City seeks ways to discourage illegal sideshows

MARTINEZ, Calif. – In July, three people were arrested and 43 others were ticketed in July during a breakup of an illegal reckless-driving “sideshow” in Antioch that attracted about 200 people, according to the California Highway Patrol.

In September, Oakland Police issued numerous tickets and had about 100 vehicles towed after sideshow drivers interfered with traffic on three sites, McArthur Drive, High Street and International Boulevard and 42nd Avenue and Interstate-880.

Some reckless drivers not only shut down area highways, but also have dared to use the Bay Bridge to stage their acts.

On Alhambra Valley and Bear Creek roads, where some people ride horses, sideshow drivers have interrupt traffic.

Pavement in multiple Contra Costa County cities bear the circular burnout scars where sideshow drivers were “doing doughnuts” – Pleasant Hill and Concord shopping center parking lots and in Martinez, Waterfront Park near the marina as well as in East Bay Regional Park District areas.

Sideshows also have become a problem near the Martinez Marina, where an Alhambra High School sophomore was injured while riding in a car that apparently was spinning before it overturned.

Even before this accident, the city of Martinez as well as Contra Costa County have sought ways to prevent sideshows by making drivers’ preferred sites too uncomfortable while keeping them open for their intended uses.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the area’s largest racetrack said there alternatives that are both safer and legal for those determined to feed their need for speed.

Martinez Police responded earlier this month to the accident that involved the Alhambra High School student, , said Chief Manjit Sappal. The boy remains hospitalized from his injuries, and his recovery could require both of his parents to care for him once he is released.

“What we found was that the injured student was a passenger in the car while the driver was ‘spinning doughnuts’ in a manner consistent with sideshow activity,” Sappal said.

“The student was sitting on the door frame with his body outside of the window of the car when he was ejected after the driver lost control of the vehicle,” he said. “The vehicle eventually rolled onto its passenger side.”

The student wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, and suffered severe injuries, Sappal said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family during this difficult time.”

Sideshows and reckless driving have been ongoing problems at the marina, he said. Plus, it’s hard to enforce or prevent.

“The area is isolated from view, and it is not uncommon that when the police department responds, the officers can be seen responding as they drive toward the parking lots where the sideshow activity is occurring,” he said. That’s because of the layout of the roadway, which allows offices to be seen long before they reach the parking areas, he said.

That makes it harder for officers to see the illegal activity for themselves, and that’s an important point, Sappal said.

Because reckless driving is considered a misdemeanor crime, an officer needs to witness the activity in order to make an arrest, Sappal explained. “For a misdemeanor, this usually results in a citation being issued at the scene or after a physical arrest.”

If a witness who sees the activity makes a private person’s arrest, the officer also can take action, making an arrest on suspicion of the crime even when it wasn’t committed in the officer’s presence, he said.

“This can be challenging for reckless driving issues at the marina” Sappal said

Because the marina area has a history of sideshows and reckless driving, Martinez Police sends officers to patrol the marina, looking for suspicious activity. Sappal said officers try to respond quickly once they get a report of a sideshow.

“While enforcement is important, prevention is just as important,” Sappal said. “We have explored other potential solutions to curb this type of behavior.”

They’ve considered installing cement parking strips to limit the amount of room cars have to drive in a reckless manner, he said. “But two issues came up during the discussion.”

First is the cost. But second is that once those stop bars are in place, it changes the ability to use the marina parking lot as it was intended, Sappal said.

These are multiple-use lots, he explained. “They were designed to allow boat trailers to park.” A vehicle towing a boat trailer takes much more space than are found in conventional parking stalls, he said. Spaces with stop bars often don’t accommodate vehicle-trailer combinations.

In addition, the parking lots are used for a variety of other events. Changing the configuration of the lot could impact those uses, too.

However, there is a different alternative that also is being considered by Contra Costa County – raised traffic markers.

These are similar to the raised dots that mark highway lanes. But these are bigger hemispheres than the reflective “Botts’ Dots,”“turtles” or “buttons,” as the markers that define roadway lanes are sometimes called. Put enough out in a parking lot, and they could make a sideshow spin a rough ride indeed, proponents say.

“These would allow cars to park and drive in the lot, but make it difficult for cars to ‘spin doughnut,’” Sappal said. And the city is on board with giving them a try.

“We will be installing these markers and evaluating their effectiveness,” Sappal said.

In addition, the city is considering installing public safety cameras to monitor those parking lots, alert police about illegal activities and provide evidence of vehicles involved in illegal activity. “The cameras will allow us to focus on prosecuting the offenders for reckless driving,” he said.

Another approach Sappal said Martinez Police will do is to increase its educating youth on the dangers and consequences of sideshow driving. In the past, Martinez Police have given presentations at Alhambra High School that let students see the impacts drugs, alcohol and texting have on their driving ability.

“The recent incident is tragic and preventable,” he said. “We do plan on reaching out to Alhambra High School to explore the possibility of conducting a presentation for students and parents on the dangers of reckless behavior behind the wheel.”

In describing the dangers of reckless driving, Sappal said, “We wish to focus on those that drive in hopes of raising awareness about the consequences of this type of behavior as well as the importance of wearing a seatbelt and following safety practices that are known to save lives.”

He’s worried that once the raised pavement dots and cameras are in place near the marina, sideshow drivers will move elsewhere.

“But if we can work with the schools, parents and – or – community to reinforce good driving practices and good decision making, we may prevent the needless loss of life or significant injuries in the future.”

In past decades, particularly when the hot rod culture was developing in Southern California, some youth would test their rebuilt cars in drag races on back roads. To combat that illegal activity, drivers were encouraged to shift their contests to a growing number of drag strips.

While Sonoma Raceway has no spots for sideshow doughnuts, Diana Brennan, vice president of communications and marketing, said it has plenty of opportunities for youth to drive fast in competitions.

In one Sonoma Raceway series, youth can challenge a police officer to see whose car is faster. Another event focuses on handling style.

The track’s Wednesday Night Drags, a public racing activity, has been going on for 30 years.

“The popular Wednesday Night Drags program has helped local drivers fulfill their need for speed,” Brennan said. The events allow licensed drivers a safe, legal and controlled environment to race their cars on the Sonoma Raceway quarter-mile drag strip.

Those races take place from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesdays, and gates open at 3:30 p.m. Vehicles are inspected prior to racing, and can be cars or motorcycles.

Participants range from teenagers to parents, working professionals and other types of motorists, who bring Corvettes to mini-vans to race.

Up to 300 cars are allowed to compete each Wednesday, and each event attracts from 900 to 1,200 competitors and spectators. Rules are available at

Sonoma Drift is another event that attracts both competitors and fans from throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Each night features a series of competitions that showcase both single-car and tandem drifting.

Drifting is a driving competition that became famous in Japan in the 1970s and has grown worldwide

It’s judged on speed, angle, showmanship and the line taken through a set course, rather than who finishes first.

Sonoma Drift runs concurrently with Wednesday Night Drags. Drifting takes place from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the road course and continues from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. behind the main grandstand.

Sonoma Drift vehicle entry is $40 in advance and $50 at the gate. Spectator admission is $10. Those 12 and younger are admitted at no charge. Registration and the rulebook for Sonoma Drift is available online at

High school students can drag race a police officer – without facing any legal trouble afterwards –in Top the Cops.

Top the Cops was started by Kevin McKinnie, a retired police officer, as a way to reduce illegal street racing in Santa Rosa and to encourage those who want to race to drive on the track instead.

McKinnie said nowhere else is this type of program offered regularly.

It’s a series that welcomes young drivers to pit their skills and vehicles against area law enforcement officers, who compete in full uniform in their official vehicles on the track’s drag strip.

Top the Cops runs in conjunction with Wednesday Night Drags from mid-April through August. When they resume next year, practice runs will start at 4 p.m.

A video illustrating the program is available at

Sonoma Raceway has racing opportunities for even younger drivers. The Simraceway Performance Driving School offers karting classes and races for children as young as 13, although adults of any age participate, too.

Pro National Karts’ open practice are taking place Sunday, with Karts and Moto Pro National practices Monday and Wednesday. The Race Karting experience is available for booking Nov. 3, and Kart Racing School Stage 2 can be booked Nov. 4, and Kart Racing School Stage One can be booked Nov. 18.

Go karting often is the first step that leads to professional motorsport careers, although others find the affordable racing form exciting, too. Those younger than 18 must have parental or guardian permission.

Classes start at $295. Those interested may visit the webpage

One Reply to “City seeks ways to discourage illegal sideshows”

  1. A simple response to discourage “Sideshow” activities:
    In a public spectacle, the cars are crushed and then sold as scrap – I don’t care if it’s a $100K car… it IS scrap. Driver’s licenses are stripped for a set time period (at minimum 6 months IMO) for Driver AND any participants.

    Yes, this probably requires catching the fools, but there needs to be *real* consequences. If the cars are crushed, then they can no longer be wrongfully used. The only leeway I would allow is if the car were stolen, then not crushed (return to owner), but the terms of punishment then must include vehicle theft and should be ramped up *significantly*.

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