Those who have seen the movie American Graffiti understand the allure of drag racing for hot-blooded teenagers. Recognizing the danger of the strip, the operators of the Los Angeles County Raceway, in Palmdale, on the edge of the desert, came up with a safer outlet in which kids from ages 16 to 76 can express their need for speed. Since 1984 the LACR has played host to the Friday Night Grudge, a wildly popular amateur hour that lives up to its slogan: Run What Ya Brung. For $15 any dreamer with a valid driver's license can race his or her own ride on LACR's quarter-mile straightaway. On a typical Grudge night the nine staging lanes are crowded with everything from hubcapless station wagons to AC Cobras so immaculate you could slick back your hair in the paint's reflection.
"The need to go fast is human nature," says Bernie Longjohn, the CEO of LACR. "Kids have always come out to the desert to hot-rod, but after enough of them got killed on these back roads, we decided there had to be a better way."
Spectators and "crew" are charged only $5 to hang out and enjoy the action; they can fill their own tanks with hot dogs, hamburgers, fries and soda pop. Longjohn estimates that 80% of the crowd is teens and early twentysomethings. This might explain why there has never been a serious accident at the Grudge. "Most of these kids are racing their dad's car, or the first car they bought for themselves," says Longjohn. "Either way, one scratch is worse than death."