Teens race on a Virginia backroad, but state troopers shut ’em down.
Illustration by Gary Hovland
In August 1966, in Franklin County, three kids choreographed a two-car drag race. This Indie 500 was to have been a forum for Richard Petty wannabes Charles Lynch and Danny Daniels, both 18, of Rocky Mount, and sidekick Jerry Liggett, a serviceman from Missouri, also 18. But they got popped along with eight others—pretty much just spectators—who wound up in hot water too, reported Rocky Mount’s Franklin Gazette.
State troopers, acting on a tip, had staked out a stretch of Virginia Route 40, and waited as the event took shape. A passel of kids gathered at Sink’s Restaurant, along the race route, “to get something to eat,” they said, and await the excitement. Two said they were getting a bite before a church meeting. (The restaurant was closed at the time.) The officers said they heard no mention of a race, but “the boys were talking about the cars and how powerful the engines were.”
As the boys moseyed to the roadside to spectate, a “yellow car” and a dark “’66 car” were gearing up at the top of a hill. Shy a pistol, someone tooted a car horn to get things going, and “the cars started off,” said an officer, though “within the speed limit.” When they approached, the police nabbed them.
The case went to court the next month, and Lynch, Daniels and Liggett were convicted of highway racing. They were fined $100 and lost their driver’s licenses for six to 12 months, the Show Me sidekick getting a lighter rap. Eight of the kibitzers were charged with “condoning, encouraging, promoting and being a spectator.” The troopers saw the boys watching from the roadside, but the “youths” testified that they hadn’t been, though one allowed that when he saw the cars coming, he hid behind a tree to watch. One was spared charges thanks to alcohol, telling the court that he had been drinking and so stayed in the car at Sink’s, claiming he “did not know what had gone on that night.” These eight were found not guilty, but not before the judge had given them a good talking-to. “I don’t have any evidence that they were participating in the racing,” spake he, “but I didn’t like their attitudes. They didn’t want to testify to what they knew or had seen.” Aw, snap! “If you want to get out there and see racing going on, your duty is to get an officer and stop it.”
It would seem that in a half-century, with families going from one-car to two-cars (at least), with the population boom and even the most country of roads metamorphosing into something more crowded and pretty suburban, the drag race might have faded away thanks to logistics. Not so. In Virginia, dragging has even expanded into cities and is now dubbed “street racing.” Four years ago in Virginia Beach, teenagers in two cars were tearing down Lynnhaven Parkway. One swerved into a tree, ejecting and seriously injuring two boys before colliding with the other car. And this past May, a woman and her son in Campbell County were swarmed by a dozen cars going 60 or 65 mph in a terrorizing act of road rage. Street racing is deemed reckless driving by the Commonwealth, often classed as a misdemeanor, but when it causes injury or death, it’s felony time. So if you’re tempted to rev up, think you better slow your Mustang down.