Kingsport police officer Dale Farmer maps the scene of a fatal accident in this file photo. David Grace.
KINGSPORT — An illegal racing hot spot was recently shut down after the Kingsport Police Department undertook a proactive, undercover investigation into the races.
“We had been getting a lot of calls about some drag racing in this one roadway. People would even crowd up and watch them race,” said KPD Officer Dale Farmer. “We staked it out, put people in bushes and in several vantage points, and we were able to catch several drag racing. You never knew when they were going to show up, but we were able to shut it down, and that area has stayed pretty quiet since.”
Farmer said members of the the public often let police know about illegal street races.
“We are lucky sometimes in that we can catch them in the act. Sometimes we come up on a tragedy where someone’s ignorance and racing has critically injured or killed someone,” Farmer said.
Farmer says the frequency of illegal street racing on public roads has decreased in recent years, thanks in part to Bristol Dragway’s foresight with its “Street Fights” program, but complaints from Kingsport motorists still come in.
“We are fortunate that folks do help us out with the problem, calling on their cell phone, and in some cases, we catch them right in the act,” said Farmer. “But I can tell you that the program at the dragway has helped with that situation. The folks there should be commended for giving kids a place to race and in a good environment with rules. Out here, we are the rules.”
In his many years of tracking down illegal racers, Farmer says their vehicles are usually foreign-made, subcompacts that have been modified with special equipment, mostly engine enhancements that give the car more power.
Special suspensions, thicker wider tires, and aerodynamic wings on the back also aid in obtaining those higher speeds.
In some cases, Farmer has seen thousands of dollars in investment go right on the auction block or the classified ads in the newspaper after the ultimate enforcement officer — the parents — take the law into their own hands.
“I know in some parts of the country they are beginning a program where they actually crush cars that have been involved in street racing. That would definitely get a kid’s attention,” said Farmer.
Talking about a fatal street racing accident in Maryland on Saturday, Farmer said he was amazed one of the victims was a willing crowd member.
According to the Washington Post, William Gaines Sr., 61, had gone to watch the street racing with his son, daughter and 13-month-old granddaughter.
Gaines was one of eight people killed in the incident when a car not involved in the race plowed into the crowd watching the race.
“There were parents there in the middle of the night. That’s ignorant. That’s the only way I can describe it. I can understand a young person, maybe, being out there, but why would you bring your family out to something illegal?” asked Farmer.
When Farmer catches people street racing, he always asks them why there were doing it.
“I have had kids tell me that they saw it in the movies. I can’t believe they say that. This is not the movies. This is real life,” said Farmer.
“You can tell them that those cars in those movies are specially designed, and in real life even souped-up cars can’t even do those things. It is physically impossible, and they try it anyway. They try and get outside of reality. Some tell me that a lot of it is going on in other states, like California. Well, this is not California.”
Farmer is pleased that the Tennessee General Assembly has recognized the dangers of the illegal sport with passage of Cortney’s Law — a bill sponsored by state Rep. Matthew Hill in honor of former David Crockett High School student Cortney Hensley.
The teen and homecoming queen was killed when two individuals street racing on North Roan Street in Johnson City in 2005 struck her from behind.
Courtney Beard, a passenger in Hensley’s car who underwent numerous burn treatments following the crash, is now enrolled as a student at the University of Tennessee.
One of the men involved in the illegal race was sentenced to six years in prison and the other to five years in prison.