NEWS

For the thrill and the money

Drag racers see their cars as something more than a means of transport, and spend enormous sums to improve their vehicles’ performance. As soon as the traffic light turns green, they put their foot down on the gas and keep it there. «Speed is a way of life, it’s really crazy. Some people like to spend their money in nightclubs, others in souping up their cars,» said Paris, the owner of a 350hp Fiat Punto. «But apart from being a way of life, it’s a good way to earn money,» he said. Those in the know say that drivers can bet up to 2,000 euros on a race. «I won’t wreck my car just for the fun of it. If I enter a race it’s purely for the money,» said Panayiotis, a motor mechanic and owner of a Ford Sierra. In some cases, the taste of victory is an even stronger incentive. «When I see a fast car ahead of me I chase after it. I want to prove I’m faster,» added Panayiotis. Drag racers’ favorite hangouts are on Vouliagmenis Avenue (such as the «Vouta» on the corner of Alimou Avenue), the «Mavri» in Glyfada, along the coast road after Vouliagmeni (Limanakia), in Kerata along the road to Lavrion and on the Athens-Lamia highway at Varibobi. «We used to hang out in these joints until the police got wind of them. We used to place our bets there and then race,» said Panayiotis. Now the big money is played only in places known to insiders, far away from the long arm of the law. «When word gets out about a race and the police show up, then nothing happens. The well-known spots are dead,» said Paris. The police are not always a deterrent; in fact, there have been cases where officers of the law have themselves taken part in impromptu races with their patrol cars. «Once I raced a policeman on a motorcycle and because I beat him he gave me a speeding ticket,» said Panayiotis. Drivers are usually youths aged 20-30 and spend thousands of euros on upgrading their mostly small or medium-sized cars. Older people are also involved, but usually avoid the races themselves. «A third of my customers have family cars which they upgrade for ‘energy safety.’ Others do it for a hobby, without taking part in races.The problems are created by the young people, whose parents buy them a small car. The youths then save up and turn it into a missile. Since they don’t have enough money to do it properly, they put themselves and others at risk,» said Giorgos, who works in a private motor improvement shop. Fanatics do not appear to be at all worried. «About 90 percent of hotted-up cars are safer than ordinary cars because their owners are always at the mechanic’s having them maintained. Elderly people are more dangerous because although they have reduced reflexes, they buy fast cars that they can’t control,» said Vassilis, who in the past has had some success in official races in the «N» category. «Most of us work on our cars as a hobby. But those who aren’t able to do so in an organized way will do so on the streets,» he said.