Street Racing in Barranquilla

Motorcycles, street racing. Photo Credit:

“I bet you I’m faster.” Those are the words that plunge us into competition mode and different variations have been uttered since time immortal. I’m sure even the Roman centurions perfected the “Let’s race!” gesture.

Although people have been racing cars since the late 1860s, true sport racing – that is, competing with specially modified vehicles in a timed and regulated manner, really emerged in the 1930s. After World War II, the American car industry exploded, dropping relatively inexpensive cars into the average person’s hands. In the early 1950s, young men (and the occasional woman) with extra money on their hands began to experiment with their cars and eventually hot rods were born – highly tuned, high-performance street cars. In no time at all, police had their hands full with street racers, and as accidents began to pile up, the NHRA was born.

The NHRA (National Hot-rod Association) is a governing body which was founded in 1951 and whose initial goal was to encourage drag racing but discourage street racing. The NHRA set up chapters in several cities and began hosting events which attracted local youths and offered safer, organized venues for testosterone-charged young drivers. Nowadays, the NHRA has some 40,000 registered drivers across the Americas. The concept of hot-rods and souped-up cars isn’t limited to North America – indeed there are extremely strong sub cultures across Asia and in South America. Hot Rod Colombia Racing was formed in 2013 and is a great example of how far the culture will go.

My father was a professional race-car driver in the ’70s and ’80s and in fact, raced a fair bit in Trois Rivieres, Quebec – which, if you ask a Canadian, is the home of street racing. I asked him what the draw is for young people – what motivates people to disregard the danger and be so reckless?

“When you race, you get a rush as high as anything you’ll ever experience on any drugs combined with a sense of extreme accomplishment once it’s over.” – Robert Chartrand

Testosterone here in Barranquilla is no different than up north and the police here are having a difficult time catching up with street racers too. In fact, just the other night, in an effort to stem seemingly nightly, high-speed motorcycle races on the Circunvalar, the Secretary of Mobility, in cooperation with the transit police, executed an operation to stake out and arrest racers. In total, they impounded 5 bikes and arrested 6 people. Unfortunately, there are no statistics on street racing accidents; police haven’t started capturing racing as a variable.

The Secretary of Mobility, Fernando Isaza Gutiérrez de Piñeres, encouraged citizens to help improve upon the safety of the community by reporting illegal activity to the police. In a communique released by the city, he said “Let’s participate and disclose this message of respect for traffic rules, as a testimony of our citizens’ will to contribute in the process of building a respectful and organized life in this capital city. Let’s also think about caring and preserving our lives and those of others.”

Strangely, the local government has not seen fit to encourage would-be racers to head down to 1/4 Piques, an established drag race-way just a half-hour down the road, on the way to Cartagena. At 1/4 Piques, anyone can race their heart out but there are rules and safety teams in place to ensure people are safe and that accidents are minimized.


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In a former life, Mike was a corporate project manager in Canadian telecom. For the last 6 years, he has been traveling around Latin America, teaching English and writing. Mike now lives with his partner in beautiful Barranquilla.