PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Over the past few months there have been plenty of headlines about street racing going out of control: there have been multiple crashes; people have been hit and even killed; roads and bridges have even been shutdown, the latter going viral on social media.
“They’re out there driving like idiots,” Portland police Sgt. Greg Stewart said.
All of it was enough to make clear that street racing is a pervasive culture in Portland. KOIN 6 News wanted to get an inside look at that culture, so with phones in hand we went inside and got a firsthand look at what happens during illegal street racing rallies and why police have a hard time stopping them.
The Red Door Meet
The night begins every Sunday with a legal car show under the Morrison Bridge. Car enthusiasts, by the thousands, line block after block for The Red Door Meet.
“We don’t do the revving and burnouts — we’ve got people that will talk to you,” said Devin Hosking, who founded the legal meet in 2011.
“If that stuff shows up here we do our best to be able to weed that out.”
He says on an average summer night, rain or shine, up to 5,000 people will attend the meet, which stretches 13 blocks. He says it’s safe, too, with 80 volunteer administrators to manage the event.
“I can bring my 8-year-old here,” Hosking said. “You can bring your dog here. You can bring your family here.”
For most attendees, that’s enough. But for those with a greater thirst for adrenaline, the night is just getting started.
From 158th to T6
After The Red Door Meet, drivers looking to take the car meet elsewhere meet at the Shell Station on Southeast Grand and Alder before heading out. When asked what’s next, one man was reluctant to answer, saying he didn’t know. But as he was walking away, the man shouted directions to “158th,” which a source said was 158 Airport Way, right next to a police training facility.
A minute after arrival, tires are spinning. And one by one, vehicles of all kinds — cars, SUVs and trucks — are burning rubber in the parking lot.
At most, about 20-30 people show up. Then, after 158th, the show moves to a new location: T6, which is several miles up Marine Drive. Dozens of cars line the shipping yard and the act continues: drivers kicking up smoke and drifting. The stunts often come within inches of people filming or encircling the cars. One driver even asked the onlookers to back up a little bit, for safety.
The meet at T6 goes on for hours, pausing briefly for semi-trucks heading to work.
While watching, a man approaches the KOIN 6 News team, asking, in his words, if they were undercover cops.
Eventually the night comes to an end: smoke clears and no none was injured, the only lasting memory of their presence being the treadmarks on the street. There also weren’t any police officers, a common occurrence, according to normal participants.
“Jake,” a street racer who spoke to KOIN 6 News under the condition of anonymity, says Sunday street racing isn’t as bad as it’s portrayed.
“It’s not like actively going out, shutting down roads,” Jake said. “It’s kind of just people who want to go have fun.
“Media in general has been like ‘all of it’s bad, this is bad, this is bad,’ but I don’t personally think it’s all bad.”
Jake did admit that there is the occasional fight — one time someone pulled a gun, he said, or accidental crash, but mostly people behave, he said. He said the dangerous street racers are few and far between. These gatherings, he said, are just a hobby, something he compared to bowling.
“If an accident happens when you’re bowling, like, whatever, you know,” he said. “But if an accident happens when it’s driving, it’s like a huge deal.”
The Police Response
Bowling is a far-fetched comparison to street racing, according to Sgt. Stewart.
“I’m not aware of any bowling incidences that have sent young children into comas,” he said.
Sgt. Stewart said Portland police has been trying to crack down, but certain laws leave them handcuffed.
“Our ability to impound vehicles over the last several years has been restricted,” he said, “and that has been a significant handicap.”
The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office released a statement regarding street racing:
The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office is working collaboratively with the Portland Police Bureau and our community partners to stop these dangerous and illegal events. We have a deputy district attorney who is strategically identifying ways to hold these careless street racers accountable to the fullest extent possible allowed by law. Due to the fact that law enforcement efforts are currently underway to identify the organizers, promoters, participants and spectators of street racing, we cannot comment on specific efforts that have been taken by law enforcement or those efforts that may be taken in the future. Street racing is a serious community safety issue that the District Attorney’s Office is working to address. The reckless driving exhibited by these individuals has led to serious physical injuries and even death. Criminal charges for individuals participating in these events can range from misdemeanors to felonies and could result in prison sentences.
In the past, Portland police officers have issued citations, but a lot of these drivers — with license plates stretching from Oakland, California, to Seattle — don’t have insurance or driver’s licenses. Recently officers have upped the ante and made arrests, getting an assist from the DA’s Office with enhanced prosecution, Stewart said.
Since July, the crowds have gotten smaller. But with a limited police force handling more serious crimes, these gatherings — whether they be a hobby or not — are not going away entirely.