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Getting street racing off the streets.

This hot rod patiently waits at the starting line at the Tucson Dragway. (Photo Credit: Matthew DeYoung)

The City of Tucson is cracking down on dangerous street racing by passing a stricter ordinance against racing, while Jim Hughes, owner of The Tucson Dragway has another solution: embrace the need for speed by opening up the track and give the hot rod community a safe alternative place to race their muscle cars.

“I think it’s a pretty good incentive to get them to stay off the streets and race legally on the track,” said Hughes. “I absolutely think the ordinance is going to push them to come here and stay off the streets, and it’s not even necessarily the $2,500 fine, it’s the impounding of your car and you don’t get it back.”

A Mustang burns out on its approach to the starting line at Tucson Dragway. (Photo Credit Matthew DeYoung).

The new ordinance that was passed by city council on Wednesday will make for more severe punishments if caught racing on city streets or highways. Those punishments will include having their vehicle impounded and a citation for a class one misdemeanor.

The Tucson Dragway is trying to give the hot rod groups an alternative place to race and get them off the streets.

“We have told them, If you guys have a score to settle in a street race, if its Wednesday night, Tuesday night, if its 10 p.m. or 2 a.m. and you guys are going head to head and you got to go right now, you call us up, we will open the gates,” said Hughes.

Hughes bought the track about a year and a half ago. Since then he and his track manager Matthew DeYoung have been encouraging young street racing groups in the area to come race legally on their track instead of putting themselves and others in danger racing on the Tucson Streets.

“The feedback has been great so far,” said Hughes. “We had our first race a month ago, and they absolutely loved it.”

A pair of cars get set to race at the Tucson Dragway. (Photo Credit Matthew DeYoung).

Briana Rowley is one of many local car enthusiasts who love the Tucson Dragway and the alternative option to street racing provided.  “Tucson Dragway is not just a track, it’s a family. Jim Hughes makes track events for everyone with every type car or truck. Yes there are rules, but it’s purely for the driver’s safety,” said Rowley.

Rowley sees the track as a great alternative, while acknowledging that some people are not willing to make the drive to the track or pay the $30 entry fee. “Even though the fee and some gas money are a lot cheaper than a ticket or two and possible jail time,” said Rowley.

“Tucson doesn’t have a lot to offer when it comes to motorsports,” said Rowley. “For car enthusiasts, we want to see what our vehicles can do and for us it is our hobby or what makes us happy in life.”

Rowley has been racing for about eight years and knows the dangers of street racing. “As a mother, I want to set a better example so we stay at the track and attend as much as we can.”

Hughes has spent his lifetime racing with the NHRA, even claiming several championships through his career. About a year and a half ago he decided it was time so step back from the wheel and give back to the community by offering this experience to the up and coming younger racers in Tucson.

The street racers are in a demographic and an area of when they come to the track they get pushed to the side and they don’t feel welcome. They don’t fit in, so they go out to their own world. Their own world is outside street racing. We are trying to bridge that gap, and it’s working really well,” said Hughes.

Car enthusiast and frequent track visitor Dan Santamaria said, “I’ve raced at the Tucson Dragway more than a handful of times and it is well worth it over getting a ticket on the street or even worse.”

Although Santamaria believes the Dragway is a much better alternative to the dangers of street racing, he knows that people will continue to street race because of the adrenaline rush they get from the risk they take on the streets.

Tucson Dragway Manager Matthew DeYoung says they offer different programs for different styles of racing. “There are older guys that still like to street race because they grew up street racing and that is what they want to keep going with.”

A classic pickup burns rubber at the Tucson Dragway. (Photo Credit Matthew DeYoung)

With more than 1,500 calls and over 600 citations issued for street racing by the Tucson Police Department in the last four years, local residents are happy to see recent efforts by the City of Tucson and Tucson Dragway to make the roadways safer.

Brandon Thompson, a Marana resident says, “You can hear them racing by late at night on Dove Mountain Blvd. It’s kind of scary to think they are going so fast right through our neighborhood.”

“It’s a big deal, and I don’t blame either side. You know I see both sides,” says Hughes. “The kids just want to race, they just want to have a good time, but if they don’t have a place then shame on us for not listening to what they want.”

Hughes goes on to explain that he sees the good in the young generation of racers and says his favorite thing about what he does is, “having the opportunity to build something that can be part of the solution, not the problem.”

Taylor Dayton is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at taylordayton@email.arizona.edu.

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