Suburban Journals > St. Charles Story
Police crack down on street racing along Hwy. 370
Amanda C. Tinnin
Of the Suburban Journals
O'Fallon Mo Journal,St. Charles Journal,St. Peters Journal
ST. CHARLES COUNTY
Poodle skirts have been replaced with hip-hugging microminis. The music is hip-hop instead of doo-wop. But the mean street machines are still there.
The Sonic Drive-In on Elm Street in St. Charles is packed Friday and Saturday nights with young car enthusiasts who munch on Tater Tots while looking under the hoods of souped-up vehicles.
While the automobile aficionados say they are there to hang out, police claim many drivers show up there ready to race.
"You'll see some idiots come out here and race," said Kevin Terney, 21, while leaning against the hood of his 1993 Mustang.
"There's always someone in the crowd," agreed Aaron Daines, 22. "You've got a lot of inexperienced people that think they've got something to prove."
Daines said someone recently showed up and had money to put on a race. He said the eager driver challenged several people, but no race took place.
Daines and Terney had just finished checking out the Mustang's engine. They said that's really why most people come to Sonic on the weekend.
"To see the cars you see when you're driving," Daines said. "You get to see what's under the hood."
And in the process, he said, meet people who share the same interest you do.
"People come to meet other people. Like I'm going to go talk to this girl," Daines said and gave a wink.
As Daines and Terney were talking, Josh Jenkins pulled up in his 1978 Chrysler Cordoba.
Jenkins, 26, said he comes to Sonic every Saturday night.
"I've always done it," he said. "Cars are my life."
Daines likened the crowd to a '50s drive-in and said most people just wanted a place they could chill out and talk about cars.
"It's just a hang out," Terney said. "We could be at a bar getting drunk and then driving home."
But police say the activities at Sonic are not so innocent and people pop the hoods to size up competition before hitting Highway 370 to race.
"If I'm not answering calls, I try to get up on the highway and stop some drags racers," said John Stanczak of the St. Charles Police Department. "If I were able to sit up there and dedicate my time to that I guarantee I'd get somebody every weekend."
Since the construction of Highway 370, Stanczak said racing has been a problem.
"Since the inception of cars there's been racing," he said. "There's nothing we're ever going to do to put a stop to."
But this summer he's noticed a decrease in the number of racers.
"It's slowed down a little bit," he said. "I don't know if that has to do with the weather or our efforts. You'd like to think it was our efforts."
The St. Charles police used grant money from the Missouri Department of Transportation to increase enforcement on Highway 370 during May and June.
Stanczak would not detail exactly how he catches racers, though he offered some explanation.
"I don't sit on the highway and run radar," he said. "They have spotter cars that drive up and down the highway. They even have chaser cars that come up behind the racers.
"I get to see them from the point where they are discussing their race to the time they are done racing," he said cryptically.
Stanczak said he brings in two to three pairs of drag racers a month and takes a no tolerance approach.
"If I catch you drag racing I'm going to arrest you," he said. "I'll tow your vehicle. You'll go to jail. There will be a bond issued on you and you'll get a ticket for careless and imprudent driving by drag racing."
A ticket for careless and imprudent driving would assess six points against the driver's license. If a driver is assessed eight points in 18 months, that driver's license will be suspended.
"If you plead guilty to a careless and imprudent ticket most insurance companies will drop you," Stanczak said.
But Daines, Jenkins and Terney said some people are accused of drag racing when they leave Sonic as a group.
Jenkins pointed to two Dodge Neons and a Mini Cooper that pulled onto the lot. He said the three cars were a group and would often come together and leave together.
When pulling in or leaving many of the cars would rev their engines, but Jenkins said a lot of people were proud of their cars and showing off.
But Stanczak said he doesn't pull over people simply going 60 mph.
The average speed of the racers he pulls over is 110 mph and the drivers usually admit to drag racing. Recently, Stanczak caught two full-fledged racecars on Highway 370 going more than 150 mph.
"The age group we're dealing with is 16 to early 20s," he said. "Most of them have a very indifferent attitude like, 'I figured this was going to happen eventually.'"
And the rules of the race have changed, Stanczak said.
"In years past it was more quarter-mile jaunts or eighth-mile jaunts," he said. "After the movie ‘The Fast and the Furious,' we saw an increase in the exit to exit racing. They would get on at one exit and nail it. Go 2 or 3 miles at top speed, weaving in and out of traffic and whoever gets to the next exit first won."
What Stanczak fears, however, is eventually someone will be seriously hurt or killed.
"I don't want to see someone get hurt. That's my big thing," he said. "It's bound to happen. We've had a good lucky streak. The highways aren't designed to go that fast on. It's not as smooth as a racetrack. It's not banked like a racetrack. There's fixed objects. You're out-driving your headlights. It would be impossible to react at those speeds."
And the racers, Stanczak said, understand this risk.
"That's part of the draw of doing it," he said. "It's a rush when you're doing something extreme."
Daines and Terney said they race, but they go to Gateway International Raceway in East St. Louis to do it. At Sonic, they said it's about the cars and company, not the speed.
"It's not all about racing," Terney said. "It's a late night car show."
Amanda C. Tinnin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org