muscle car enthusiasts represented only a small percentage of the United States, these pioneers would lead to create an entire subculture that spans the globe.

Here in California, the street racing scene is extremely popular and is home to some of the faster cars throughout the United States. California s great weather and scenic roads attract a lot of car hobbyist. There are several what I believe to be key ingredients for street racing including local car know how such as specialty mechanic shops, a large male population, places that allow for the gathering and racing of cars over local highways, through industrial areas, and rural state roads that extend over sparsly populated areas in the state of California.

When I was conducting this study, my goal was to observe street racing throughout the state, concentrating in the Santa Maria area, the effect street racing has on the neighborhoods and businesses, and to see how California law, and its officers have dealt with the problem. To observe the street racing, I chose to look at this through several different perspectives by partaking in this activity myself, observing street racing as a bystander, and talking with Officers who patrol the streets of our city. In order to see how they deal with the subculture. I knew I would need these different perspectives because the participents street racing are directly affected by the police presence, and the movement of races to different locations, and the level of communication to avoid the police show this. In addition, participating as a bystander and car enthusiast gave me access to actual street racing that wouldn t have got with police around. The local and national media where also of interest while conducting this study, mainly because the glorification of street racing in movies like The Fast and the Furious, and how the movies depicted the street racing subculture which I would say is a branch of the car enthusiast culture, as glorified and over exaggerated and it was my intent to compare the movies to what is actually taking place on the street, giving a unbiased study of what actually happens.

The Setting

Street racing in Santa Maria occurs throughout the city in several key locations. These areas are usually frequented on Saturday nights but also surprisingly during the weekdays as well, and happen between the hours of 10:00pm to 3:00am. Over the years these spots have become famous for street racing and the police as well as everyone in these neighborhoods are all too familiar with the activity that will usually occur between these hours.

The JC Pennies parking lot the most popular location in Santa Maria. This location is where most activity begins on Saturday nights because of its central location in the Santa Maria, Orcutt, Guadalupe, and Sisquac location. area and convenience. Large parking lots, and a Star Bucks that s open late allow car enthusiasts to congregate. The nights usually begin with cars showing up at or around 10pm. By 11:00, the parking lot is usually filled and there is already a police presence throughout the area. Sometimes the police presence will be more observant, mainly depending on the crowd and there actions, but in most cases, the Officers will enter the parking lot and instruct everyone to leave the area immediately. Reluctantly, the people assembled will leave, as the Officers do not give them any other choice. Interestingly enough, the Police presence varies and is usually dependent on other events that have taken place on that particular evening.

The Santa Maria Cooolers is another popular location in the lower Santa Maria area. Racing usually occurs after people gather at JC Pennies and meet up with everyone else who is out driving around that night. The Coolers itself is located approximately ten minutes away from JC Pennies and is located between several industrial buildings. This allows for less attention, as there are rarely people in this area on a Saturday night. The area can hold between 30-100 cars and its not uncommon to see cars lining up and running each other from a stop. In fact, its more likely to witness racing from a stop on this road simply because its rarely used by civilian drivers. Usually, this activity will go on until the police arrive and they are well aware of the racing that goes on here.

Bull Canyon serves as another place for street racing although the type of racing that nomraly occurs on Bull Canyon typicly involves more cornering and handling of your car, due to the many sharp and winding corners, and short strait away Bull Canyon road serves as yet another place for street racing although its more car class specific, as winding canyon roads are typicly raced by, the rear wheel drives, and all wheel drive cars. Again, the police are well aware of this activity and regard this type of behavior as most dangerous because the drop offs, and lack of traffic on the road someone could easily go off, and not be found for days.

I feel its important to state not all of the drivers who gather on Saturday nights are actually breaking laws while driving. Some are driving recklessly then others have loud exhaust setups that break state laws but the racing is done by a much smaller percentage of the assembled group or the average car you see that appears to be modified to race. However, it s my feeling that anyone can partake in this culture and would be considered apart of it even only if they observe.

The Street Racers

The Street Racers tend to be men around the ages of 17 to in up words of 45 years old, though Santa Maria has a midnight curfew so anyone under 18 typically are the first to show up and first to leave. Interestingly enough, the type of vehicle and the age of the person along with their behavior are directly related.

Whenever a car shows up, they normaly will have a passanger or more, sometimes cars that are not racers at all even vans, trucks, suvs, and I even witnessed a tow truck contain not racers but more enthusisest observers. The observers are mostly younger kids who seem very impressed with the entire racing scene and make up the large majority of the population. The Younger body of the street racing subculture tend to drive cheaper import economy cars from manufactures such as, Honda, Nissen, Toyota, and Mitsubishi. These younger racers sometimes are known for even adding modifactions that actually make rhere car perform worse or slower. Aluminum wings, body kits, loud exhaust systems and loud stereo systems are ways to distinguish this group as the modifications are easy to recognize and often times make their vehicles slower. Despite this, it s not uncommon to see this group driving dangerously when traveling between locations causing very dangerous situations. You cant really classify the group or individual wreckless driving as street racing because they really are not doing anything but just sort of strutting their stuff.

The group of people actually racing can be broken down according to the type of vehicles driven at the street races. Each group has a slightly different mentality and is usually dependent on the age of the driver and how much money they make which is useualy a age dependent factor. The muscle cars are more expensive and usually have an older following where as the import crowd is younger and as expected less wealthy. In addition, there are the bikers who comprise a wide range of ages and income levels and the exotics, which comprise an older more mature crowd. The bikers are in a group of their own simply because bikes are relatively inexpensive and make up the fastest vehicles on the street.

As stated previously the muscle car owners, comprised mostly of Chevrolet Camaros, and Ford Mustangs, these are the enthusiasts that cover that older age range and have been into the street racing scene since its initial muscle car spark.. Throughout my observations, it became clear this group is more serious and stays deep into the AM hours in order to get in runs without other vehicles around. Due to the Santa Maria midnight curfew much of the younger more dangerous racing occurs before around and slightly after midnight. As stated by a Corvette owner I will not race when there’s traffic, or if there’s a chance of putting someone else’s life in danger besides the prey and myself. What I can’t stand are people who have total disregard for the safety of other, and zip through parking lots, and crowded streets like they’re untouchable. Another V8 owner who regularly in the JC Pennies parking lot says, I would not engage in such activity unless the street was absolutely clear of all traffic. I would not want to hurt anyone other than myself and the other participant. This consideration for the safety of themselves and others seems to extend through much of the muscle car population. After talking with several officers I bothered for some questions on their break at starbucks they stated that they give less tickets, and see less accidents from this group compared to that of the bikes or the Import crowd.

The import crowd is extremely diverse and includes a wide range of cars and participants. This spectrum extends from the ricers to the sleepers with cars that have a little bit of show and go. The ricers can be described as the most annoying and dangerous group causing the most problems and clashing with the police. Not surprisingly, the ricers are the youngest crowd and usually include high school age kids looking for a place to hang out on Saturday nights. They seem to be the most affected by the mainstream media as many have similar body kits and wings to that of cars in movies like The Fast and the Furious and its sequels. Other popular modifications on these cars include aluminum wings, louder mufflers and lowering springs. According to Officer Guerra, the mufflers are a clear violation of California State Law which they issue a modified exhaust ticket for which is CA Penal Code 27151a which is what the police use to typically pull one of these cars over for inspection. Another major factor in the import crowed compared to some of the older muscle car crowed is that in California we have smog standards that s must be maintained by any car 1978 and newer, and a lot of the import crowed make modifications to their cars that make them no longer California smog legal, and become a hazard to the environment. In some of their searches for non California Air Restrictions Bored or C.A.R.B approved aftermarket performance parts that meet the smog standards, the officers have discovered stolen parts engines, and transmissions. Being that the import crowed is typically younger, and involves a class that s also less privileged money wise, sometimes due to their own financial situations or that they are still in high school even at times. It gives more motivation for even more illegal activity besides street racing which is also a major factor the police are trying to combat.

Making up another portion of the import crowd are individuals who are more seriously interested in performance. Generally, this crowd is also young although they tend to be more mature and aware about their surroundings. Their perceptions of the Police are also more reasonable and they seem to grasp a better understanding of the overall picture where as the ricers tend to ignore or provoke the Police with little regard for anyone around them. Honda s are the most popular although Mitsubishi Eclipse s, Dodge Neon SRT-4 s, and Subaru WRX s are also seen around the Santa Maria area. Honda s are extremely popular because insurance on them is generally cheaper and motor swaps can be done turning an economy car into a higher performance sports car. The aftermarket support is huge for Honda s and the fastest are usually described as sleepers. This is to say, the vehicle itself looks stock and attracts very little attention to the unknowing observer, however a motor swap or turbo kit the car can easily run with a good percentage of the muscle car population. Cars with factory turbo setups are also very popular among the import crowd and include the Mitsubishi Evo a all wheel drive rally car inspired street car, or Eclipse GST or GSX, Mazda s RX-7,and Suburu s WRX and Dodge Neon SRT-4. It s important that the Dodge Neon is a domestic vehicle although it marked a huge change in marketing for US car companies. As the market has increased for higher performance vehicles have increased American Car companies have gone to better accommodate this growing market. Chevrolet also has there Chevy Cobalt SS which is made to compete in the lineup.

The bikers are a third group attending the street races normaly. It s common to see this group driving in upwards of 15 bikes. Because of their cheap and high performance this group has a wide variety of particpents. Insurance is also cheaper despite the fact that most of the modern street bikes are capable of 12 sec mile times and doing top speeds over 180 miles per hour. Because these bikes are as fast as they are, the cops are really unable to stop their activity because bikers rarely stop if an officer does decide to make an arrest.

The exotic car owners are the smallest group because so few exist at the street races. Porsches, BMW M3 s and Toyota Supras as well as others make up this group, and are generally the fastest cars on the street. This group is mainly wealthier individuals who seem to be very mature and not as interested proving the performance of their car.

The Racing

The word racing could mean different things in the street racing community because there are a multitude of different ways to race, and this activity does not have to be preformed in a strait line. Some of the races take place from a roll, where the two cars will typicly slow down to lower speed then the posted speed limit more close to a stop but at a constent movment still, and upon a signal from a horn or gesture the race begins and follows what ever course the road was on until a predesigned point or if not predesignated until theirs a obvious winner or at a specific speed determined by the two racers during the race as to what speed they feel is unsafe determined by the road ahead. Anouther style would be from the dead stop in which in most cases the area is known and is known to be safe at least from a police presence or an area where possible civiliens could call the police. Other then that the race proceeds the same as the roll style winner normaly signals himself with a flash of his emergency lights. The last style would be on the canyon roads in which its highly dangerous due to the emergence of the drift car scene in which cars purposely lose traction in the rear of there car in order to slide there cars in partial control though braking and throttle control. This is something that should be attempted only by a professional, but occurs almost more frequently then the other forms of street racing due to the distance from the city, and the lack of traffic on the less traveled outer city twisty roads, with little police presesnce. The winner is detrimind by times, and style this form of racing is normally organized more before the race due to the difficulty and danger involved.

The Five O

The police and street racers rivilry is about at big as the muscle car vs. import car debate. The interaction that takes place between the street racers and the police can be rather interesting at times. The street racing scene in California exploded to the point in which the new tactics where developed to deal with the growing problem street racing was presenting to take away vital police resources, as well as the danger it posses to the driver and anyone around them. California enacted a law that not only allows the police to impound your car and fine you for street racing but also you will have your car crushed. Now I haven t heard of this happing in the Santa Maria area, but in the larger citys like Los Angles the police had little time to continue to bust the same people for racing, and wanted to make a statement that this activity will not be tolerated in California which is one of the strictest states to be a part of this subculture due to the police crackdown, and the smog standards.

Problems with the method

When the police will drive through the congregated street racers, and observes while in public or privet parking areas that have complained to the police about the street racers, and will order the racers to vacate the area. This works at trying to brake down the street racers attempts to organize a race, but not always will the group of people be plotting to race sometimes they are just talking about there hobby. But the danger with this is that once the parking lot is cleared all the suspected dangerous drivers who where plotting to race are now out driving the streets. While not all of them are on the streets driving dangerously when theres such a high voloume of street racers on the road in the same vicinity its possible that races, or bursts of competition with one another will occur.


A lot of races, and info on what s going on locally can now be found all over the internet from car forums to enthusiast websites. A lot of the commutation that occurs between groups of street racers occurs through mobile texting, which we all know well for the Dui check point texts can be very effective at commutating something going on immiedetly, that why ACH college uses the text message alert system because its so effective commutation between street racers is almost as good as police.


After doing the research nessery to give a unbiased observation of the street racing subculture here in California specifically the Santa Maria area, I was able to I feel deliver a pretty accurate study. While I was able to become more aware of the prospective shared by many of the street racers about the community and the police I feel that I was able to gain a lot of variety to that by talking to ex CHP officers at my place of work, and a few questions presented to a couple of officers on brake. This is a fast paced subculture, that is diverse just like its members though they all share the same love for cars, and modifying them. To say they all like to break the law or cause problems would be unfair as that just like any average group of people theres always a few bad apples, street racing has thoughs, and maybe in more of a larger percentage then that of general population but there are many mature adult car enthusiast. This is not to say that the activity is not dangerous and can cause great harm, it can.

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