Talk about incongruence.

Here was Mars, the Angry Red Planet, hanging there in the silent void of space, eerily, eternally mute. And here were Gary and Cheryl Longwith in their living room, trying (and mostly failing) to follow the Netflix docudrama on Earth's planetary neighbor, practically deafened by the roar of automobile engines racing down the street behind their house.

Someone had a right to be angry, and it wasn't Mars.

The Longwiths of Laurelglen are in good company. Good, plentiful company. Street racing, a whack-a-mole problem for cities like Bakersfield since the first convergence of cars and teens, is back and louder than ever.

"The racing is constant but it's especially bad on the weekend," Cheryl Longwith said. "If we're in our living room watching a movie, we can't hear the movie. It just happened when we were watching 'Mars.' It rattles the whole house. It's making us want to move."

When the Longwiths moved to Laurelglen just this past January, into a house that backs up to six-lane Gosford Road, she said, "we had no idea this was going on."

This is what's going on. People in their teens, 20s and early 30s have been congregating in the parking lot of the Kohl's department store on Gosford, just north of Harris Road, doing what people in that age range often do. A slow weekday night crowd might see 20 or 30 cars, but on summer nights, police say they've seen upwards of 1,000.

Many of them drive with ear-splitting velocity down one of several wide, straight, long boulevards in the area, especially Gosford and White Lane. Some nights the roar is clearly audible for miles around.

The greater threat, of course, is traffic safety. Some of the city's most horrific accidents have occurred on Gosford, including the Sept. 13 death of a motorcyclist performing a wheelie who was struck and killed by an SUV making a U-turn.

What is the Bakersfield Police Department doing?

Trying, says Sgt. Nathan McCauley, a BPD spokesman.

"We give vehicles citations for reckless driving, speeding, exhibition of speed, and it just chases the problem somewhere else. We put up signage, barriers and speed bumps — but that only does so much. It's a combination of setting up enforcement operations and working with the property owners."

He urged residents and business owners alike to call the BPD and report street racing near their neighborhoods.

Kohl's manager Laura Harrington referred my questions about possible problems in the store's parking lot to a company spokesman; that person did not return my call. I called Castle & Cooke Inc., which owns the Kohl's shopping center, but missed connections with Laura Whitaker, who manages the company's commercial division. Darlene Mohlke, whose purview extends only to the company's residential development operations, noted that she, too, has dealt with the sounds of street racing in her neighborhood as well — near Ming Avenue and Grand Lakes Boulevard, four miles north of the Kohl's epicenter. "It boggles my mind," she said.

Many minds have been boggled by the ongoing problem.

"It's every night, every single night," said Susan Houghton, a Bakersfield native who recently returned with her husband to his hometown after a 20-year absence to this — nightly drag racing. 

"Yeah, welcome back," she said sarcastically.

"People have had it. I can't understand why they don't set up a sting. They do DUI checkpoints, which are needed and wonderful, but why can't they do this? It can't be a lack of money. They have Measure N money" from the recently instituted half-cent sales tax, Houghton said.

Yeah, sergeant, what about that Measure N funding, which voters were led to believe would go primarily to public safety?

"Measure N is helping us with a lot of things but it's not an instantaneous thing," McCauley said. "Rolling out a new group of officers is a year to year-and-a-half process. It's not an instant fix. We have 27 people set to graduate next year and another group coming in behind them."

In the meantime, he said, BPD just doesn't have the bodies to devote a detail to full-time street-racing management. "It would be nice to have a car that's totally dedicated to this issue," McCauley said, but it's not possible at present.

There's little to dissuade busted drivers from doing their legal penance and showing up again next Saturday night.

"These are misdemeanors, so it's not like they're locked away," McCauley said. "They're just out there again, playing 'Fast and Furious' in their mom's Honda. Some of them have the kind of modified cars seen in car shows and then you have others reckless driving in the family Subaru."

Car culture kids and their street racing friends typically line up meeting times and places via social media. They often establish backups plans as well.

"'If we get broken up, we'll all go over to WinCo,'" McCauley said, quoting a typical set of instructions. And officers' response: "You broke them up so you might as well follow them to the next place."

Cheryl Longwell is sympathetic to the plight of bored teens; she had friends in high school who did the same sort of thing. But the cars of that era were typically not so explosively loud. Throw in her proximity of house to street and the problem is almost unbearable.

"My husband set up a decibel meter in the backyard, and it was up in the 90s, sometimes the 100s," she said. "Gosford has turned into a six-lane freeway. You try to barbecue in your backyard, but you can't be out there and have a conversation. It's constant traffic, all hours."

She suggested programming alternating traffic signals that prevent drivers from attaining high, prolonged speeds, setting up red light cameras, building a high soundwall along Gosford of a type similar to 24th Street's, and establishing a random, heavy police presence.

"If they don't do something," she said, "this area is just going to dry up and go away."

The social media app/website NextDoor has been teeming for months with complaints and observations about street racing.

Wrote David Trillo, who lives in Silver Creek: "The problem seems to have two contributing factors: 1) Today's personal race cars are so over-the-top insane. I predict that the 2023 Dodge Challenger will be the first street legal car to break the sound barrier. 2) They once were unique. Now, everybody has 'em ..."

Houghton wrote a letter about the issue, dated Nov. 4, to Mayor Karen Goh and the Bakersfield City Council. She wrote, in part:

"It also appears from the (NextDoor) posts, that the Bakersfield Police Department has been notified — repeatedly. Given that this is occurring almost every night now and it is in the very same area, I am struggling to understand why a proactive response or sting type of set up hasn't occurred?

"We all understand being short staffed. We all understand the focus on homelessness. But you've got a good group of Bakersfield residents who are awakened, disturbed and frustrated over this almost every night. Do we need to wait for an innocent bystander to be killed before action is taken?"

And how did that earnest letter play downtown?

"I haven't received an answer," Houghton said.

Contact The Californian’s Robert Price at 661-395-7399, rprice@bakersfield.com or on Twitter: @stubblebuzz. His column appears on Sundays, Wednesdays and Saturdays; the views expressed are his own.

(27) comments

Take action Now

Hey all you street racers, someday somebody will get the bright idea of throwing nails over their back fence while you’re street racing. And that will make a hazard for everyone..

Take action Now

It’s very easy to get control of society, but it takes pressure from the community on government to make change.

You stop speeding and street racing by increasing the fines and penalties to the

point where people will think twice before breaking the law.

Make 15 mph over the speed limit a $1,000 fine and street racing a $5,000 fine and the car is impounded and impound fees will apply after 30 days. You will have 90 days to pay the fine and or else the car will be sold at auction to cover the fine plus any impound fees due. Of course the impound is immediate and the 90 days starts after trial. Life is not rocket science, it’s called common sense.

justred

40 plus years ago, Gosford was the road of choice to race on. No houses for miles. Just farm land. Funny how times change, but things still remain the same.

whittierblvd

well blame all of this on vin diesel for all of this with his movies, sue the pants off of hollywood et al for making this possible...

scottybob

The car people want to race. When I was a kid we didn't want to risk getting caught. So we went to the closest drag strip. It was a long trip for those days, 150 miles round trip. But go, we did, and it was sanctioned, and safe. And we raced against cars from many other states. Always lost, but fun to compete anyway.

REMUDA

" . . . shoulder-to-shoulder crowd . . . " (every night . . . ?)

Meanwhile, KCRP (GPS) out west of Bako has empty seats. Seems there's a disconnect between these 'venues'(?). Perhaps some 'creative thinking' could show that THERE IS A WAY OUT OF THE PARKING LOT/STREET RACING to safe tracks.

Here's an idea . . . FREE RACE NITE FOR DRAGSTERS and CROWDS . . . with a nominal pit entry fee . . . or something like that with some similar entries as we did and pitted with the 'RV NITE OF DESTRUCTION' . . . !

Bin thar with the 'Star' wihner -- Jimmy, where are ya?

REMUDA

RV NITE . . . NO RULES . . . !

Patricia Edna

Well we know Chief Martin is too busy apologizing to criminals and throwing his officers under the bus, only to have them win their lawsuits later on and end up vindicated. He’s probably too afraid to take action out of fear he might offend someone and have to answer to the NAACP, ACLU, or some other political organization which would require another apology tour. Wouldn’t want to actually do something for the citizens for a change, right Chief?

Gary Crabtree

How do I start a petition to revoke the 1% sales tax increase since it's doing nothing to improve the city. Hire more cops? Give me a break, no one wants to be a cop anymore. Too dangerous and the rules of engagement suck.

Fram Smith

All of the areas described as pre-race locations , are places that currently have many video surveillance cameras that could provide definitive evidence of criminal behavior. One would think that this would be low hanging fruit for the B.P.D. If a collection of residents approach your ward 5 city councilman , Bruce Freeman , you may get some help. Bruce spends most of his time on his boat and house in Newport Beach ; so if you want to speak to him in person , you we need to attend a Wednesday evening Bakersfield City Council Meeting. Good Luck !

KenWitham

I thought it was a one-cent sales tax, not a half-cent as stated in the column.

bakodon

Another example of poor leadership at the BPD. We reside in the area and we hear it Friday and Saturday nights...goes on for many hours...where is the BPD patrol?

Bodysnatcher

There's a lot of middle aged goobers involved in these events too. It's not just 20 & 30 year olds.

If all else fails, show up to their house in the middle of the night and blast the sound of their own exhausts from a loudspeaker. Of course neighbors will be upset, but perhaps a neighbor would be willing to help their goober neighbor reform their ways?

Usual Saturday night gatherings start as follows: The group gathers at the furniture store where the old Target use to be or Fallas parking lot on White Ln. Then, they'll move Khols on Gosford. They've been known to gather at Winco on Panama Ln and the shopping center parking lot at Wible and Panama Ln.

Veritas

Unfortunately, this is not just another problem that is unique to Bakersfield. Los Angeles is just one example where this is also rampant. Except down there, some of these racers have turned violent towards the police in recent years.

Social media is now, no pun intended, driving these people. There are now incidents starting to pop up between racers from different cities where they challenge each other and meet up in their city or the other. So in other words this phenomenon is getting worse on several different levels. Stand by Bako, because it’s all about the social media need to gather the most followers and likes.

I am assuming that BPD has some type of cyber crimes unit. You don’t have to pay a cop a cop’s salary to have someone start monitoring social media on a daily basis to find out when these fools are going to race and where. In conjunction with this take a page out of the movie series Fast and Furious and start infiltrating in to these groups and target the organizers and main players. There are enough laws that the Po-Po can find something and make life a pain for them.

Lastly, if the PD can’t handle dealing with this because they lack staff what about some interagency task force with CHP and the Sheriff’s Dept? Saying you don’t have the staff is not an excuse...

CaliforniaHamm

I am all for decibel meters with the equivalent of red light cameras . I'm sure a legal citation couldn't be issued but maybe the information could be used for to build a case against a racer. I hear it every night on Stockdale. Something has to be done. Officers who's salary is paid by speeding tickets could make a mint in this town.

ReefRanger

There really isnt a simple solution to this problem. Its true that whenever these jokers are harrassed or thwarted, they just move somewhere else. Castle and Cooke could hire security, or install gates across the parking lot entrances, the city could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to install all manner of speed barriers and it wouldnt solve a thing. The only thing that will get their attention is higher citation fees, booting and/or towing of vehicles, and license suspension or revocation for the street racers. But none if those things seem likely to happen. The residents of that area need to band together and start call-bombing the PD everytime this happens. Me? I'd start taking pictures of license numbers and emailing them to the PDs traffic division every day! They wouldnt need Measure N then. They could fund a dedicated Street Racing Task Force with the money generated from fines.

PedoHater

Give these kids Tesla’s and Electric mustangs

byebyeCA

Give these kids?????????

PedoHater

They are quiet cars....

Patricia Edna

Why would they be “given” anything? The only thing they should be given is a ticket and their vehicle impounded. They’re a danger to everyone else on the road.

Lilyrose

Combustion engines racing through fossil because it's cheap. Bakersfield, please place night cameras on each light and send off tickets. All remote now. While you're at it, place visual & audio cameras in you public school's classrooms. Scores will greatly improved on State tests and future racers will be able to afford a extremely fast but quiet Tesla.

JR

The reason concerns like street racing, loose, dangerous dogs, and crimes of robbery and strangers actually coming right up on the front porch, into the garage and backyard to steal something are all ignored by the City Council is because that just concerns residents. The City Council only pays attention to Bakersfield businesses, that's why they're spending so much time and money on the homeless situation. The homeless park themselves in front of the doors of restaurants, stores, offices, etc., and the owners don't like it and they complain to the City officials. And the city wants to make sure that business owners are happy so they hop to.

Athanasios

Thank you for the story Mr. Price. I live about a 1/2 mile west of Gosford and it sounds like it’s right behind by back fence. I’m afraid there will be a horrendous accident out there and someone not involved will be seriously injured. Castle and Cook could put a stop to this right away by addressing these gatherings and asserting their property rights. And, since they are Castle and Cook, I’m sure the police will find time for them. They certainly seem to be too busy for the rest of us....

Hummingbird1

Tragic accidents related to drag racing do happen. About 35 years ago, I worked in a trauma hospital in Orange County. A trauma code was announced and the patient was brought in...she did not survive. While the ER staff attempted to contact her family, I worked in a clerical position and was given the sad tasks to itemize the contents of her purse with the coroner. This occurred in December and she had Christmas lists for two little girls. She also had school field trip permission slips for the same little girls.

The accident was caused by two teenagers drag racing; both ran a red light and hit the woman broadside. I have never forgotten her name, how beautiful she was even though she was battered up and the fact that someone was going to have to tell her husband and two little girls that their wife and mommy was gone. Almost every Dec around Christmas, I think of this lady and her family.

I went back to my office after the coroner and I signed the chain of custody documents and sit down and cried. I do not remember what kind of sentence either boy received but so many lives were destroyed that day,including the racers and their families...it was such a senseless, tragic death and still bothers me today.

yorkies2014

Very Cool.....I thought it has been awfully quiet of the Eastside of town lately.....

Rdbinc

Mobile car crushers have proven to be an effective deterrent

Gene Pool Chlorinator

As have spike strips... [beam]

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.