‘The wheels ground and the car flew forward. My neck pulled backwards and I was glued to my seat. The car had been engineered for speed. Feeling the speed, I was thrilled and then scared. I screamed, but it was not a scream I expected: it was an ugly howl of fear’ -Heli Vaaranen (Vaaranen and Wieloch 44). There you have it, a typical experience of any first time street racer, a subculture that has been slowly growing in the most parts of the world since the early 1990s pioneered mainly by the Asian Americans in the American State of California. Actually, street racing has become increasingly popular in California, as well as developing into a powerful organization that is spanning most of the American cities currently. Street racing is an activity whereby a number of drivers race each other, so as to compete in public roads. In most cases a crowd gathers around to witness and cheer on the competing drivers. It is a powerful emerging subculture that is threatening not to go away any time soon (Leigh 2).
Subcultural studies and analysis has continually become a diminishing field in the discipline of cultural studies. This can be partly attributed to the dramatic increase and rise in globalization and commercial culture that has remarkably decreased the credibility of this sort of analysis (Clarke 100- 111). The question therefore, has shifted from whether subcultures really ever existed, to whether a subculture can really function in a world driven so much by the commercial culture. Many ethnographers of these subcultures however, have provided enough evidence to show that indeed these cultures can exist and function in any contemporary society. A subculture can be defined as a symbolic arrangement or a communal arrangement that is well organized, but not necessarily according to class, age, or establishment of any style (Hebdige 441- 450). The members of a subculture therefore, look to create identities that allow for a ‘relative autonomy’ from the one defined by the normal structures of a society. Some researchers have argued that street racing evolved solely as a way of reaching or finding relative autonomy for males belonging to the working class. The culture of street racing is that of simultaneous subordinate and resistance (Clarke 100- 111).
The street racing subculture has adopted the culture of relative autonomy, an aspect of street racing, and in so doing rejected the mainstream culture adopted by many. This paper therefore is going to look deeper into this culture, and explore this philosophy, and how it is manifested and reflected in the mode of dressing, and the behavior of the members of this subculture.
According to the Greenberg’s Youth Subcultures, a subculture can be defined as any particular culture that has an entity of self identity, and that, which is held together by shared beliefs, interests, rituals, values, and traditions that do not go inline with the main stream ideologies. Street racing as a subculture has three central domains that define it, and these are speed, music, and accidents (Rendon 36- 38). For most racers, a higher level of exhibitionism is usually attained through music. This is usually in combination with engine sounds that to many, sounds too excessive; but to racers, this combination of music and engine sound gives them something they can indulge in. on the other hand, speed gives these people an adrenalin high that is both natural and high. In addition to this, speed is the determinant of the kind of respect a racer gets from his subculture; the higher the speed one can achieve, the more the respect he earns from his fellow racers (Rendon 36- 38). Generally the faster one can drive the more respect he earns from his subculture. One very surprising finding was that accidents are some sort of physical fascination for these racers. It is therefore, not very uncommon to come across racers taking photographs of an accident scene and scavenging anything in sight that can be repaired and put back together into a car. This according to the racers means that a person who has undergone through many accidents must be a good driver, allegedly because through his many mistakes and accidents, he has learned a lot of good driving skills. Hence, a racer who has a history of accidents also has a lot of respect from his fellow subculture members. There are different reasons why these people engage in street racing. But the main reasons are usually to attract attention from both the opposite sex members of the group as well as from the fellow racers (Vaaranen and Wieloch 44).
According to studies, one can always construct or make up a description of a subculture’s main attributes. For example, most of the participants in street racing are usually males who are aged between the years of 16 and 25. These participants are also thought to belong to the working class group (Hebdige 441- 450). This is to mean that these racers are employed in various industries, ranging from semi skilled and skilled maintenance jobs to construction, to industry to transportation. In addition to these, racers are also further categorized into classes, which are mainly defined by the racers’ occupation and level of education. These classes are usually formed through struggle with other members of the subculture. Members of the street racing subculture are therefore, mainly defined by this notion of class. Through the gathering of same oppositional subculture class members, a subculture develops (Watson 179-197).
In most cases, members of this subculture originate from normal working class families. They hence have access to cars at very tender years and are taught to drive when still very young. There experience with cars therefore, is very high. To these racers, school is not a primary requirement as they are always eager to start earning some income. However, the members of this subculture still finish high school, but do not pursue higher education. As a result, they enter into the workforce and join the semi skilled and the unskilled workers as they are not sufficiently trained. There participation in the workforce industry is usually as a result to the forced subordination to the parent culture (Clarke 100- 111).
The tradition of street racing, especially in the US dates way back the 1950s. This culture has been widely popularized by various Hollywood movies such as the 1955 movie ‘Rebel without a Cause’ and the 1973 movie ‘American Graffiti’. There was however, no movie that popularized this culture more than the 2001 movie ‘The Fast and the Furious’ which allegedly made 80 million dollars, 10 days after its release (Peak and Glensor 2-3). This movie had spectacular street racing stunts and stunts that were very daring, and it is very possible that this movie was one of the major current inspirers of street racing. According to the US Department of Justice, the street racing population can be categorized into three very distinct groups. The first group is thought to consist of members who are aged between the ages of 24 and 18, those who live with their parents with no basic income. The second group consists of members who are older, from the ages of 25 to 40. These are mostly white males who are involved in racing as well as building the ‘muscle cars’ that are of the older models, like the Camaros, Corvettes, Mustangs, among others. The third group according to the US Department of Defense is made up of Hispanic and Asian males of varying age groups who are mostly associated with newer imported car models such as Mitsubishis, Hondas, Nissans, and Acuras. It is widely thought that the latter group is dominating the street racing subculture currently (Peak and Glensor 2-3).
This subculture has spread and developed in many states in the US. One of the examples of these states where street racing has grown extensively is the city of Minnesota. In this city, it is a common thing to witness 17 year olds and even older groups of people gathered at a particular road to witness a car race. In such street races, such styles such as performance racing, bracket drag racing, street legal series, high school street legal, central road racing, among others, are witnessed (Vrabel). One of the 17 year old racers from Minnesota had this to say about street racing, ‘I’m running a 91 mustang2.3L with swapped 93 5.0. It is putting out 783hp to the tires. The car has a super/ turbo charger, all pure muscle and lots of bass. It is upgraded to the max. I am 17 years old and I build this car my self’ (“Street Racing in Minnesota new”). This is just an illustration of how this culture is important to the youth of Minnesota. There are various turn up shops in this state, where these racers get their spare parts and ‘souping up’ parts for their cars from. One of this tuner shops is Speedlab. Some of the products this shop offers include performance enhancement parts like hot pipes and alcohol injection, the shop also offers other parts like intercoolers, power packages, turbo chargers, accessories, and silicon hoses. The shop also sales suspensions, brakes, and Drivetrain, in addition to offering services like detailing, lubrication, monitoring, and interior modification (“The Science of Speed”).
Graham Chan, a street racer in Richmond, claims that ‘we are not all crazy guys driving around the street trying to hurt people; street racing is much about the music, the styles, the cars, the girls. All that. What brings us together is the subculture’ (“Street Racing: Too Fast, Too Furious”). According to this racer, their kind of racing is very safe. This as he argues, is because at the end of the track, they have some one with a walkie- talkie to survey the tracks where the racers cannot see. According to Kent Taylor, a police officer at Ontario, street racing can be categorized into three types. There is an impromptu race, which happens spontaneously, when two drivers come across each other, for example, at a stoplight or at a stop sign. One driver indicates that a race is on by revving up his engine or by looking at the other driver suggestively. According to Taylor, this race does not necessarily have to involve sports cars. The other type of a street race is the organized race which is usually planned and organized before time. During such races, a road has to be closed for the race to take place. It usually takes place early in the morning or very late in the night at locations that are usually remote. Hat racing is the third kind of race which includes a number of street racers competing for some amount of money, or ‘pinks’, these are typically the pink papers that these racers use to claim ownership of another racer’s car. During these kinds of races, the race is usually not confined in any particular road; they sometimes involve long distances such as from one city to another (“Street Racing: Too Fast, Too Furious”).
A bigger risk is involved in this kind of racing according to Taylor, because these people are in it to win, and they will have no consideration for anyone else on the road. The racer who is the first to the predetermined destination gets the glory, plus the prize. In addition to the above forms of street racing, there are other forms of street racing in existence today. These include drifting or touge racing, and drag racing. Drifting is the kind of racing that takes place through mountain passes, either in a chase format or one car at a time. Drag racing on the other hand involves more than two drivers who race in a straight line for a specified distance. The car that finishes the designated distance first wins (Boostedracing). The common specified distance in this kind of a race is usually a quarter of a mile. Cannonball Run was another very popular racing type several years ago. It involved several racers racing from point to point, and it was illegal. This race has however since been legalized and have come to be known as road rallies (“Street Racing: Too Fast, Too Furious”).
Many law enforcement agencies believe that street racers are engaged in numerous illegal activities for the purposes of financing their activities. According to the US Department of Defense, some stolen vehicles have been traced to some of these racing vehicles. It is thought that these racers feel like they have to commit large sums of money in upgrading their racing vehicles, either through lawful or unlawful means. This upgrading can be very costly, as such things as nitrous oxide systems, and supercharger blowers cost a lot of money, sometimes up to 10,000 dollars or even more. For most racers, their cars achieving the maximum performance is very important, and they will ensure this regardless of the effort, money and time involved. Other crimes have also been associated with this subculture including drug and substance use, damage of property, violation of curfews, assault, and theft (Peak and Glensor 2-3). However, according to some racers, this is all part of a plan to ruin the reputation of racers (Trippy Joey).
Most street racers have adopted a particular look when it comes to fashion and style. For example, most of them spot numerous piercings on different parts of their bodies. They also have numerous tattoos, all over their bodies, and most of their clothing consists of leather, jeans, baggy t- shirts and jeans. Jewelry is also a common feature with this particular subculture, especially neck chains that are heavy, golden or silver teeth, huge watches, golden and silver bangles, big belts and so on. Most of the male racers also plait their hair, or have long hair which can be held in varying styles. Their footwear is also distinctive, with most of them spotting different kinds of head gear like head scarves and bands (Clarke 100- 111).
Different groups of people qualify to be classified as a subculture. These might include illegal bikers, and on line bikers. This is because they share the same interest like love of bikes and online games, as well as rituals and beliefs. High school kids can however be not classified as a kind of subculture because they have varying beliefs, traditions and values. They do not share many interests and they belong to the dominant ideology of obtaining education, and they are obligated to follow the rules and regulations of an orderly institution, without any deviation.
Street racing has become particularly common and popular in the recent times what with the numerous movies and lifestyles popularizing the same. Such vocabulary as ‘5.0 bbk edlbro parts, super chips, slick tires of 9 inches, nitrogen oxide systems, and roaring engines’ is very common with these racers (“Street Racing in Minnesota new”). Street racing is as a result of this development that street racing has continually surpassed boarders and become popular in numerous states, developing into a well organized subculture that has a huge following. Many researchers thought that with the current commercial culture and increased globalization, subcultures like street racing could not survive; but this subculture has proved them wrong by continually becoming a strong and significant group in the population.
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