Drag Racing the LA River

LA River Night Drag Racing

It’s long been a staple of hot rod exploitation flicks but it’s difficult to imagine a time when people actually drag raced down the LA River. Life Magazine sent a photographer out to capture these hauntingly atmospheric images. It must have been a difficult shoot: the low levels of light, the long exposures to capture the speed as the headlights leave a trace of the death-defying path. The results were more than worth it. They look so peaceful and moody that convey a solemnity that makes you forget the cacophonous sounds that must have been echoing off of these concrete river banks 50 or 60 years ago. If you tried this today, you might have to just keep going after you finished your first quarter-mile run, as the cops would no doubt be well alerted and on their way. What was once a minor nuisance for some neighbors resulting in a few equipment violation tickets would today send out the helicopters. And jail time. Alas.

LA River Night Drag RacingI’ve happened upon underground street drags on more than a couple of locations—although now much more likely to happen with Hondas and Toyotas than Fords and Chevys. I can’t help but wonder if it would be better if these guys were still tolerated in the off-road strip of the LA River than on a lonely warehouse street where anyone might accidentally cross their path. Sure, there’s always official sanctioned drag strips, but where’s the fun in that?

Whatever the case, it’s certainly worth enjoying these images and imaging ourselves in a world slightly more tolerant of (admittedly dangerous) automotive recreation. Support your local street racer.

More images from the set at Along for the Ride.

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