NEWBURY — Motorists tempted to challenge other drivers to high-speed races across area highways will have more company this summer as state police officials say they will increase their patrols to clamp down hard on the potentially deadly activity.
State police are also enlisting Beacon Hill lawmakers and the Essex County District Attorney’s office to lobby for harsher penalties related to both spontaneous drag racing and, even more troubling, organized racing.
Spontaneous racing involves motorists pulling up to other drivers to see if the other party is willing.
If both motorists agree, the two begin traveling down the highway at terrifying speeds, jerking around slower vehicles until the race is over. Unsuspecting motorists are often caught fully unprepared for the sight of two cars barreling toward them, opening the door to a potentially deadly collision.
In a coordinated race, miles of highway and exits that feed traffic into the roads are sometimes blocked off by motorists employing a rolling roadblock, likely using the same technique employed by state troopers on a regular basis. Passengers in these cars, called blockers, are often armed with video cameras to document the races. Others, known as spotters, are on the lookout for police cruisers and alert each other via cellphones.
The racers, typically driving modified low-riding cars with tinted windows and altered exhaust systems, then rev their engines and blast down the road as fast as they can for a mile or so. The races are often uploaded online and are used to advance the street culture of underground racing made popular in the “Fast and Furious” movie franchise.
“That doesn’t help,” Newbury barracks commander Lt. Paul Zipper said regarding the movie series, which recently released its fifth sequel in theaters across the country.
Another factor to consider, Zipper said, is the New Hampshire Dragway in Epping, N.H., off Route 125. Many highway races can trace their origins to motorists traveling to and from the popular venue that first opened its doors in 1966. Add to the availability of specialized high-performance gasoline, also known as racing fuel, at the dragway and at Haffner’s, a chain of gas stations in Haverhill, Lawrence, Lowell, Methuen and other Massachusetts locations and New Hampshire, and there are plenty of places for racers to fuel up.