SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA’S 330-FOOT OPPORTUNITY
PERFORMANCE RACING INDUSTRY Magazine
Southern California is the birthplace of drag racing, but today only three public drag strips remain—Barona, Irwindale, and Bakersfield—serving roughly 24 million people. The reasons are unfortunate but familiar: soaring land values, increasing insurance premiums, and online retailers’ propensity for replacing race tracks with distribution centers. There are no easy answers to this problem, but Andy Marocco has come up with a unique solution. In fall 2023, he officially opened Street Legal Dragway in Perris, California, a 1/16th-mile drag strip catering to the street-legal racing crowd. “We have a unique opportunity to reinvent a segment of drag racing and bring it back to where it used to be,” said Marocco. With limited space to work with, Marocco drew inspiration from the Hot August Nights Drag Races in Sparks, Nevada. Since 2011, the massive car show transforms a casino parking lot into a functioning 1/16-mile drag strip for four nights of street-legal hot rod competition. The concept has worked well and proven to be popular, so Marocco decided to bring the idea south and try it on a permanent basis. He pitched the idea to the World Drag Racing Alliance (WDRA), which partnered with him to turn his dream into a reality. “It isn’t every day that you get to help create a new drag race venue, while at the same time aiding in getting street racing to the track where it belongs, and doing it in California,” said Skooter Peaco at the WDRA, Springfield, Illinois. “Andy’s model is very viable and could really help slow down the problem of our tracks disappearing.” As with any radical new concept, just getting the drag strip open involved several challenges that most track operators wouldn’t encounter. First off, there were no set rules for a 330-foot drag strip, a concern for insurance companies. “With the WDRA’s help and sanctioning, we were able to create a new set of rules for 330,” said Marocco. “It wasn’t just about building a drag strip, we also had to rewrite the standards for the insurance underwriters as well.” With the paperwork complete, the asphalt laid, and the gates officially open, would people be interested in 1/16-mile drag racing? The initial reception has been positive, with Marocco saying his soft opening saw around 75 cars come out and positive sentiments from those in the pits. “The appeal is the fact that you can test and tune, you can have eliminations, brackets, you can run for prize money or trophies—there’s something in it for everybody,” said Marocco. “It’s also affordable. What other motorsport can you name where you can go race your vehicle for 40 bucks?” The affordability is important, but it takes more than cheap runs to keep racers coming back. Marocco is banking on the fact that “330 racing” takes drag racing back to its roots and delivers ultra-competitive racing. Margins will be even tighter, producing a challenge for drivers and an entertaining show for spectators. “The drivers have to gear it different; they have to learn how to control the clutch a little different,” said Marocco. “I think most racers fear that they may look foolish on a 330 track because there’s less time and less distance to make up for an error.” Marocco said that a 330-foot drag race is distilled down to two core components of drag racing. “The equalizer right now on our track is traction and reaction. That’s it, that’s the purity of the sport.” Ultimately, the mission of Street Legal Dragway is to reduce illegal street racing by providing an outlet for drag racing in a region that has limited opportunities to do so. It’s not traditional drag racing, but Marocco’s unique vision is exactly what attracted the WDRA to throw its support behind the idea. “The ‘traditional’ drag racer may not think 330 feet is a viable option for our sport, but they are forgetting that this project isn’t for the traditional drag racer,” said Peaco. “It is for the kids on the street who aren’t coming to drag strips right now. Andy is introducing a generation of street racers to a safer alternative and a place they can hang out on a Friday night.” Honoring drag racing’s heritage is important, but as Marocco and Peaco explained, maintaining a rigid traditionalist mindset is counterproductive to the health of the sport. Times change, circumstances change, and being open-minded will ultimately keep drag racing alive for decades to come. “Traditional’ racers initially hated eighth-mile racing when it first debuted, and now eighth-mile racing is pretty much the standard,” said Peaco. “WDRA is behind this project because if we want to ensure that our sport is around for another 70 years, then we need to start thinking about it differently.” One-sixteenth-mile drag racing won’t be for everyone, but it fills an important niche with the street car crowd. Additionally, in drag strip-starved locations like Southern California, a 330-foot track can easily be built for a temporary event—like Hot August Nights does every year. “Three-hundred, thirty racing is definitely something I think we’ll see more of in the future, because you can accommodate it in a lot of different places, like abandoned parking lots or shopping centers,” said Marocco. Located on state fairgrounds, Marocco’s Street Legal Dragway has a five-year contract, with another five-year option at his discretion. It is an innovative idea, and it will be interesting to see how 330 racing fares in the months and years ahead. “Somebody’s got to take the risk. I did it,” he added. Opening a new drag strip in Southern California is always a risk, but taking on that challenge in an effort to preserve the future of our sport? That’s a risk worth celebrating.
SOCAL'S NEW 330' STREET LEGAL DRAGWAY COULD MARK A REVOLUTION
Southern California, the birthplace of drag racing, remains a hot-bed of hot rodding and car culture, and with that, naturally, comes high-speed, public endeavors that often skirt the law. It’s of course no secret that California, the nation’s most populous state, with 40 million residents — roughly 24 million of those in the southern portion of the state alone — is barren of closed-course drag strips. Only the 1/8-mile Barona Drags near San Diego, Irwindale Drag Strip nearer to Los Angeles, and the Famoso Dragstrip in Bakersfield — a venue locals would argue isn’t even truly SoCal — serve those 24 million people. Eight million people per track, in a basic sense. Compare that to, say, Alabama, with 5 million residents and 15 dragstrips, or Kentucky, with 4.5 million residents and 11 tracks. Yeah, things are bleak in Cali. The challenge for racers and track operators in California has largely been urban sprawl, which has gobbled up legendary venues that once canvassed the region. But the hot rodders remain. So, Californian Andy Marocco envisioned and set out to create an economically feasible solution — one that looks very different to the dragways we’re accustomed to, but that could be useful and perhaps even revolutionary in its own way. The aptly-named Street Legal Dragway, located next to the Perris Auto Speedway dirt oval and on the grounds of the Southern California Fair Grounds in Riverside County, features a shortened 330-foot dragstrip dedicated specifically to street cars and enthusiasts looking for a venue to safely conduct acceleration contests. The very basic track represents a lower-cost entry to providing a dragway to get people off the street — less land, infrastructure, and material and labor cost. Yet, other than the short distance, which purists will rightfully argue against, it’s perfectly suited to the problem that exists in SoCal. A facility of this size and format isn’t for the hardcore among us, but imagine if you will the increased likelihood of new tracks to be built around the country if the barrier to entry is lower — be it shorter, smaller, less technical, or what have you. The World Drag Racing Alliance (WDRA), a new sanctioning group within the sport, saw an opportunity to address the illegal street racing issue head-on by partnering with Andy on the project. “Working with Andy on this endeavor is not just an acknowledgment of the illegal street racing problem—it’s an actionable solution,” says Jon O’Neal, representative of the WDRA. “Street Legal Dragway’s concept of a nationally recognized and sanctioned short track format presents a scalable model that can be readily adopted across the country, making a significant impact in curbing illegal street racing. We believe this is a blueprint for others to follow.” Marocco, the driving force behind Street Legal Dragway, added, “This idea has been years in the making, and we are thrilled to receive support from the State of California and the Riverside County Sheriff to bring our vision to life. WDRA’s recognition and sanctioning of our track are invaluable, providing guidance in running our race events successfully.” By ANDREW WOLF AUGUST 23, 2023 Original Article at: https://www.dragzine.com/news/socals-new-330-street-legal-dragway-could-mark-a-revolution/
NEW PERRIS DRAGWAY OFFERS STREET RACERS A SAFE VENUE
PRESS ENTERPRISE Newspaper
The new Street Legal Dragway, located on the fairgrounds in Perris, is now open. The dragway is unusual in that it caters to “street legal” cars. The Street Legal Dragway website says it’s the nation’s first 330-foot drag strip built for that purpose. Before the grand opening Friday, Oct. 20, owner and manager Andy Marocco of Beaumont said the dragway is the result of a decades-long journey. Marocco said he raced the streets of Ontario in the early 1990s, but over time, “I had seen some accidents that were pretty horrific,” as well as pedestrians “almost killed by crossing streets when races were happening.” Andy Marocco said illegal street racing and its risks are often mentioned in the media, but no solutions existed. So he decided to build one. Previous attempts to build a dragway failed. In one case, he said, he had approval to build one in Banning, but after years of delays, revoking of the approval by Banning City Council in 2011, and a lawsuit, the plan was abandoned, and Marocco said life went on. Then, during the coronavirus pandemic, Banning officials invited Marocco back to help run races at the Banning Municipal Airport. “We had like 250 cars show up at each race,” Marocco said, and some participants came from other states including Arizona and Nevada. The races ended when the Federal Aviation Administration got wind of them. “I was just brokenhearted again,” Marocco said. “How many times can you be told no?” Then, he said, Nick Bruno, who is on the board that oversees the Southern California Fair and other events, suggested the Perris fairgrounds as a location and the process to approve, build and sanction the dragway got underway. Marocco, an entrepreneur, said his wife, Sheri, a teacher at Starlight Elementary in Beaumont, has supported him throughout the process. Some agencies have reported a recent increase in street racing-related calls and incidents in the region. In a Friday, Oct. 20, Riverside County sheriff’s statement released by Sgt. Wenndy Brito-Gonzalez, the number of calls in response to street races have remained about the same, though there is a slight increase when a street racing or takeover event is publicized on social media, or when a movie featuring street racing is released. Recently, some street racers have been motivated by social media fame as well as the thrill itself. “This day and age, there’s a lot of sideshow-type racing,” said Vinnie Pia, a U.S. Postal Service carrier who lives in Riverside and runs social media for the Perris dragway. In sideshows and street takeovers, drivers perform stunts like burnouts and doughnuts on public roads and intersections, often in front of crowds. “That is a totally different thing,” Pia said. “Vibes like that have really killed racing as a whole.” Numerous people have been injured and killed when racers collide with uninvolved pedestrians and vehicles, and throughout California, “there have been several people who have been shot while participating in street racing/takeovers, including spectators,” the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said. In one incident, during a Christmas Day street takeover in Los Angeles in December 2022, a 24-year-old nursing student was killed when a Camaro doing doughnuts in an intersection struck her and other onlookers. The driver was later arrested and charged with murder by the L.A. County District Attorney in a case that authorities say illustrated the dynamic of younger, less-experienced drivers seeking street-racing fame. Marocco hopes the Perris track will draw some drivers away from the streets. “We have the numbers to be successful,” Marocco said, after the track hosted two “soft openings.” Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco voiced his support for the dragway. “There has always been something about boys and girls and their cars,” he said in statement released by his department Friday. “When you take away a space to exercise that passion, you get what we have now.” He said law enforcement must get involved when unsafe, illegal racing takes place, and a “structured and legal option eliminates the criminal element from infiltrating what should be simply fun.” According to the sheriff’s department, the creation of a full-time team to prevent and respond to street racing and sideshow activities has also proved to be an effective deterrent within the county. “I was so pumped up,” said Pia, who raced at the dragway’s soft openings. Like Marocco, Pia lamented the lack of appropriate venues for racing. He started racing around 1998, he said, and was inspired by the start of the “Fast and Furious” franchise. His father also street raced in the 1970s. “It kind of ran through the veins,” he said. “It’s always about winning,” he said, and “going up against something.” He inherited his mom’s 1967 Mustang, and said “I just wanted that car to be faster and faster and faster.” Now 42, Pia said he and his friends don’t risk racing on public roads. “I could get my car impounded,” he said. “I could go to jail. I have kids.” Marocco and Pia both talked about the sport’s community angle. “It’s really family oriented,” Marocco said. Pia has two sons, ages 9 and 3, and said the younger is “all about cars.” Marocco says he thinks the reason for the resurgence in street racing is that, whilst “the world is on fire from every angle,” racing gives a sense of community and fun. The track will be open every other Friday through 2023, Marocco said, and other dates are anticipated for 2024. For more information visit: StreetLegalDragway.com By SARAH HOFMANN | email@example.com PUBLISHED: October 24, 2023 at 7:00 a.m. | UPDATED: October 25, 2023 at 5:28 p.m.