SAPD collaborates with drag racing organizations to move illegal street racing to controlled tracks

Police believe change will come from inside racing community, versus arresting problem away

SAN ANTONIO – The conversation continues about drag racing and street racing after a recent deadly crash in Kerrville.

This week, the San Antonio Police Department is going public with conversations they’ve been having for months about convincing illegal street racers to instead race on controlled race tracks in the area. Their answer is working from the inside of the racing world versus simply arresting the problem away.

One after another, over the years, SAPD has responded to tragic crashes that were caused by illegal street racing.

“In May, Chief (William) McManus tasked me with looking at different initiatives on how to get illegal activity off of our roadways and into a controlled environment,” said Capt. Chris Benavides, who runs SAPD’s emergency operations.

An example of a controlled environment is the Alamo City Motorplex, which hosts races every week that include safety protocols, such as vehicle and gear checks, track prep and setting up concrete barriers.

“It’s safer coming here, in my opinion, even though it’s a pretty long drive for me. I know I’m not risking my life, getting the ticket, getting my car taken away -- me hurting anybody else. Just here to have fun,” said Leonardo Hernandez, who drag races at the Motorplex with his friends.

Hernandez is glad to see police collaborating with organizations, asking them to encourage illegal street racers to race on controlled tracks.

Those inside the racing world are now having conversations, talking to street racers about the risks of doing it illegally and the benefits of moving races to the racetracks.

As part of the initiative, the Motorplex offers incentives, such as slashed prices for entry and racing, if drivers mention the collaboration upon entry.

“Movies kind of glorify this -- that street racing is something that we can all do, and it’s fun to do. What’s not glorified is that tragedy. It’s that ripple effect, how it affects people when there is a mishap, when somebody loses their life or when you total your car,” Benavides said.

Plus, it’s now a way steeper price to pay if you get caught. The Texas Legislature recently passed two state laws, SB 1495 and HB 2315, regarding street racing.

In September, one went into effect, raising street racing from a Class B misdemeanor to a class A misdemeanor. Starting Jan. 1, authorities will be allowed to confiscate cars from illegal racers without the ability of owners to get the vehicles back. The law also addresses those who do donuts and burnouts on public roads and parking lots.

“They believe they can take over parking lots, intersections, and they have to understand that’s against the law. There’s a potential for going to jail, paying fines and possibly having your vehicle impounded,” Benavides said.

“You can hurt people, innocent people that are literally just driving. So I agree coming here versus out on the streets,” Hernandez said.

San Antonio council members exploring ways to put the brakes on street racing

Illegal street racing has become such an issue in San Antonio that city staff members are working on an ordinance targeting spectators who encourage and share images of reckless drivers.

Meanwhile, street racing investigations motivated by Chief McManus and council members have already resulted in 77 arrests, 213 tickets and 43 vehicle impoundments.

The new effort between SAPD and racing organizers aims to create community-driven change, encouraging racers to veer towards the racetracks and pump the brakes on preventable deadly crashes.

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.

William Caldera has been at KSAT since 2003. He covers a wide range of stories including breaking news, weather, general assignments and sports.