Keeping It On The Track
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Mothers join forces to get out the word to keep it on the track.

Mothers Against Racing in the Streets (MARS)

by Ziva Allen

marspostercShawn, CJ and Giovanni have a couple of things in common.  One, they are no longer with us.  Both Shawn and CJ were killed in spontaneous street races in 2006 and Giovanni was killed as a spectator during a street race in 2009.  And the second thing they have in common is that their mothers have joined a club that they wish they were not members of.  The Club is called Mothers Against Racing in the Street (MARS).  As a result of their common grief, these mothers have joined forces in an effort to educate people in the dangers of street racing and to get out the message to keep it on the track. 

The woman who brought Shawn, CJ and Giovanni’s mothers together is Florida State Representative Linda Stewart.  In 2009, Rep. Stewart, who was then Commissioner of Orange County, which was experiencing an extraordinary amount of street racing-related deaths, introduced the mothers to each other.  Says Stewart, who had already met Laurie Broadus, Shawn’s mom, “We had received calls from the other mothers due to extensive news coverage and I felt it important for all the mothers to meet to work on the issue together.  It was then we collectively came up with the concept of starting a group called MARS - Mothers Against Racing in the Streets, to help others before they fell victims as these Moms.”  And Rep. Stewart had a plan.  It was her goal to eliminate or reduce deaths and injuries caused by illegal street racing.  To that end, Rep. Stewart worked tirelessly toward getting the Luis Rivera Ortega Street Racing Act passed.  The bill was named after Luis Ortega, a boy who was riding his bicycle to play basketball with friends on January 1, 2008 when he was struck by Robert Roedell, who was engaging in illegal street racing in his car which had been modified for high performance.  It had a roll-bar system, a high-performance muffler, seat, after market steering system and racing tires.  According to Rep. Stewart, “When Luis was killed by a street racer who had been convicted once already, I had already been working on the problem of street racing in my district where it seemed to be the worst.  I would ride with the Sheriff’s Department and see for myself how bad the issue had become.  They would congregate in parking lots in the hundreds.  I then worked closely with then Senator Lee Constantine and Rep. Darren Soto to make the penalties tougher for street racers travelling to Tallahassee in person with the families to fight for this bill.”  On April 28, 2010, the House unanimously passed the Luis Ortega Act, which imposes fines and prison sentences on those charged and convicted of street racing and of those participating as spectators.  On June 3, 2010 the governor approved the bill.  And in October, 2010 the bill was finally in effect.

Rep. Stewart took on another project in her district to further her efforts of thwarting illegal street racing.  She joined forces with Petemarscfrc320x240c Madison who owned land in Orange County Florida, where these three boys died and where scores of others are lucky to still be alive.  Rep. Stewart explains, “I have known Mr. Pete Madison through other developments in Taft and South Orlando.  After discussing the problems with street racing which he was well aware of as his property was in the area where they all raced.  We then talked about the feasibility of setting up a course where street racers could legally and safely race.  Mr. Madison and I worked together to bring attention to street racing and worked cohesively with the Sheriff’s Department and from that the race track became a very popular place for racing in South Orange County.”  Madison, like Rep. Stewart, wanted to make a difference in their community.  Madison developed on his land the Central Florida Racing Complex (CFRC) where, among other automotive sport related activities, he built a drag strip for the kids.  His motive?  Get the kids off the streets and onto a safe, regulated, controlled road course and drag strip.  The drag strip had proved so successful that during the one year leading up to its first anniversary since opening, according to Madison, “there hasn’t been another street racing fatality since we opened.”  Madison billed CFRC as “The Street Racing Solution!”  Rep. Stewart was proud to say that, “after it opened, the incidence of street racing decreased dramatically.”  Incredibly, “before it opened, there was at least one death a month from street racing” Rep. Stewart goes on to say.  But, like most solutions, this marsbillboardc320x320one was not met without controversy and opposition.  Many residents in the nearby community of Southchase from the beginning opposed the opening of the drag strip due to noise and deflated property value concerns.  At a public hearing on August 7, 2012, where concerned citizens from both sides of the issue came out to support their respective positions, the Southchase residents prevailed.  Ultimately, the drag strip was closed.  And with it so did its road course, kart track, and other activities.  “In my opinion,” says Rep. Stewart, “the race track helped curb illegal street racing and nearly eliminated the deaths that were occurring on a regular basis.”

But the mothers of Shawn, CJ and Giovanni have not gone away.  They know that Florida has one of the highest death and injury rates in the United States due to illegal street racing.  And they also know that teenage boys statistically are the main culprit.  They want these young men to learn from their own sons’ tragic fates.  Getting drag strips opened in communities and getting kids onto them is one of their highest priorities.  As we reported in our April column of Keeping It On The Track, the Beat The Heat police have maintained that getting kids onto drag strips has gone a long way to reducing street racing and with it, tragedy. 

Another tool is education.  BMJ is a healthcare knowledge provider based out of the UK, whose purpose is to advance healthcare worldwide by sharing knowledge and expertise to improve experiences, outcomes and value.  They issued a report titled:  The Fast and the Fatal: Street Racing Fatal Crashes in the United States.  They used statistics from The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Fatality Analysis Reporting System for the years 1998 through 2001.  Upon final analysis, BMJ found and recommended that “since drivers involved in street racing tended to be teenage male drivers with poor driving histories, targeting this population may provide the most promise for an intervention program.  Courses targeting novice drivers (for example, driver’s education classes in the United States) may be a place for an education campaign about street racing and its negative consequences.  Additionally, street racing could be included in graduated licensing programs by introducing street racing provisions that would revoke the license of teenagers convicted of street racing similar to the provision in graduated licensing programs for drinking and driving.”

As an avid track day enthusiast, you can do your part in curbing illegal street racing.  Whenever and wherever you have the opportunity to speak to young people about responsible, safe, and fun driving, talk to them about your participation in track day events.  Give them something positive to aspire to.  Maybe they will join us!

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