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Stick to the track

Durham police launch Project ERASE to help curb illegal street racing, encourage racers to take their cars to the track

Gerry Carvalho of the Oshawa Motorsport Club, left, and racer Sean McPhee were just two of the people who came out for the launch of Project ERASE, an annual initiative by Durham police to stamp out street racing.

Gerry Carvalho of the Oshawa Motorsport Club, left, and racer Sean McPhee were just two of the people who came out for the launch of Project ERASE, an annual initiative by Durham police to stamp out street racing.

graeme_mcnaughton_headshotBy Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

Back in my teenage days, I had a car. And like many teenage boys, I wanted to see what it could do. I drove a Pontiac Grand Prix two-door and, by current standards, was a bit of a boat. But regardless, I wanted to see how much I could get out of the V6 under the hood.

Thankfully, though, I did not get sucked into the world of street racing like some of my friends did. It was a dumb thing that they did, with one even getting into an accident. But at the end of the day, nobody was seriously hurt and everyone, all grown up and wiser (at least I like to think so), and have changed their ways.

Unfortunately, not everyone has gotten that message.

Superintendent Joe Maiorana of the Durham police says that to date, there have been 46 drivers in Durham Region charged with street racing offences in 2016, putting numbers well on track to surpass the 84 nabbed in 2015. Maiorana says the increase can be attributed to the better weather Durham saw this winter, meaning the streets were open to those wanting to race illegally.

Superintendent Joe Maiorano of the Durham police says that to date, there have been 46 drivers in Durham Region charged with street racing offences in 2016, putting numbers well on track to surpass the 84 nabbed in 2015. Maiorano says the increase can be attributed to the better weather Durham saw this winter, meaning the streets were open to those wanting to race illegally.

Durham police, teaming up with other police forces across the GTA, has launched its annual Project Eliminate Racing Activity on Streets Everywhere (ERASE) program, which works to bring awareness of the dangers of street racing to those looking to put pedal to the metal on city streets.

The warmer weather this year has resulted in a growing number of drivers getting nabbed for going more than 50 km/h above the speed limit – which results in a stunt racing charge that will see the car impounded and the license taken away.

“Last year, we charged 84 drivers for street racing. This year to date, we’ve charged 46 drivers,” Superintendent Joe Maiorano of the Durham police said while attending the program’s launch at Bowmanville’s Canadian Tire Motor Speedway.

“(The reason behind the increased numbers) is a function of the weather we’ve been experiencing. The roadways have been clearer, the weather has not been as difficult as it was last year in terms of snow. So what we’re experiencing is an actual increase in activity as a result of the roadways being available for street racing.”

Maiorano says that the bump in street racing is not isolated to empty roads in rural Durham – it’s also happening in the busy roads of Oshawa and other parts of the region.

However, that hasn’t stopped the police from doing everything they can to fight against the problem, taking the battle not only to the streets, but also online, where many racers post photos and videos of their exploits.

“Regardless of the stats for street racing, it’s important to recognize that it’s not safe. Although it’s an impromptu activity, our streetways are not designed for street racing,” he says.

“And if you’re doing it for social media purposes, we do have that type of electronic investigative capacity that we will track people involved with street racing down and we will enforce our laws on our streets.”

And for those looking to race their cars on the streets of Durham, Maiorano has a simple message.

“Don’t street race. We’ll catch you.”

The launch at what was once Mosport was no coincidence. As part of the push to discourage street racing, Durham police and other police forces across the province are encouraging racers to go to the track.

In fact, the BMW Owners Club was at the track to give members of the media such as myself a ride around the track. In the back of my mind, I didn’t think it would be bad. I’ve done my fair share of fast driving in my younger days. I once took my Grand Prix to a drag strip outside of Hamilton to see what it could do. Compared to the cars there, I was a slowpoke, but I still had a great time. I was able to find out how fast my car could go in a safe setting.

Now, I was going to have the chance to hit the track with an experienced driver in a top-end BMW M3. This is a car that, as I would see, would put anything I’ve driven to shame.

Durham police brought out all of the tools it has at its disposal to combat illegal street racing, including the force's Air-1 helicopter. It, along with York police's Air-2, did several fly bys of the track during the day.

Durham police brought out all of the tools it has at its disposal to combat illegal street racing, including the force’s Air-1 helicopter. It, along with York police’s Air-2, did several fly bys of the track during the day.

As part of encouraging those wanting to race to go to the track, rather than the street, several racers came out to the event, including racers from Ontario Time Attack, a type of racing that sees drivers race against the clock against cars in a similar category.

Sean McPhee was one of the racers to come out, showing up in a tricked up Chevrolet Cobalt.

“I’ve been racing go-karts since I was 12,” McPhee, who just finished his third year of criminology studies at UOIT, tells The Oshawa Express.

“My dad has been into racing his whole life, so I just moved out of karting and into time attack, which just seems to be the cheapest non-door-to-door racing you can get into.”

And while his navy blue Cobalt would make short work of many cars it would run into, McPhee says he was never tempted to hit the streets for a race.

“I don’t even have any speeding tickets. I’m proud of that,” McPhee says with a laugh.

“I’ve always been racing karts and hitting the track in legal ways.”

Gerry Carvalho of the Oshawa Motorsport Club was also there, and like McPhee, he was never tempted to race anywhere but the track.

“I never have. I never thought about it,” he says.

“I did get tickets when I was younger, but nothing ridiculous. I was never tempted to race on the streets that way.”

Carvalho adds that getting involved with legal racing is not expensive, and prospective racers can get involved with the club for as little as $25 to start.

“It’s really cheap to get involved. It’s not as expensive as you think.”

The Ontario chapter of the BMW Owners Club of Canada was on hand to encourage safe racing at the track, rather than taking it to the street. For this reporter, however, the high speeds, hard braking and sharp turns were a bit too much.

The Ontario chapter of the BMW Owners Club of Canada was on hand to encourage safe racing at the track, rather than taking it to the street. For this reporter, however, the high speeds, hard braking and sharp turns were a bit too much.

After waiting my turn, we go out on to the track. My driver, Steven, is behind the wheel of a BMW putting out something in the range of 400 horsepower.

And as a driving teacher with the BMW Owners Club of Canada’s Ontario chapter, he knows how to wrangle every one of them. In the end, I made it through five laps.

The fastest we got? A blistering 225 km/h before slamming on the brakes to hit a turn. My little Kia – which after going for a ride in the BMW now feels like it’s powered by a lawnmower engine – could only dream of getting that fast. In fact, the speedometer doesn’t even go that high.

And how did I celebrate getting out of the car? I whipped my helmet off and went inside to throw up. Apparently my stomach can’t handle those tight turns.