No love lost in street racing for Ryan Sabga

Or Why You Should Never Do It

Story and Photos by Ryan Sabga

One of the interesting parts of owning an exotic sports car is the kind of attention that you attract when you’re out on the road. In my last column, I mentioned the “carparazzi”, and the endless questions that you receive. But this is a good opportunity to talk about another kind of attention that you get when you’re out in your sports car: street racing.

Oftentimes, when I’m out in one of my sports cars, someone will pull up to me in another car and challenge me to a race. Sometimes, it’s obvious: they point to me and to their car then up the road, all the while revving their motors. Sometimes, it’s much more subtle: they sneak into my blind spot and wait for me to accelerate a little and then they accelerate hard and maybe try to pass me or some similar type of action to egg me on.

I never, ever take the bait. I just ignore them, and they leave me alone. Maybe I get a thumbs up or something from them to which I respond with a polite wave or nod, and then they go their own way.

Regardless, I do like watching people’s tactics, and as a bona fide car guy, I love seeing people’s cool cars. I’m sure that lots of people have visions from the “Fast and Furious” series where I’m out in a Ferrari and some guy pulls up in a Mitsubishi Evolution loaded up with go fast gear and littered with stickers like it’s a Wahoo’s Fish Tacos one wheels and tries to race me. Yeah, that’s happened a couple of times. However, what’s much more common is that I’ll be driving down the highway and I’ll get challenged to a race by something that looks like the sedan that your grandmother wanted to hand down to you for your graduation present. That’s the car that I call “The Pantsuit.” It looks like a frumpy old mom on the outside but it’s all fire and brimstone on the inside. It can probably throw house slippers at you, too.

For example, last week I was out for a pleasant Saturday afternoon drive in my Ferrari F430. When I merged onto the highway, I heard the unmistakable sound of someone intentionally revving a very loud pushrod V8. I look over to the far lane, and I notice a 1980ish Volvo 242 sedan slowing down. It looked like it was in decent shape except the paint. It looked like it was painted in someone’s backyard, at night, in a windstorm. Maybe by a blind man. It didn’t look lowered, but it did have some interesting polished wheels that might be trying to hide some 275mm hunks of meaty rubber on the back. My Spidey-senses were definitely tingling. Here was the classic Pantsuit. I got on the highway and as I got into the left lane and, sure enough, the driver came up next to me, and tried to get me to race him.

The obvious reasons as to why I don’t ever engage in any type of street racing is that it’s overwhelmingly dangerous and ridiculously stupid. I don’t want to hurt someone else or myself, lose my license or car, and all of the other reasons everyone knows already. However, the hidden pragmatic reason is that there’s no way to win.

One of the key things that I’ve learned over the years is that the more mundane the car, the more you can be sure you’re going to get shocked when the driver opens it up. So here is a guy in a thirty five year old Volvo that looks like it’s the stunt double for a runaway dumpster trying to race me on a Saturday afternoon. What happens if I race him down the highway, hit speeds of 160 mph or more, and blow him away? Well, I damn well should; I’m in a freaking Ferrari and he’s in the Marilyn Manson version of your grandma’s Volvo. What did I think would happen? That was stupid.

Or, what happens when he unleashes that built out 1,000hp beast complete with two bottles of NOS and those 275 series tires hook up, and he’s going toe to toe with me at 150mph plus? Well I’ll tell you what happens. What happens is that I look like a freaking moron. Here’s a creaky old Volvo that I can’t escape from, I’m driving like a maniac, and I look like an idiot. Again, that’s stupid. Then when you add it all up, it’s a lose-lose situation and that makes me a loser. So I don’t do it. Ever.

When Volvo dude realizes that I’m not going to race him, he gets bored and wants to show me what’s what. He floors it and, as I suspected, I hear some monstrous NASCAR spec V8 rev up to 7k and as he speeds away, I hear the telltale whine of a very, very large turbo spooling. The car was fast. Like really fast. Now, was it 483hp Ferrari F430 fast? I have no idea and I didn’t care. That four wheels arts and crafts project was awesome. When he slows down, I decide to roll up next to him and do something I never do: I look over and give him a thumbs up.

What does Mr. Pantsuit do? He looks straight ahead and ignores me, acting like I don’t even exist. That’s life in the fast lane for you.