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June 15, 2006

Civic v. Prizm


It was pretty amusing to learn that I would be representing the Journal at the Eureka Police Department's Street Legal Saturday night races. Promoter Dennis Mayo had been trying for several weeks to get someone here to square off against editor Jack Durham at the McKinleyville Press. No one was up for the challenge, so finally the assignment fell on my shoulders. After all, what are interns for if not the jobs no one else wants to do?

I dumped some engine cleaning solution in my gas tank, refreshed the oil and set off towards the Samoa Drag Strip last Saturday night. The EPD has put on their street legal program for three years in an effort to deflect renegade thrill-seekers from the city's streets. It has been a smashing success, according to the police, cutting the reports of illegal drag racing in the city by some 85 percent, with no fatalities reported in three years. It's obviously a popular event; I would be lying if I didn't admit to a healthy bit of intimidation once I saw car after tricked-out car rolling into the pits.

I drive a '91 Honda Civic. Not the most tricked-out ride you've seen, but it has a workmanlike personality. Its color was once black, though it may be unfair to call it a paint job. The roof has been worn gray by years of Arcata weatherization, and has a nice jagged dent from when some asshole tossed a rock off the 7th Street Bridge at me as I was flying down Highway 101. My Civic has transported me up and down the west coast of the continent and never muttered a single complaint. It's a loyal machine, but a racing vehicle it is not.

Nevertheless, there I was, keyed into the amber bulbs telling me I was appropriately lined up, as Jack sat in the opposing lane in his 1998 Chevy Prizm. Tool's new album, 10,000 Days, was blasting through my meager speakers as I waited for Officer Wayne Cox to wave his flag. Our cars didn't exactly explode into acceleration as the flag waved — more like feebly crawled. But we were unmistakably racing, and my eyes were fixed on the finish line a quarter-mile down the road.

The race is won and lost in the start, and though we were both pretty sluggish off the flag, I was really sluggish. I did make up some ground that first race, and lost by only a car length. I actually won the second race, but Jack took the next two handily. I'd say we eventually got going pretty fast: I broke 70 mph as I crossed the finish line, which is fast enough for a virgin drag racer. I think my racing days are probably behind me now, but then you never know when that need for speed will take hold and drag me out of retirement.



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