Need for speed, call for safety: Strip offers racers a legal place to drag The lure of street racing can be irresistible for many teenagers.

Vividly portrayed in movies such as "The Fast and the Furious" series and "Biker Boyz," street racing is as engaging and addictive as it is dangerous.

In March, street racing claimed the life of an El Pasoan when he died inside his burning Nissan 350Z on Interstate 10 between Lee TreviƱo Drive and Zaragoza Road.

He was racing a man in a Nissan Maxima when both drivers lost control and hit two other cars, causing the Nissan 350Z to burst into flames, according to police reports.

As a safe alternative to illegal street racing, Lino Barragan has opened the El Paso Motorplex to licensed drivers who would like to put the pedal to the metal every Sunday night.

"We do this on Sunday so the kids won't be on the streets," Barragan said. "It's better if they race here because it's a safe environment and it's legal."

Anyone can bring out their car, and for $15, they get a crack at the quarter-mile track.

El Paso Motorplex has been open since April 2008 and has sponsored many major races. The speedway is on Gateway West near the Clint Interstate 10 entrance.

"The track gets better and better," Barragan said. "Along with what we do with the locals on Sundays, we bring in some big events. We brought in jet cars, and the Southwest Supercharges have already been here three times."

But on Sunday nights, it's all bout the locals.

Barragan estimates about 125 drivers have turned out each Sunday to race in everything from classic Volkswagens to Ninja motorcycles.

"This is the only track in El Paso and people love to run their cars here," he said. "They are happy when they leave the park and they are safe, and that's all that matters."

The car owners organize themselves and decide who races who.

"It's just a rush," said Steven Villanueva, who brought his souped-up Chevy Cobalt to race. "There is a lot of adrenaline going through you body. It's fun."

Drivers such as Villanueva don't have to worry about getting busted by police, or worse, injuring themselves or others in a street wreck.

If something does happen, the Clint Fire Department is standing by the sides of the racetrack, but so far, there have been no problems.

"I love coming out here," said Sandra Lujan, as she watched the races along with other spectators in the stands. "My boyfriend races so I come out and support him. I enjoy the different types of cars that race and appreciate what the owners put in them."

The atmosphere is festive at the El Paso Motorplex.

You know something special is about to happen when you hear big beefy engines revving as the racers watch for the light pole to signal the start of the race.

As the lights change from white to yellow and finally to green, the cars scream down the track, spinning their tires and spewing white smoke until your throat is choking and your eyes are tearing up.

The smell of burning rubber fills the air.

A quarter of a mile and 10 to 13 seconds later, just past two computerized timers overlooking the track, the same light pole that started the race flashes on the side of the winner's lane.

Juan Romero, 38, has felt the rush of speed and adrenaline run through his veins for 22 years.

"I've seen this track evolve so much," said Romero, who races a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14 motorcycle. "The individuals you see out there on the track have the discipline to make the right choices about where to race."

Romero has a unique perspective when it comes to street racing.

"I work on an ambulance with the El Paso Fire Department, so I've seen first hand a lot of the stupid stuff the kids are getting themselves into," he said bluntly. "The majority of the stuff happening out there is kids not having the discipline, not having the motorcycle endorsement, not taking a safety class, and they are out there on the streets doing all kinds of crazy things. That's what gives them the adrenaline high."

Randy Garcia, another racer and owner of the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14, said he is glad there is an alternative venue for street racers.

"This keeps the kids off the streets," he said. "Plus, they don't have to worry about the old lady in the van."

James Medina, sporting slick spiked hair, acknowledges is weakness for street racing.

"I still get an itch to race down some of the city's streets," said Medina, a 24-year-old UTEP student.

"I have a friend who got busted for street racing. He got his license revoked and he had to do some community service. It wasn't fun for him."

According to the Texas Transportation code, racing on the highway is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a one-year suspension of your driver's license with at least 10 hours of community service.

"We get our thrills whenever they have legal races here," Medina said. "I'll drive all my aggression out and then drive home safely."

Posted by imran Sunday, October 18, 2009


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