Cops crack down on street racers terrorizing St. Paul

Police say the Fast and Furious franchise led to a renaissance of street racing in St. Paul.

Police say the Fast and Furious franchise led to a renaissance of street racing in St. Paul.

Saturday night at 2 a.m., Carole Hartman wakes in her bed to the explosive sputter of racecars speeding down the freeway about a mile away from her west St. Paul home. Street racers have been gunning the same streets where her teenage kids wander on weekends off from school on and off for the past four years, she says.

Some nights, Hartman's children will climb the cross bridge above the highway and watch the racers below line up in their souped-up Hondas and Suburus — colloquially known as rice burners — rev up a storm, and punch down zipping in and out of traffic.

“They're grabbing this attention from a pre-driving age teenager and making it a cool thing,” the embattled mom says. “For me, I'm going no, this is not cool, this is breaking the law. My kids are like, 'Sure mom.'”

Hartman's had first-hand experiences of driving in her car and suddenly feeling the roaring pull of a racecar zooming around her. In 2009, then 20-year-old Jacqueline Wagner was fleeing from a busted race when she crashed into 39-year-old Moussa Maayif. Maayif's car went flying into a utility pole.

Hartman is surprised racers haven't caused more deadly accidents.

After an increase in complaints from neighbors, St. Paul Police recently announced a crackdown on street racing. Records from 8 p.m. to midnight on June 27 alone state police made 79 stops, arrested six people, and towed seven vehicles. It's not illegal to have cars outfitted like racecars, Sgt. Paul Paulos says, but you can't just pull three-digit speeds on city streets.

Typical racers are young people from 16 to late 20s. Although glossy Hollywood blockbusters like The Fast and the Furious may be inspiration for an “explosion” of recent interest in street racing, everyday Japanese sedans seem to be what local racers can more readily afford. Racers hailing from the suburbs are stuffing their cars with roll bars and fire extinguishers and roving in packs down any street with a straightaway.

“There's quite a following between kids through social media, Snapchat, and YouTube,” Paulos says. The actual racing is informal. “The simplest example would be you and I get together, work on cars. We may wager a few dollars and see who wins.”

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