A safe place for speed
- Jill Foreman
- Gresham Outlook - Features
On Fridays and Saturdays, charity provides less dangerous option for street racing
There's more than one way to beat the heat. For the Gresham-based nonprofit Oregon Beat the Heat Racing Inc., one way to beat the heat is to provide it.
The organization promotes and conducts educational programs that provide youth with alternatives to illegal street racing.
On Friday and Saturday nights the Gresham group is at the Portland International Raceway, where drag racing for teens and adults is a safe, exciting and legal activity.
Citizens and parents can learn more about the supervised drag racing and Beat the Heat's other activities at Gresham Optimist's Benefit Cruise from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, July 1, at Gresham Kmart, 440 N.W. Burnside Road.
Gresham citizen Jim Klock and two local police officers concerned about a growing street racing problem in East County began the program in 2001. Beat the Heat Racing is a national organization started in 1984 with chapters in 35 states. Gresham's chapter was the first in the Northwest.
'It isn't just a racing program, it's an education program,' Klock says. 'The message is road safety, safe driving habits, and especially for young ladies who are dating guys who try to impress them by driving dangerously - it's OK to say no.'
Beat the Heat volunteers attend safety fairs and cruise-ins to distribute informational brochures. Klock says Saturday's event at Kmart will focus on safety with Oregon Department of Transportation's Team Safety, Mother's Against Drunk Driving and AAA. Residents can support Beat the Heat's mission by buying raffle tickets at the cruise-in for prizes ranging from expensive barbecues to rafting trips down the Rogue River.
Five years ago, hot summer nights were a perilous time for teens and adults satisfying their need for speed by racing illegally in the streets. Groups of more than 200 people would meet after dark and race illegally in Gresham.
'The sun would go down, and they would come out,' Klock says.
Illegal street racing is when two cars street race from a standing stop.
Seven street racing-related deaths were recorded in the Portland metropolitan area over three months between 2000 and 2001.
One of those who died was 11-year-old Krystal Pomante, a Corbett fifth-grader who was a passenger in a car in a deadly drag race on Stark Street in front of the then-Fujitsu plant on Dec. 31, 2001.
'Krystal was the straw that broke the camel's back,' Klock says sadly.
At the time Klock, a car buff, was a volunteer on former Gresham Police Chief's Bernie Giusto's 'Chief's Forum' and relayed community issues back to Giusto. Giusto asked him, as a car enthusiast, for his opinion about the street-racing problem.
'I told him, 'I would go out with a hot rod and challenge the kids to a race on a track that's legal,' ' Klock says.
So he did. Klock found the illegal racers and asked them face-to-face what it would take to get them off the streets.
The racers told him: Get us a place to race late at night.
Klock and Beat the Heat volunteers formed a partnership in 2002 with Portland International Raceway to offer late night 'drags' from 6 p.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays from spring through fall.
Klock says the positive response has been incredible. On any night there are between 800 and 1,000 spectators watching some 200 drag races. In the five years Beat the Heat has been promoting street safety there have been zero illegal street racing deaths.
'The little program we started in Oregon with PIR has gone national,' Klock says. 'It's not only a place to go to race cars, but a place to go that's safe. It's a gathering place.'
He remembers a particular moment at the track when a young racer told him: 'The sad part about it was she (Krystal Pomante) didn't have a choice.'
Today Beat the Heat offers a choice.
Each year Beat the Heat contributes to the Krystal Pomante Scholarship Fund. Saturday's Optimist Benefit Cruise at Kmart is a chance for visitors to contribute to the fund by participating in the 50-50 pot or paying to test reaction time against a drag racing simulator.
Late night drag races
Where: Portland International Raceway: 1940 N.W. Victory Blvd., Portland.
When: 6 p.m. to midnight, Fridays and Saturdays. Check schedule online at www.portlandraceway.com/drags.asp.
Cost: $20 to race, $8 spectator
Details: Must have a driver's license and helmet, all cars are inspected before racing, parents must sign minor release form if younger than 18, and no drugs or alcohol.
For more information: Call Jim Klock at 503-665-2802; Web site is www.port
landraceway.com. You also can call 503-823-RACE.
What: A fund-raising car show to support Gresham community projects.
When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, July 1. Open event/car registration starts at 10 a.m. (cost $10) for trophy categories.
Where: Gresham Kmart
Details: Show cars, educational displays, music, raffles, food by Burgerville, drag race simulator contest, 50-50 drawing.
Sponsors: Gresham Ford, MBank and Burgerville.
For more information: Call 503-665-2802 or 503-668-4706.