Automobiles & Bikes

CHP looks to shut down sideshows with help from STREET grant

In 2021, the California Highway Patrol reportedly responded to calls to more than 7300 sideshows statewide, many of them here in San Diego County. Sideshows, or takeovers, take place when  car enthusiasts block off city streets and take turns performing stunts such as donuts, burnouts, and drifting. The street mayhem, which holds up traffic until the police sirens near the scene, is usually recorded and posted on social media.

On Halloween day, the California Highway Patrol was given a $2 million federal grant to combat illegal street racing and sideshows. The STREET (Sideshow, Takeover, Racing, Education, and Enforcement Taskforce) II grant is an extension of the $5.5 million the state allocated to the CHP for sideshow and racing abatement for 2022-2023 “The STREET II grant will enhance community outreach efforts and enforcement measures to protect the safety and well-being of California’s communities and ensure our roadways remain safe for everyone,” said CHP Commissioner Sean Duryee in a prepared statement.

The takeovers are popular partly because the action makes for popular content on social media — especially when a spectator gets clipped. But that very popularity can help provide incriminating evidence to police, who sometimes share the videos with media outlets in and effort to warn the public and possibly garner tips about the culprits.

Shortly before the STREET II grant was approved, San Diegan Mandelyn Gillis witnessed a sideshow takeover in Mission Valley. “Several times I’ve just seen all of the traffic blocked, then everyone doing the circles and donuts,” she said in a recent Channel 8 News interview. “It’s really disruptive. And it’s really loud.”

The video accompanying Gillis’ voiceover on the news report shows dozens of San Diegans surrounding a BMW and a Mustang doing donuts near a 163 freeway overpass. As the cars spin in tight circles, leaving circular skid marks on the asphalt, spectators can be seen standing in the donut “holes,” taking video of the spectacle.

On November 4, I interviewed both professional car and truck racers and amateur enthusiasts about sideshows at the Las Vegas Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show — the most prominent automobile trade show and car show in the world.

Cole Mamer, a 24-year-old professional off-road racing champion, lamented, “You see what it’s kind of doing: you see some people getting hit with cars and …. it makes it a tough market for the racing community. Because they make it seem like that’s all of us. And that’s not the case. Safety is our number one deal. There’s a reason why we run sanctioned events [where] they host track days, they host practice days.”

The original story was published in the print edition of the San Diego Reader on Nov. 30, 2023.

But in San Diego County: the only place people can legally race in a sanctioned environment is at the Barona Speedway. All other legal race venues in the county — including the former Qualcomm Stadium parking lot — have closed or been shut down.

Mamer, who lives by Glamis and frequents San Diego and the SCORE events in Baja, continued, “It’s tough.” Sanctioned events at authorized venues “are what really makes a lot of the younger generation come up and do this process right. I get it; we all like big horsepower and like doing donuts; we’ve all done it. But, there’s a time and place for it.“

Other racers I spoke with at SEMA shared similar sentiments regarding the lack of legal venues for regulated races, a lack which may contribute to the increase in illegal racing and sideshows. As San Diego racer John put it, “They are just having fun at those sideshows, bro. Where else can we go let off some steam?”

Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, a Hall-of-Fame former UFC fighter, professional off-road racer, and Instagram star, granted that “It’s very entertaining to watch [on social media] all of the idiots get hit. You know, the people trying to film just getting rear-ended with the back end, and thrown off their shoes.” But, he added. “If y’all wanna stand in a circle and be idiots, do it somewhere safe. Where they just lockdown streets — I don’t understand it.”