Over the last few months Jacksonville news outlets have reported on local law enforcement’s crackdown on street racing. If you haven’t heard the news or heard them ripping down your street, let me clue you in: The underground car scene has been growing bolder and bolder by taking car meets to residential areas and highways around the area. Southside, Kernan, Beach, Atlantic and J. Turner Butler are just a few areas where local speed demons push their vehicles to their limit, race against other car enthusiasts and take over intersections to rip donuts, burnouts and rev their engines. To me, it sounds like Jacksonville should be the setting for the next Fast and Furious.
The biggest event that caught my attention was when multiple car groups took to downtown, blocking streets in front of the police station, seemingly in retaliation to the recent crackdowns. According to reports, it took officers a dangerously long period of time to navigate their way through the crowd to get to the middle of the meetup to begin dispersing the crowd. Aside from the danger that comes with reckless driving, blocking roadways, especially in a bottleneck like downtown, increases response times for other first responders, like EMTs and Fire Rescue, putting others in need of emergency attention at risk.
The 904 Banditz, although they aren’t alone, are one group who have been running these illegal car meets for well over a year, taking to their YouTube channel and social media to post videos of their “events.” Most of their older posts brag about how they are “untouchable by JSO,” but their new posts, ironically, promote hashtags like #freeus, as well as mugshots and screen grabs from their time in the court system.
Florida Highway Patrol, via Twitter on May 9, reported making 157 arrests and citations around illegal street racing. This “takedown” is ongoing with more arrests following suit throughout the month of May. A state senate committee approved a bill that would make it a first degree misdemeanor to participate in “street takeovers” including passengers in the cars and bystanders on the side of the road.
The car clubs behind these illegal street meet-ups are not only putting everyone on the road at risk, but their moment in the spotlight on local news and being on law enforcement’s radar, gives the general population the idea that everyone who likes fast cars is irresponsible, while also damaging the reputation of law-abiding local car clubs. Groups like the 904 Banditz claim there’s nowhere to have their meetups legally, but other local car groups beg to differ.
For example, there are a few groups who host car meets that are safe and usually feature a JSO officer on site. Clinton Armstrong of Gear Bangin’ and Trae Staker of Staker Productions are two car community leaders who host car meets with careful planning and attention to detail and are located on private property.
Jacksonville has a long history in fast cars and auto racing. The development of the Jacksonville Speedway back in 1947, featuring a half-mile dirt track, was the city’s initiation into legal car racing. The Speedway eventually became a stop on the NASCAR circuit and the site where Wendell Scott became first Black man to win a NASCAR Grand National race back in 1963. This business eventually went under and has since been turned into a housing development.
Today, legal racing is championed by the few raceways still in operation, and the future looks bright with talks of a new speedway reopening in Callahan, featuring a dirt track and eventually a drag racing strip. Keep your eyes on Facebook groups and messenger boards for the next event going down and experience what car culture should be like.