The Main Drag

Welcome to the deadly, thrilling world of drag racing, Miami style. It's all about speed.

Cesar's hair is thinning and graying. He's dressed to unimpress in a blue T-shirt, black shorts, and sneakers. His mature appearance does not prevent him from acting like an eighteen-year-old. He holds court next to his restored 1972 white Pontiac Grand Prix, which dwarfs the Japanese cars favored by today's racers and has double the pistons, horsepower, and weight. Cesar greets many familiar faces. "That guy used to own the fastest Camaro in Hialeah," Cesar notes, pointing at a chubby Hispanic man wearing a white dress shirt and black slacks. "That guy got married young and lost his Nova in the divorce," Cesar says while motioning toward a skinny figure with salt-and-pepper hair walking away from him. "He never returned to racing."

Then Cesar spins tales from the racing scene of his youth. It doesn't sound much different from today's environment. Locations, motivations, and consequences are similar. Just change the characters, clothing, and cars.

Most of his racing colleagues matured into mortgages, families, and careers that removed them from the speed loop. Cesar also grew into some responsibilities, but kept a foot in the sport. He works as a mechanic at a Hialeah repair shop, which he declines to name, and races the Grand Prix on a semiprofessional circuit. His car has been damaged, mostly as a result of blown engine parts, but Cesar has survived unscathed. He labels such competition a rite of passage for any hot-blooded young motorhead. "For these kids to go to a track, it would cost $100 for the night, between food, gas, and entry fee," says Cesar. "That's why there will always be street racing."

Cesar complains a lack of racing space forces young drivers on to the street. In the 1970s he could drive northwest on U.S. 27 and reach farm country after passing the Palmetto Expressway. These days warehouses, strip malls, and subdivisions line the road until it reaches the Everglades. The same phenomenon has recurred in many of his old haunts: the Tamiami Trail near Krome Avenue, County Line Road between NW 37th and 47th avenues, and State Road 9 from the Golden Glades interchange to NW 22 Avenue.

One solution would be to build a quarter-mile speedway, Cesar opines. None exists in Miami-Dade. "If they built a track in the county, half the street racing that takes place would end," Cesar declares.

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