Those who have seen the movie American Graffiti understand the
allure of drag racing for hot-blooded teenagers. Recognizing the
danger of the strip, the operators of the Los Angeles County
Raceway, in Palmdale, on the edge of the desert, came up with a
safer outlet in which kids from ages 16 to 76 can express their
need for speed. Since 1984 the LACR has played host to the
Friday Night Grudge, a wildly popular amateur hour that lives up
to its slogan: Run What Ya Brung. For $15 any dreamer with a
valid driver's license can race his or her own ride on LACR's
quarter-mile straightaway. On a typical Grudge night the nine
staging lanes are crowded with everything from hubcapless
station wagons to AC Cobras so immaculate you could slick back
your hair in the paint's reflection.
"The need to go fast is human nature," says Bernie Longjohn, the
CEO of LACR. "Kids have always come out to the desert to
hot-rod, but after enough of them got killed on these back
roads, we decided there had to be a better way."
Spectators and "crew" are charged only $5 to hang out and enjoy
the action; they can fill their own tanks with hot dogs,
hamburgers, fries and soda pop. Longjohn estimates that 80% of
the crowd is teens and early twentysomethings. This might
explain why there has never been a serious accident at the
Grudge. "Most of these kids are racing their dad's car, or the
first car they bought for themselves," says Longjohn. "Either
way, one scratch is worse than death."
FIVE COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY LARA JO REGAN/LIAISON
"The need to go fast is human nature," says Longjohn. "Kids have
always come out to the desert to hot-rod."