Around 2 a.m. on a recent Sunday at a gas station in Queens, heavy-duty auto engines rev conspicuously. Clutches of twentysomething guys — and a few young women — group around customized, low-to-the ground Hondas, Mustangs and BMWs. They pass joints, talk about horsepower, and issue challenges to race.
Most every weekend, racers meet up — as The Post has previously reported, the areas with the most 311 complaints are Richmond Hill’s 124th Street, Frances Lewis Boulevard in northern Queens and Leo Fracassi Way in The Bronx — to race illegally, at speeds of up to 160 mph.
“This is the thing I’m passionate about,” said one racer, alongside his Acura Integra, its hood removed to reveal a spotless engine. “I’m not letting anyone get in the way of my passion.”
At the gas station — colloquially known as “E-85” for the racing fuel it sells — word spreads that two contenders are ready to go. Suddenly, cars skitter onto the street, spewing exhaust as they head for Nassau Expressway. Leading the way is Jimmy, a 22-year-old from Jamaica, Queens, behind the wheel of a 225-horsepower 1994 Honda Civic with the gas tank re-situated in the trunk to enhance fuel flow.
Out on the highway, all cars brake to a stop, blocking traffic.
At the front of the pack, Jimmy spins his front tires (a procedure known as a “burn out”) to improve traction. His opponent, also in a Honda, does the same. Standing between the two cars, a man forcefully drops his arm in a simulation of a starting flag.
The opponents scorch down a quarter-mile of blacktop, getting up to 120 mph and leaving behind smells of burnt rubber and spent E-85. The race lasts less than 30 seconds, then the expressway traffic is allowed to resume its normal flow.
Back at E-85, Jimmy accepts a fist bump in celebration of his win. Although he sometimes races for money — as much as $600 per run — this one “was for competition,” he said.
A regular participant told The Post that racing has led to crashes on the Belt and Southern State parkways.
In January, at a hot street-racing spot along Review Avenue in Long Island City, a racer nicknamed Mello smashed into a street pole at high speed. Paramedics pronounced him dead on the scene.
Spookily, the spot, in the shadow of the Kosciuszko Bridge, is known as “Cemetery” for the Calvary graveyard that lies alongside it.
“Racing has gone on there for at least 30 years,” said NYPD Capt. Michael Gibbs, of the 108th Precinct, which counts the avenue in its turf. He actually grew up in the neighborhood. “Maybe, when I was a kid, I allegedly went there and watched [racing],” he admitted. “I never thought I would be on the enforcement end.”
But not long after he became captain of the 108th in January, Gibbs prioritized putting a stop to the racing. His most recent action was to order the deployment of speed bumps along Review Avenue.
Hearing about the speed bumps, one racer at E-85 shrugged it off and mysteriously said, “We have ways to work around [that].”