The success of "The Fast and the Furious" further fuels street racers' need for speed.

With its wide, tree-lined avenues, sturdy brick homes, neatly parked Volvos and tranquil waterfront, Bayside, N.Y.—about a half hour outside Manhattan—seems like the poster town for sleepy suburbia. But on this Friday night, a scene that’s practically been an American rite of passage since the days of James Dean unfolds: An aqua Ford Probe and cherry red Volkswagen Jetta—both sporting shiny paint jobs, lowered suspensions, tinted windows, and huge, showboaty rims—idle at a stoplight on nearly deserted Francis Lewis Boulevard. As soon as the signal flickers green, the vehicles—blowing past a 35-mph-speed-limit sign—barrel down the street in a cacophonous cloud of roaring mufflers, grinding gears, and squealing tires.

Sounds like something right out of a movie? Well, it is—The Fast and the Furious. One of the well-known street-racing drags in New York, ”Frannie Lew” was among the places mentioned in the Vibe magazine article that inspired the Rob Cohen-directed summer smash. And thanks to the $141 million-and-counting sleeper hit, the underground world of illegal street racing is getting a shot of pop-culture NOS. (For those who haven’t been in a garage lately, NOS is a brand of nitrous oxide system used to kick up a car’s speed.) According to the Specialty Equipment Market Association, the automotive specialty-equipment market grossed more than $24 billion in 2000—and sport compact cars (like those featured in Furious) are the fastest-growing segment of this market. In fact, according to SEMA, retail sales of accessories for these types of cars vroomed up 59 percent in 2000 (to $1.2 billion), with approximately 72 percent of the consumers between the ages of 16 and 25.

In cities such as L.A., Orlando, and San Francisco, police are reportedly cracking down on aspiring Vin Diesels with stiffer penalties, increased patrols, and suspension-mangling speed bumps. Unfortunately, in the week of the film’s opening at least five people died in drag races around the country. ”They’re at that age where they’re too young to get into the bars, but they’re old enough to drive,” says New York City Police Department officer Ray McPartland, whose precinct patrols the boulevard and doubled its street presence prior to Furious‘ release. ”They’re souping these cars up, they’re tinting them out—they’re all pimped out.”

Take New York’s George Giannakopoulos, 21, a racer who, after ascertaining that his questioner isn’t an undercover cop, admits to seeing Furious seven times since its June release. He’s chilling in the parking lot of Deli Bizzz, a 24-hour convenience store on the strip where about a dozen would-be speedsters (oblivious to the establishment’s one-hour parking limit) try to find racing partners. Leaning against his souped-up electric blue 2000 Honda Civic, the plumber by day estimates he’s sunk more than $7,000 into the car. ”It’s the competition,” he says of his late-night obsession. ”You put all these parts in your car and when you get beat by a person, all you wanna do is go back, change the part, and make sure you go back and beat him.”

The Fast and the Furious
  • Movie
  • 140 minutes