DALLAS — Almost every major city in Texas has some type of subculture where people meet up to show off their tricked out cars and do burnouts at large car rallies. Despite the pandemic, that activity has still been going strong.

What You Need To Know

  • Illegal car sideshows have increased since the pandemic

  • Dallas leaders passed an ordinance that expands who can be cited at these events

  • Dallas officers issued more than 300 spectator citations in September and October

The illegal activity that has picked up speed since the pandemic and commonly been referred to as “street racing,” is not the same as driving high rates of speed down highways or straightaways. These are car “sideshows" or “takeovers", with drivers, called “swingers," doing burnouts and donuts in the “pit,” surrounded by spectators.

Over the summer, Dallas Police officers were given another tool to help cut down on illegal street racing and trick driving exhibitions when Dallas City Council passed an ordinance that expanded who could be cited at these events. The ordinance also allows police to seize vehicles involved.

Some call these illegal car “sideshows" chaotic and a nuisance, taking to the NextDoor neighborhood apps to air their frustrations with the loud noise they hear often. Those that participate in the sideshows find them exhilarating, giving them an adrenaline rush — albeit an illegal one.

"What we're hearing in Dallas, the most recent, it's not really the street racing that occurred over in Fort Worth [recently]. The complaints I'm getting at my office are when these intersections are taken over by a group of — and I think they still consider themselves street racers — but they have cars that are tricked out sometimes. I’ve been hearing, I’m not a car person, but with all the things they've added to their cars, you know it could be worth up to $100,000."

District 13 council member Jennifer Gates said her office has been getting more and more complaints about these takeovers. Despite the risk of being ticketed or arrested, people are still willfully participating. Dallas Police has a Street Racing Task Force that’s been assigned to handle this issue, and in the months of September and October, officers handed out more than 300 spectator citations.

"It's kind of widespread throughout the city and racers come in, block off an intersection and as you mentioned, start doing donuts, sometimes involves fireworks. It's very intimidating, very scary. And it really to be honest, the neighbors feel very violated when it happens in their neighborhood. You know just, oftentimes very close to homes,” Gates said. “[DPD has] some intel that they're not sharing with us even as council members but obviously not with the public on how they try to get ahead of the racers and try to, you know, predict where they might go.”

But it’s not as easy as many community members would hope for police officers to just show up and shut down the events. First of all, the ones who plan these events are very secretive with where they plan to meet up, using a private Instagram account to post the location(s) for everyone to congregate. Then when the police show up, everyone scatters and heads to the next location. Secondly, the locations switch often. However, DPD released a map of the areas frequented to the Public Safety Committee in November. Third, participants of these meetups are often asked to block the intersections and police cars if they try to break up the event. Fourth, drivers or spectators involved may be using false license plates. So even if a neighbor reports the tag or sends in a picture, it could be bogus.

Dallas Police Racing/Speeding Hotspots report from November
Dallas Police Racing/Speeding Hotspots report from November

"I think the council, and I know DPD, we want a no tolerance policy. It’s dangerous. You know, this behavior at an intersection often it leads to racing from there, it could. Police do not chase. We have a no chase policy and that's really not to put more people in danger,” Gates said. “[DPD] identifies that area and if they come to that site and then people kind of scatter, dangerous behavior can potentially happen after that.”

Spectrum News spoke with a couple of avid car sideshow spectators and enthusiasts about why they go to these takeovers, even though they could get into legal trouble. The pair wanted to remain anonymous.

Spectrum News: Why is it something where you don’t want your face out there?

Interviewee One: “Because most people think it’s bad, they don't know what's really going on. They’re not on the inside.”

Interviewee Two: "I definitely understand everyone's point of view, but it's because I understand everyone's point of view and I just so happen to be someone who's on the other side and not that side, I enjoy it a bit more. Maybe it's because I am younger? It's just more exciting, it's more thrilling. But I mean everyone has that one thing that they're excited about, that they love to go do that other people don't enjoy.”

They say since the pandemic, these takeover meets have given them something to do, united by the same passion. They say it’s a melting pot of people from all different backgrounds, even different gangs, coming together.

“It's literally a safe place, especially in a time right now where it's kind of hard to have a safe place. You know, there’s no hate,” Interviewee Two said. "It's a huge mixture, a huge melting pot of just everyone coming in, whether you're an insane car enthusiast or Mopar or whatever it is, if you're Import. It’s literally, there's no segregation at all, everyone is coming in. Everyone wants to be a part of it, everyone wants to see Hellcat swing, everyone wants to see Scat Pack swing, Supercharged Z06’s.”

"Even the old school from the Monte Carlos out there, Camaros,” Interviewee One said.

"Yeah, they'll be all out here and they'll go crazy with the hydraulics and everything,” Interviewee Two said.

When asked why they do this, it all boiled down to the sideshow culture being something they find thrilling.

"The more you started to go, the more you get into it, the more crazier things start happening. The more nicer cars come in, people start doing crazier tricks: figure eights, going around poles, a car doing a donut in the middle while another car is swinging around it, three, four or five cars going, seven cars going all at once. You know, it's a real thrill, it's a real adrenaline rush,” Interviewee Two said. "The thrill you get from it, you know, even just being a spectator and just watching you know what I'm saying? The videos you can get, the clips. I've never seen four or five cars swing at one time. Like that's crazy. You'll never see that in NASCAR.”

When asked about the safety aspect, the pair equated it to skydiving or equally risky activities, saying “You can die skydiving. They could die,” and “Yeah, their parachutes malfunction and it happens, but it's because of that thrill.”

They also said there’s an accountability factor for people at these events. They also vet people on social media before allowing them access to the addresses of the takeover meets, and don’t allow drivers in the pit that aren’t qualified or skilled enough to swing.

“Those people who act out, which you can't control, but you obviously can control how you handle the situation, as a whole, that's when everyone gets together and handles the situation. ‘Hey man, what's going on? You need to cut that out. Hey man, hey stop this, hey man,’ you know as a collective, as a whole, because everyone's there to do the same thing."

For their meetups, drivers currently don’t have a legal space to swing. Oftentimes, events will be held in other major cities besides Dallas, and drivers and spectators will travel across Texas or even out of state for takeover meets. The pair we spoke to is hoping, in time, they’ll get a legal lot. 

"What I want to focus on is basically getting a legal a lot in Dallas. Why don't we invite the city council? Basically the city out to come in and see what's going on and see firsthand. And maybe it'll change the way that they think on different things that we're doing, and maybe see how they can help us. But other than that, they're not trying to do that so that’s why they’re gonna continue to do it in the streets,” Interviewee One said. “The reason why I guess they're feeling scared is because we're doing it in intersections and they're having it in different neighborhoods. They have to have them in different neighborhoods because where else are they gonna go?”

Councilmember Gates says getting a legal space from the city just doesn’t seem plausible, meaning the drivers would need to find a different route, possibly find a private landowner willing to take on the liability.

"I don't know if the city should be the ones providing that opportunity. I don't know if it's if there's a market for that to be done privately. I think there's a lot of safety concerns and obviously liability and risk in that that type of activity. If somebody wanted to put up a place — I that I think actually some of the actual real race tracks have — but it's very controlled and very supervised. I don't know if anybody would want to take on the liability to let people just, essentially, do donuts and treat a street like they were in bumper cars,” Gates said. "I don't see the city taking part in that.”

Gates went on further to explain why the city of Dallas isn’t likely to be a part of assisting these drivers in their search for a legal spot.

"It's not just a recreational activity that — it's illegal activity. They're using, essentially, these vehicles could become like a weapon. They're very heavy and if they go flying into somebody or another vehicle, it’s dangerous,” Gates said. "It's not like going out and playing soccer or football or another recreational activity that, you know, we need to find good places in our city and have those kind of healthy outlets. This is a dangerous activity. Our streets have a purpose for transportation and we need to be able to maintain a safe environment for people to move around our city.”

Gates said Dallas Police will ramp up enforcement and city council will be looking into additional options to deter drivers, like installing infrastructure at frequented intersections. Gates also says her office is working to hold a town hall meeting about this issue. She says residents are encouraged to call 911 if they witness any suspicious activity that could indicate groups are gathering or preparing to take over an intersection.

"Just because someone wants to do something, if it's an illegal activity and it puts others at risk, we can't allow that. I mean, we all want Dallas to be a safe place. People want to be able to drive home from work at midnight and not come upon a barricaded intersection and feel like they're in danger,” Gates said.

San Antonio law enforcement has also been dealing with an uptick of car sideshows. In October, San Antonio Police arrested a couple dozen people for “blocking intersections, doing donuts, throwing rocks and bottles at police vehicles, along with damaging property.” However, all but five of the cases were rejected due to insufficient information to support the charges.

About a week before those arrests, San Antonio Fire Department posted a picture stating “Recently, 30 vehicles blocked an intersection.” SAFD says those who sees this illegal activity are encouraged to call 210-225-TIPS.