Engines rev and drivers brace themselves as they approach the starting line. Cars whiz past spectators, competing nose-to-nose for the fastest time at the Gainesville Raceway — and it’s all legal.
The raceway works to minimize illegal street racing by opening its drag racetrack to the public for legal racing in a professional atmosphere. The organization began hosting its select Friday Street Legal Madness races Sept. 17, welcoming licensed individuals to participate regardless of experience or vehicle. The drivers compete in a quarter-mile race between two cars. The next race is Friday at 6 p.m., Track Manager Mike Yurick said.
Approximately 1.3 million people die each year due to road traffic accidents, according to the World Health Organization. In addition, motor vehicular accidents are the leading cause of death for children and adults aged 5 to 29 years old.
“When we hold these races, it gets people to come here instead of racing on the streets and potentially hitting somebody,” Yurick said.
The drivers collect a timestamp after each pass and are permitted to race as many times as they want, Cory Deemer, operations and facility supervisor, said. Some drivers use the street legal races to test and tune their vehicles before a bigger race.
The organization offers a safe environment for drivers to race, with designated EMTs and firefighters on standby in the event of a crash or accident, Deemer said. Breaks and batteries of vehicles are also inspected before racing. Depending on the car’s speed, inspectors look for helmets and a roll cage to prevent the vehicle from caving in.
Andrew Powers, 20-year-old car enthusiast and drag race driver, emphasized the danger street racing poses.
“Street racing gives you an adrenaline rush, but it’s just not worth it,” he said. “I’ve seen too many people die or get into accidents because of it.”
Racing on a racetrack instead of on a street could be a matter of life or death, Powers added.
“If you do get hurt while street racing, there’s nothing you can do … You have to wait for the paramedics and EMTs to arrive,” he said. “If you’re on the track, they can get to you within seconds.”
Gainesville Police Department spokesperson Graham Glover said street racing can put pedestrian and electric scooter drivers’ safety in jeopardy, especially near UF’s traffic-heavy campus.
“What the Gainesville Raceway is doing is a perfect example of a public-private partnership in which they are working to help the community,” Glover said. “And ultimately, it’s helping law enforcement.”
The racing community and the city’s chamber of commerce, known as the Greater Gainesville Chamber, have expressed their support of the Raceway’s efforts to create a safe racing environment, Yurick said.
Not only do the races provide an alternative to street racing, they also foster a sense of community among car enthusiasts.
Powers, who has been involved with the Gainesville car scene for the past four years, said he takes pride in being part of such a positive group of people.
“I’ll be driving through Gainesville on the way to the grocery store, and I’ll see a car from the track,” he said. “I’ll give them a honk, and they’ll do the same back. Everybody knows everybody.”
The organization gave Powers an extended family of individuals who share the same passion and enthusiasm, he said. Seeing a professional organization offer street racing on its track is heartwarming because it makes a difference in keeping the streets safe, he said.
Shifting street racing from road to track could not only save lives, but create camaraderie among the racing community, said Harlley Shumpert, a driver who races in cities throughout Florida.
His favorite part about coming to the raceway in Gainesville is finding like-minded people and forging meaningful connections, he added.
“We all have one thing in common,” he said. “And that’s the need for speed.”
Jenny Rogers is a contributing writer for The Alligator.