The Main Drag

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Several minutes later a dispatcher tells Nguyen that these Firm members' records are clean. The officer then explains to the group that they are trespassing on shopping center property and could be arrested. Next he delivers some good news: They will not get a free ride to the county jail. But there is bad news as well: All of their names will be added to a trespassing list. If they are found again in the strip mall, they will be arrested. Mike repeats that an officer ordered them to the lot. Nguyen is piqued; he steps up to a spot about five feet from Mike's face and adds that he does not like car clubs. The officer orders the racer to leave immediately, then threatens arrest. Grumbling expletives, the three young men enter their cars and drive away. "These cops never leave us alone," Colón says.

There will be no racing on this night.

In another corner of Miami-Dade, at the Fuddruckers restaurant on South Dixie Highway, Elvis croons from the loudspeakers, droning out the roar of passing cars. Smoke from cooking hamburgers combines with exhaust fumes to cloud the air. Decades-old muscle cars occupy most of the parking spaces. A white, chrome-laden '54 Thunderbird stands next to a black Harley-Davidson '66 Sportster, which is beside a green '57 Chevrolet. Balding men with bulging waistlines dominate the crowd. They drag along reluctant wives while showing their offspring a piece of personal history. "Your grandfather had a car like that," a father tells his son, pointing to a classic Mustang. "It drove like a dream."

On the first Saturday of each month, the Fuddruckers parking lot travels back in time. The oldies car show allows owners to proudly display the products of years of sweat spent attempting to restore youthful dreams. The meet also serves as a reunion for racers. Cesar, who helps organize the event, prefers not to give his last name. "It's personal," he says.

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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Jose Luis Jiménez