Street Racing in New York City
The way it was when they took it to the street
By Joe Oldham, Contributor | Published May 7, 2007
The following is an excerpt from the new book Muscle Car Confidential: Confessions of a Muscle Car
Test Driver by noted automotive journalist and frequent Inside
Line contributor Joe Oldham. Muscle Car Confidential:
Confessions of a Muscle Car Test Driver is available at
They say the first street race between cars occurred the day the second
car was built. I think there's a lot of truth to that old tale. Who
of you hasn't gunned it to beat out the guy next to you at a green
light at least once in your life? Some of you probably more than once
if you're reading this book. It's a rite of passage that has been
going on for eons.
Today, they make movies about street racing. "The Fast and the Furious" is essentially about
import tuner cars street racing in Los Angeles. There have been many
others over the years.
Yet, no one ever spoke about street racing out loud. Not in the muscle car era of the '60s.
So when I wrote the first article ever published on street racing, in
the August 1968 issue of Cars Magazine, it was shocking,
shocking, to thousands all over the country.
One of the people shocked out of their gourd was Wally Parks in Los Angeles.
Parks, a former editor of Hot Rod magazine, was now the
founder and president of the National Hot Rod Association. Parks
always claimed that one of the reasons NHRA was founded was to get
the racing off the streets of Los Angeles. Parks called me the day
the issue hit newsstands.
"Joe, how could you write such an article? Why would you glorify street racing like that? You've
just undone about 25 years' worth of hard work on the part of NHRA
and hundreds of us all over this country," Parks said.
It was a national thing. In the Los Angeles area where street racing may
have originated in the first place, you could find a run on Colorado
Boulevard in Pasadena and Van Nuys Boulevard in L.A. Detroit had its
famed Woodward Avenue but guys also raced out on I-75, I-94 and in
In the '60s in the New York area where I grew up, there were numerous places you could go street racing on any given
night of the week. Something was always happening on Cross Bay
Boulevard, Connecting Highway and Nassau Expressway, all in the
borough of Queens. In Brooklyn, street racers gathered in the parking
lot of Mitchell's hamburger joint on 7th Avenue in Brooklyn, then
went out under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, or to Second Avenue to
settle it. The Bronx had its White Castle on Boston Post Road or the
Adventurer's drive in. There were similar spots all over the country.
At various times over the years, I flew in to most of the spots in
most cities. But no place, no place, could touch the Connecting
The Connecting Highway. In New York in the '60s, this is where it was at in terms of big time street racing. The Connecting
Highway is actually a short stretch of roadway that connects the
Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to the Grand Central Parkway in Queens,
New York. All the big money runs took place at the Connecting, as we
All the real street racers knew this and so did the cops. In addition to holding the record for most street drag races in
one night, the Connecting Highway also held the record for the place
where the most tickets in any one night were given out and also the
record for most arrests of street racers in any one place.
In fact, Fred Mackerodt, managing editor and later editor in chief of
Cars magazine, was arrested at the Connecting Highway one
night while spectating. He wanted to see the spectacle with his own
eyes. He didn't believe it.
Even with all the police hassles, on a good night, you couldn't beat the Connecting for good racing.
One of the reasons it was so good is that it was all packed into one
little quarter-mile, from one underpass to the other. You could see
everything. Granted, it was easier for the cops to see, too. But if
you wanted to street race, it was done right at the Connecting.
I used to go there regularly to watch and to hear the stories. Got a
lot of good article ideas there and you would not believe some of the
stories. Like the time they towed in a Double A/Fuel Dragster up
there, rolled it off the trailer, fired it up, smoked the whole
length of the highway, then popped the chute as it went under the
second underpass. Right there on a public highway! It was a
common sight to see '55 Chevys and Willys gassers being towed into
the pits at the Connecting.
The "pits" were the two elevated service roads that flank each side of the highway itself. I
saw outlandish things there like transmissions being changed, slicks
mounted and shifters adjusted. Tuneups were common and didn't even
rate a second look, while a transmission or rear end change usually
gathered a crowd, because to change a transmission or rear right out
on a public street was a class move.
Spectators looked down onto the highway from the two guard rails that ran along the elevated
service roads. The rails kept cars, girls and other debris from
falling down onto the highway. It was common to see a bunch of guys
standing on the sidewalk along the pits only to be interrupted by the
screech of burning slicks and open headers bellowing up from the
highway. A run! Everyone immediately ran to the rails to look down at
the action taking place on the highway below.
There were always some drive-in poseurs making burnouts in the pits. But
this was frowned on by the real racers because it attracted the cops
and gave the cops a reckless driving excuse to bust everybody.
A lot of guys used to bring their chicks to the Connecting Highway to
watch the races and make out between runs. And there was always a
plethora of babes there on their own, looking to pick up guys. This
was something the serious racers had to put up with. With so many
people around making out, watching and cluttering the pits, it made
it a hassle to work on your car. But it was a happening.
At one point, because of the popularity of the Connecting Highway with
non-serious racers, the 114th Precinct of the New York City Police
Department staged a drive to shut down the Connecting once and for
all. The real racers moved to other less intense street racing
venues, returning to the Connecting only for the most serious of
money runs well after midnight. By that time of night, the hokey
people had left and there was money to be made.
Before midnight on any given night, the less formal venues thrived. Sounds
from the Clearview Expressway near Union Turnpike were a clear
indication that this was where the action was on that night. At
Clearview, the scene was a little different. The area under the
bridge where the expressway passed over Union Turnpike served as the
pits. The runs took place up on the Expressway itself. Runs went from
Union Turnpike to the next exit.
If you passed the White Castle at Parsons Boulevard and it was empty, you knew you had hit a
good night for racing at the Clearview Expressway up ahead. And when
you pulled up to the bridge, if you saw two cars making a left under
the sign that said "Throgs Neck Bridge," you knew you had
gotten there just in time to see a run.
It was harder to watch runs at the Clearview because you had to follow the racers in a car
to see what happened. There really was no viewing area, as there was
at the Connecting. This was good for money racing because the cops
weren't around constantly to clear out the spectators. There were no
There was one spot out in Queens that was the granddaddy of all street racing venues, save for perhaps a few blocks
in downtown Los Angeles — Cross Bay Boulevard. Today, Cross Bay is
totally developed with strip malls and tract housing running its
entire length from Southern State Parkway all the way to Rockaway
Beach. In those days, Cross Bay was a deserted strip of highway with
nothing but marshland stretching for miles on each side of the
roadway — and a legend.
Trouble was it got so big and so popular that the cops just shut it down. By the end of the '60s, no
one raced there anymore. Oh, you'd see some dumb clams throwing
powershifts around the Bay and hanging out in the pits just past the
first bridge. And there was always some goon doing a burnout out of
the Pizza City parking lot. But by 1970, the cops had shut down Cross
Bay and it was never again to be the scene of intense street racing,
as it was in the late '50s and '60s.
Then, the pits were packed every night and the racing was just about nonstop, the parking
lots of Pizza City and the Big Bow-Wow packed with guys on the prowl.
By the late '60s, you couldn't even breathe loud on Cross Bay without
getting a ticket. The racers even staged a protest one night,
complete with posters, signs and hundreds of cars slowly going the
speed limit up and down Cross Bay, protesting the harsh treatment and
"police brutality" being meted out to street racers.
Every so often in New York City, there was a crash and some guy died street
racing his muscle car. Naturally, the New York Daily News and
New York Post covered the incident in detail, with close-up
shots of the crushed GTO or the splintered fiberglass remains of a
Corvette. Then the politicos would decry the state of today's youth
and call for harsher police crackdowns on the street racers who were
threatening the life and security of all the good citizens of New
But a few weeks later, I'd be back at the Connecting Highway and, inevitably, some guy would pull into the pits
in a jacked-up Goat or a Hemi Road runner, roll down the window and
say something like "I'll run anybody here for any amount."
And Wally Parks got mad at me.