Keeping It On The Track
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Beat the Heat:  Public safety officers are redirecting street racers to drag strips by racing with them. Read more....

Beat The Heat:  Public Safety Officers Engage with Youth to Combat Street Racing


by Ziva Allen


beattheheat5cWe love to drive fast.  That’s why we seek out tracks to bring our cars to.   Check out our TrackDrivers article.  And we also know that keeping it on the track is the right thing to do, not only for us, but for the general public.  However, we are also aware that, on any given day, many are engaging in the risky and irresponsible choice to participate in illegal street racing.  And for that irresponsible choice, we all are at risk.  For this reason I hope that through our monthly Keeping It On The Track column, we can bring to you not only stories illustrating reasons why to keep it on the track, but uplifting stories depicting those who devote their lives to that end. 


If you talk to police officers about their experiences in having the unfortunate duty to work a crash fatality, no matter how long ago that fatality occurred, you cannot help but come away with the realization that officers lose a piece of themselves with each and every fatality.  When an illegal street racer not only loses a race but their life as well, someone has to make a dreadful house call.  Someone has to ring a doorbell and then witness utter hell begin emerging on a parent’s face upon realizing why there is a police officer standing on their front porch in the middle of the night.  In speaking with Retired Lieutenant Tom Brown, President of Beat the Heat, I had the opportunity to get an intimate sense of the emotional toll it takes to be charged with the duty of having to ring a doorbell in the middle of the night and deliver the ultimate in horrible news.  As Brown, who has had to make such house calls, described to me, “The worst job I’ve ever had as a police officer is going and giving a death sentence where I have to go knock on a parent’s door and when they come to the door and they see a police officer standing there, they know why you’re there.  You’ve got to tell them that their child’s not coming home.  And then you have to stay there with them and it’s the most uncomfortable thing you’ve ever done.  There’s no set program where you read a script.  You just go there and you make it up…once you’ve worked a fatality, it stays with you.  I retired several years ago and every fatality I’ve ever worked, they come back and visit me in the night.  I mean I still have dreams about it.” 


Time to Take Action


And it was in delivering too many of these messages that Brown decided he had had enough and chose to do something positive.  Brown is beattheheat1cnow President of Beat the Heat, a non-profit organization based out of Texas that educates young people in the dangers of illegal street racing.  As Brown states, “We want to be the alternative.”  Beat the Heat is comprised of police officers and firefighters and those in their respective communities who volunteer their time to, as cliché as it sounds, truly make a difference in the communities they serve and in the lives that they save.  As Brown explained, “I love drag racing.  And I like young people and I like to talk to them and this is just an ideal program for me.  Everything this organization does, if we save just one young person and save one innocent that’s killed by an illegal street race, everything that we’ve done is worth it.” 


Beat the Heat involves the young people in their communities by enticing them off of the streets and into organized drag racing events against none other than the police officers themselves!  Yes, the police officers literally race against the kids.  But, as opposed to illegal middle of the night street racing amongst 40 to 50 cars in uncontrolled environments on narrow, rural, dark roads, lined by spectators standing within inches of the cars racing by them at 100 miles an hour, these Beat the Heat challenges are conducted in an organized format on properly designed drag strips.  The events consist of volunteer police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and the like to ensure safety for all participants, including spectators who don’t have to risk losing a toe and more but can properly view from bleachers at a respectable and safe distance.  “We’re giving them an alternative,” Brown says.  To illustrate the dangers in illegal street racing, Brown makes the point that even the road surface is a known quantity.  “Out on the street you don’t know what kind of surface you’ve got.  You’ve got asphalt which is really slick.  You’ve got concrete which is polished concrete.  You’ve got new concrete, the coefficient comes into effect.  On a drag strip, it’s a prepared surface.” 




Beat the Heat began in 1984 by Sgt. Don Robertson of the Jacksonville, Florida Sheriff's Department.  A second chapter sprung up in 1990 by Senior Corporal Mac Sibley in Texas.  By 1993, the program expanded to 15 police agencies around the State of Texas.  In 1994, the program grew to over 25 cars and the Heat Teams participated in over 50 events engaging almost 100,000 young people.  Currently, there are over 400 Beat the Heat members spanning across 36 states.  Additionally, Beat the Heat has members in other countries now, such as Canada, Puerto Rico, Australia, and England.  Over 1.5 million kids are reached each year!  In working with young people about the dangers of illegal street racing, Beat the Heat volunteers additionally incorporate into their message the dangers of distracted and drug and alcohol impaired driving.  Encouraging kids to stay in school and be achievers is also a top priority. 


beattheheat2cIn writing this article, I started out with the intent of bringing to you the story of Beat the Heat.  But after having the good fortune to speak with Brown, it is difficult to separate the good work that the organization does from the heart that Brown possesses.  Brown educates kids.  But the kids consider Brown a mentor.  It is his goal to not lecture or intimidate young people into making good choices but instead to engage kids on an equal level and to earn their respect.  As a tool in reaching young people, Brown also understands the importance of educating other police officers in how to interact with kids.  One of Beat the Heat’s main goals is to foster a link or understanding between police officers and the kids they come in contact with.  Brown wants young people to view police officers as on their side, not their enemy.  As Brown states, “When the kids are out there racing and the police get there, they look at us like we’re not human.  Well we’ve got families too and we are human” and Brown wants kids to understand this.  When a kid sees a police car drive by, he doesn’t want the kid to look in the window and say to himself, “there’s a cop.”  He wants the kid to say to himself, “Hey, I know that cop.” 



Engaging Youthbeattheheat6c


But how does this organization entice young people to come to one of their drag races?  Brown understands that kids could be quite intimidated by the notion of drag racing against police officers in front of not only their peers but the police officers themselves.  In understanding this, Brown does not ever want a kid to come to an event and be embarrassed.  “When we challenge them to come to the track, we don’t want them to come out and just beat up on them,” says Brown.  “A problem with a lot of these street racers is they don’t want to come to the track because they’ve never been to the track.  They’re afraid of the unknown.  So we have classes for them before the track ever opens."  Because some of these young people have never been to the track, Brown shows them the ropes early so “that way when their friends get there, they’ve already been down the track a couple of times and they’re not going to get embarrassed.  I don’t want to embarrass anybody because if I do, he won’t come back.”  In challenging young people to drag race against the police and engaging with them in a sport they all have in common, the kids then view the police officers differently, as human and with more respect.  “All of a sudden they see that we love the sport of drag racing too and they’ll sit and talk to us.  They’ll come over to my racecar trailer and we’ll sit under an awning when it’s hot outside and I’ll give them something to drink and we’ll sit and we’ll just talk about all kind of things.” 


Finish Line


Unfortunately, there is very little data regarding illegal street racing.  Sure we all hear about the Paul Walkers.  But on any given night, allbeattheheat4c across this country, on dark, rural back roads, kids are organizing illegal street races.  And these races are often quite sophisticated in their attempts to dodge the police, such as using radio relay systems.  Gathering data and statistics of the number of injuries and deaths due to illegal street racing is very difficult.  As Brown explains, “You may have an illegal street race and somebody will pull off the road and hit a tree and get killed or the car he was racing [and the spectators] they all jump up and they leave and so when the police get there it’s just a one car accident.”  Therefore, because gathering data is so difficult, curbing this illegal activity is very challenging.  But Beat the Heat knows they make a difference because they are on the ground engaging one-on-one with these young people and so they witness for themselves the difference they are making.  Communities who have brought in Beat the Heat’s program have seen improvements.  One city Brown talks about that had brought in a taskforce to try to counter the illegal street racing occurring in their city, was able to disband that taskforce within six months of Beat the Heat’s program being instituted!  If you are interested in reading further about Beat the Heat or interested in bringing a program or chapter to your school, church or community, please visit their website at or by clicking here.


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