Keeping It On The Track
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There was a time when the officers would hand out passes to the drag strip instead of speeding tickets!

 

Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputies (LASD) Motorsports 

by Ziva Allen

10351098320x240Sergeant Scott Graham, a 27 year veteran of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department who is currently in Internal Affairs, founded the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputies (LASD) Motorsports organization almost 20 years ago.  Like many other law enforcement personnel, Graham loves competitive racing and also considers himself a role model to the youth in the community.  Through LASD Motorsports, Graham and his racing team have found a way to engage with youth and impart their message concerning the dangers of illegal street racing, abusing drugs, alcohol, and gangs.  LASD is a not-for-profit organization and is not funded by the Sheriff’s Department.  It has long been endorsed and recognized as a positive community relations tool.

“I can tell you that when I first started doing this 18 years ago and we showed up with a cop racecar at car shows, we were like the enemy,” says Graham.  “We were the guys who were out giving these guys tickets and speeding tickets.  But eventually, after being visible at these events, they finally started figuring out that we’re human and we also have an interest in cars and high performance and we’re normal people too.  We tell the kids, ‘you have to be disciplined and have self-control.’  Now I get invited to car shows all the time because people like my car and the kids realize we’re not at the show to ticket people or enforce the laws.  We’re there as car enthusiasts just like them and we enjoy other people’s sweat and hard work also.  Sometimes at car shows or a drag race, I will find that some kids might start getting a little out of hand.  But I’ll approach them and I’ll say, ‘listen man.  We’re here to have fun.  Don’t make me do my job.’  And they listen and it kind of sets the tone.  They understand that I have an off duty time and an on duty time.”  Graham’s message?  Where others might preach enforcement, he preaches education and outlet. 

Graham finds that participating in community-wide events in this way has been very beneficial.  The LASD team has received many accolades over the years.  Also, the Sheriff’s Department is happy with the positive law enforcement contact with the area’s kids via the racing cars and is very supportive.  Says Graham, “It’s really turned the car culture around for a lot of law enforcement and for my team and I’m sure it’s the same for Beat The Heat chapters around the country.  I’ve noticed a significant difference over the years.  In fact, now we get invited to all kinds of charity car shows as a draw.  Once people find out that LASD Motorsports will be there, people will come out.  Especially when they know it’s for the kids or it’s for a good cause or a needy family.  I find it very gratifying.”

Graham says LASD Motorsports has been very active in the community.  Says Graham, “My car goes out to about 35 events a year.  Some are races and the rest are either community car shows or school events.”  Graham and his team speak to 6th through 12th grade students with a prepared curriculum.  Sometimes they even speak to junior college students and students in automotive programs.  “Basically we will speak to the kids about the dangers of being a part of gangs, illegal drugs, and street racing.  I’ll go into a little of my background as well.  And we try to teach them how important getting a good education is no matter what you want to be in life.  I’ll ask them, ‘how important is a book report to you right now?’  And of course they’ll respond by saying, ‘they’re not important at all.’  I’ll tell them, ‘well they weren’t important to me either.’  And I’ll ask them, ‘what do you think cops spend most of their time doing?’  Their answer?  “Shooting people.  Chasing people.”  I will explain to the kids that being a cop is not like what you see on T.V. and that you spend the majority of your time writing police reports and crime reports.  I’ll explain to the kids that a crime report is similar to a book report and the ultimate outcome of a crime report is to catch the bad guys and send them to prison so it had better be well written and articulated.  And, in fact, you base a lot of your reports off of the notes you take and witness interviews, which you have to summarize.  I tell them if I ever thought back in high school and before that I’d ever need a book report in my life, I’d say you were crazy.  We’ll also talk about math and I’ll ask, ‘how many of you think math is important for working on racecars?’  I’ll tell them, “nobody thinks it is but the suspension is built upon the principal of geometry and the motor’s built upon the principals of algebra and trigonometry.  And I say the outcome of building a racecar is to what?  Win.  We try to get them to understand that even if you don’t think you’re going to use your education, you will at one time in your life.” 

Graham is proud to share that LASD Motorsports has seen success stories over the years.  He talks of one youngster who is a special needs student and who islasd3440x297 quite infatuated with the LASD program and the deputies and he has great support from his teacher as well.  The student qualified for a scholarship to enter an auto body program and after completing the program, he was hired by one of the deputies’ family members who owns an auto body shop.  “He started out washing cars, checking air pressures, etc. and now they’re going to promote him to have more responsibilities.  I bump into others all the time at races and car shows who remind me of the positive impact we’ve had in the community.”  Graham says that a lot of the street racers in his community know him and knew him back when he started the program.  “In fact a couple of street racers back in the day that are really doing well right now are a couple of guys named Rick Snavely and Bobby Frye.  Rick is actually a sponsored driver for Turbos Direct in drag racing and Bobby is involved in the “Heads-Up” drag racing classes.  They do quite well, have honest jobs and have taken it to the track.  They are good guys who have grown up and have families of their own now.” 

Prior to being with the Sheriff’s Department, Graham had attended school and earned his Associates Degree in Automotive Industrial Education.  “Basically I knew how to work on cars at a shop but I didn’t like working on everybody else’s dirty cars.  I worked for Four Wheeler as an apprentice journalist while going to college and I found that very interesting.  My background is in automotive and I’ve been a car enthusiast ever since I could remember.  Eventually I got into law enforcement and was lucky enough to incorporate my hobby as part of my job.  The Sheriff’s Department loves what we do with the racecars and the race team.  We’re in the community trying to make a difference and the Department fully endorses our efforts.”  Graham is quick to note, that although the Sheriff’s Department enthusiastically supports his program, they are not financed by the Department and, in fact, “this program could not sustain itself or exist without the help of our generous sponsors.”

Graham says he’s been racing in the black and white team using a Barracuda racecar for over 18 years.  But doubling the racecar as their show car started taking its toll on the ol’ Barracuda and the car started breaking down more and more at the races.  So about 10 years ago, the team acquired a second Barracuda so they could leave the racecar just for racing.  However, over time, with all of its modifications throughout the years, the second Barracuda became as fast as the first one and so now the team has two full on racecars. 

Unfortunately, L.A. has lost most of its tracks throughout the years and participating in racing events with the area youth has become more and more rare.  There was a time when the officers would hand out passes to the drag strip instead of speeding tickets!  Graham says this was a very successful tactic to get the kids off the streets and onto the track.  Currently the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California is reopened which holds local high school drag racing events at its drag strip.

lasdGraham believes that exposure to track driving cuts down on illegal street racing.  “The kids just have to be introduced to it.  One of the problems here in southern California is that there’s not enough tracks that are close by.  For the street racers, the automotive aftermarket is always booming and everyone wants to test their car.  But in reality, what kid really wants to trailer their car at least 80 miles away to test it when they can just go out to an industrial area real quick to test it?  And a lot of these guys don’t even have trailers so they’ll drive their car a few miles to wherever a street race is and are completely happy doing that,” says Graham.  “In the mid 90s when Terminal Island Raceway was open in the L.A. Basin, Big Willie Robinson and the Brotherhood of Street Racers cut down street racing and it even reduced down to zero.  But that’s because the track was pretty centralized and everybody could get to it.  And shootings and crime cut down as well because the kids had a place to go.  It was very successful.”  Graham says LASD Motorsports is currently working with Project Street Legal in a big push to get a legal drag strip open again at Terminal Island Raceway.

Graham has never attended a racing school and considers himself “self-taught.”  “Of course the Sheriff’s Department requires mandatory pursuit training every three years and sends its officers through an extensive driving school and that training is very helpful,” says Graham.  “I suppose you could say I attended the school of hard knocks.  You know learning how to drive a hot rod in the rain – you learn how to do 360s pretty quickly and how to control a car - not necessarily on purpose of course,” says Graham with a chuckle. 

Please check out LASD Motorsports’ webpage at http://lasdmotorsports.com and their FaceBook page at https://www.facebook.com/lasdmotorsports.

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