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Racing - from street to strip

'The Cowboy' brings safety program to Mason-Dixon Dragway

'The Cowboy' brings safety program to Mason-Dixon Dragway

August 04, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

BOONSBORO -- Gunning down the track at the Mason-Dixon Dragway Sunday, Michael Stevenson's ride stood out from the tricked-out sports cars and fierce-looking drag bikes.

Painted black and white and complete with whirling red and blue lights, the "Kop Kar" bore its message in bold stick-on letters: "Street racing is a CRIME. Drag racing is a SPORT."

Stevenson, a passionate anti-street racing advocate nicknamed "The Cowboy," was at the Mason-Dixon Dragway Sunday to raise money for the Street to Strip Drag School, a free program he runs in York, Pa., to teach young people to race safely.

"Not enough emphasis is put on driving and the responsibility that goes with it and the danger that it holds," Stevenson said. Auto crashes are the leading killer of youth between 16 and 25 in the United States, above drugs, alcohol and suicide, he said.

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In its fourth year this summer, Stevenson's drag racing course runs for four weeks, with classes three nights a week. Through videos, guest speakers and trips to area tracks, Stevenson encourages his students to trade risky street racing for the safer drag-strip sport. The course is about drag racing, but also about respect, he said.

One of his techniques is to show documentaries about young World War II soldiers and the risks they took for a cause they believed in, followed by a clip of a typical street racer talking about his desire for an adrenaline rush.

"It kind of makes what you're doing look childish," Stevenson explained. "It shows you that street racing is just for a lot of immature show-offs."

Another eye-opener is being visited by mothers who have lost their sons in drag racing or drunk driving accidents, said Josh Darbrow, 18, of York Haven, Pa., who took the course this summer.

"That's something you don't really think about too often, that people could get hurt because of you," Darbrow said.

Stevenson said he didn't know of any similar programs in the Hagerstown area, but he encouraged parents to pass on his message about the danger of street racing themselves.

"When you see Johnny in the garage putting an alternator on his car, you should ask some questions," he said.

Charging $20 for a chance to race the Street to Strip team and win a gift card from Advance Auto Parts, the school raised $420 Sunday, enough to pay the rent on the program's headquarters for the next three months, Stevenson said

Even more important, he said, was the opportunity to get his message out to another group of young racers.

"Racing on the street proves nothing except that you're an idiot, and the only prize you're gonna' win isn't going to be from Advance Auto Parts," he said. "It's going to be 15 years in jail."

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