Milwaukee is moving to put the brakes on its illegal street racing scene.
“When I was growing up, I watched the Fast and the Furious movies. I loved the way the cars looked, the way they sounded, how fast they went,” says Bailey, a 20-year-old from Lake Geneva with an eyebrow ring.
He drives a Mazdaspeed 6. It’s an affordable sedan with over 200 horsepower; newer models can go 0 to 60 in less than six seconds. Bailey, who asked that his last name not be used in this story, tests that speed against other gearheads in the streets of metro Milwaukee almost every week.
They race illegally, burning rubber in the face of lawmakers and law-enforcers looking to slash their tires.
Milwaukee’s drag racers are remarkably methodical. Bailey’s crew of 30-40 meets at a predetermined parking lot on the West Side every Friday and Saturday night before cruising to an empty stretch of road on the outskirts of town – somewhere they won’t be bothered by locals or police – where they race two-by-two down the strip. Spotters keep an eye out for traffic and law enforcement. They usually have 30 minutes to an hour before a passerby calls 911, at which point everybody scrams. “Usually when cops start coming is when idiots start getting reckless,” Bailey says. “There’s, like, no rules. Have fun. If you get caught, you’re on your own. Don’t snitch.”
Crashes are rare but memorable. Last fall, a man who was racing his Ford Mustang with his young son in the car got in a wreck, Bailey recalls. They were both OK, but Bailey hasn’t seen them racing since.
Another driver swore off street racing after his own crash at 130 mph. “I still continue to have my automotive passion, but I believe that all-out racing should be for the track,” says the man, who asked not to be identified. “I’m all for having a safe place to be able to legally race.”
On select Tuesdays, the Milwaukee Mile opens its track to community racers for “Street Drags,” but this hasn’t nicked the illegal scene much. Bailey says it just doesn’t scratch the high-speed itch for those in the “rebel scene.”
Even if racers are caught, the heaviest penalty for first-time offenders is a noncriminal speeding and reckless driving ticket, though that can carry a fine up to $500.
The Milwaukee Common Council unanimously passed a resolution in May that allows police to ticket race spectators $20-$400 simply for being there, but criminal defense attorney Ray Dall’Osto thinks the ordinance is on thin ice already. “There could be problems resulting from constitutional law for fining spectators,” Dall’Osto says. “They’re not racing. They’re not violating the law.”
Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton believes more education may slow racers. More drivers ed classes would lead to safer decision-making, Hamilton says. “I think people have gotten really comfortable with this kind of behavior,” Hamilton says. “We have to do something to make people know the consequences of their actions.”
Bailey is unfazed. The new restrictions won’t slow him down.
“Why bother?” he says. “Racing is going to happen regardless.”