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Illegal street racing Colombo Sri Lanka

Sat, 3 May, 08

Postscript: The video clips in this post were taken around 2004-2005

illegal street races occur in Colombo -as with any city on the planet. The video clip below is a thin slice of the action. which makes illegal street racing yet another thing to watch out for when driving in Colombo – particularly at night.

As with most Colombo high income subcultures, the street racing scene is not huge but it is active – as the video below indicates. The video below does a good job of sampling a variety of racing situations to a very appropriate “gangsta” sound track.

From the Honda Club Sri Lanka events page, the more legitimate “car enthusiasts” scene with its harmless meet-ups seem quite social. Certainly brings out the babes. With that sentence I’ll be sending them a lot of traffic :) Interestingly, their home page has the following disclaimer:

WARNING ! Street Racing is a Dangerous Activity which could harm you as well as innocent by-standers and others on the street. Please refrain from street racing unless it’s in a safe controlled environment. Drive Safe, be a designated Driver..!!

Existence of risk in the scene naturally gets a mention in the papers. Usually in the supplemental pages that feature social problems such as culture (no that was not a typo).

The Sunday-Times’ article “The midnight roar” talks about the obvious law enforcement issue/pubic safety issue behind the partying face of street racing. However, the more telling discussions are on autolanka .com’s forums. A prow through the topics seem to indicate that the police is not a problem. Speed and the cost of fuel on the police budget keeps the law at bay. My spies (they are everywhere) tell me that the Police presence in the streets end after 3AM (Police officers don’t get overtime after this hour). I have never been able to verify and don’t intend to. Perhaps one of those rare owls who prowl the streets sober can chip in.

At the core of the issue is finding closed off strips of straight wide SMOOTH roads in Colombo. Duncan Udawatta ‘s article “Drag Racing in Sri-Lanka” on autolanka .com suggests a win-win reconciliation between the needs of racing talent seeking an outlet for expression and the public safety.. Namely to formally close off tree lined section of Ananda Comaraswamy mawatha (also called Greenpath) for organised late night races. Its the sort of idea requiring skilful persistence patience to convince sceptical people with very different world views. In other words – details details. Until then Colombo’s illegal street racers have plenty of other venues along with Greenpath.

Behind the politics there ARE real issues of life and death. I know of one fatality by a racer on Galle road. I was a kid at the time so the details are fuzzy. The driver was using the pavement to overtake when he killed a pedestrian who worked with my farther. The driver’s folk’s apparently offered the victim’s family a few thousand rupees. The figure that lurks in the fog of memory is Rs5000/-. That was sometime in the last decades of the 20th century.

Who are these racers? I don’t know any. My only encounters with them boils down to the two cars that whizzed past me on one of the rare occasions I was on the roads after midnight. The video below is what it felt like ;)

Such ignorance is fertile ground for sweeping assumptions unencumbered by facts. Hopefully such blind word shooting might motive someone knowledgeable to correct me.

Indulging in any kind of racing (in the third world in particular) you need very large amounts in hard currency. The kind of money that in Sri Lanka’s tiny universe also places you among people with influence. Influence is also necessary to smoothen the flow import duty burdened chariots. Not to mention esoteric parts and the ability to buy the mechanical skills if you don’t want to get your paws dirty.

The utility of influence that comes with such wealth is apparent if you do get into a problem with the law. The kind where charges (if any) can are dropped with a phone call and the constable responsible suddenly posted to Vauniya beyond the reach of a court appearance.

The other luxury is time. Its not just about avoiding the morning commute after a hard night’s racing. You need the time to tinker and spruce up your chariot. The rich brat factor will certainly buy you out of the need for a triviality like a job.

I have speculated dangerously to paint the racers as part of the eternal elite that stands above the law in most human societies through history. Specific people come and go but the Nomoklatura is forever. Better stop (note I didn’t pull a bad pun like “slam the brakes”) before I trundled off the topic from cafe talk speculation to the sloppy social commentary and political rants.

There has to be somebody better informed than me reading this. I’m sure they can find the comment box ;) below.

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37 Comments leave one →
  1. Sat, 3 May, 08 16:43

    Really nice post with horrible videos, I enjoy reading your post. Govt. should be more strict in this matter, other wise it will snatch some innocent life.

  2. Sat, 3 May, 08 18:39

    I knew there was some drag racing going on in Colombo, but never realised how active it really was :S I suppose the local Nomenklatura will assure that the consequences of any casualties, will be forgotten like yesterday’s newspaper.

  3. Sat, 3 May, 08 23:53

    Cerno there is another form of street racing which takes place during daytime. The difference here is that instead of cars, the vehicles which compete are buses. To add to the thrill, they usually have around 80 passengers packed in.

    Anyway as i heard most of these street racers (the ones mentioned in your post i mean) have in their gang the son of someone who has political powers. The maximum they will get is a warning in most cases.

  4. Sun, 4 May, 08 10:18

    waby: Thank you :) Happy you liked the post. Though I didn’t make any of the video – most likely they were shot on phone cameras.

    Vindi: Same here – but I guess youtube and fancy camera phones all contribute to inflating the brag factor :)

    Lightning_Struck_Tower: :) Yes but I think the Colombo traffic keeps that sort of racing at bay I think. Though in the “outstations” bus racing must be alive an well :)

  5. Mon, 5 May, 08 11:42

    As long as innocent bystanders doesn’t get hurt I don’t see anything wrong with it.

  6. Silver Tank permalink
    Mon, 5 May, 08 13:58

    Its May 2008… get a life man- your bringing up stories from 2005. Facinating you say that illegal street races happen in ‘any city’ in the world.. Care to back up your observation?

  7. Mon, 5 May, 08 14:48

    Lightning : Kinda irresponsible spreading that kinda rumor without proof innit? Is that motivated by jealousy or hate?

    cerno : You have asked someone more in the know. There are a lot more people far more in the know, but since I am able to comment, I shall. I’m not a racer, but I do have an interest in chronicling event, so… A little out of touch, since the scene isn’t as active as it was around 2004-2005, and it was quite dead for a long time. “Colombo’s” street racers had to go quite far outstation to run in peace due to cops, so Colombo itself is relatively quiet. And going far away does mean high fuel costs, which is not easy in these Chinthana days.
    BTW, most of your research is pretty far dated. The forum you point out is not in use. AutoLanka switched over to a new forum in 2006. The old one is only kept for archival purposes. Vids are pretty dated too. The times article was from 2004. And yes, it did annoy quite a few people with its uninformed reporting and putting down pure speculation as fact. The Honda Meet and Modifest were held on private land. And people who wanted to show off and endanger the safety of others were firmly told to leave. Oh, sorry to disappoint, but babes in the pics were professional models who were hired for the event. They wanted to try some “Hot Import Nights” kind of stuff. (google if you didn’t get it)
    Don’t mistake everyone who runs the street fast at night as “Street racer of that gang”. It is important to understand one important factor. These guys are all about the quarter mile. Start – go 400m – stop. The guys you encounter on the streets whizzing away are NOT part of the Drag scene. Back in the heyday, the racing happened late at night at Greenpath, and it was organized. There were people to make sure that the track was clear before any two racers set off. They were started off by a starter (as you see in the vid). When it moved from there to areas where there was a possibility of oncoming traffic, there were guys at the finish line with walkie talkies to make sure the road was clear before a run happened. Safety was of utmost importance. And due to that, there was never an accident while racing. Two incidents that come to mind was a speeding Wingroad on Marine drive loosing it and slamming into a parked car at Marine Drive. He wasn’t involved with any kinda racing, but coz the racers were there, guess who got the bad name? This was just John Q Public speeding while going home, not a racer. Two was a kid who had borrowed his friends uncles diesel full sized car and tried to show off while activities were wrapping up, succeeding only in hitting another vehicle and putting his own car in a stream. The guys on the scene call them “idiots”. You’ll know them on the forums. They tend to be the ones that write dragz for drags. They think its “cool”, you see.
    You’ll find the main players in this game are responsible individuals, who take safety as a priority. They have way too much pride in their machines and their skills to put themselves in a potentially unsafe situation where they wind up looking like idiots. Specially in front of their peers on the scene. Lots of these guys are so good they can tell whats wrong with a car by the noise as it goes past. I remember a guy remarking “There goes his bearings” as a car went past, and what do you know? His bearings had indeed gone. The trouble starts when kids think it cool to imitate what their elders do.
    Fatalities you speak of, and yes, we are aware of several that have happened due to speed, and not happened during organized street racing at night. Many involve liquor and thats not tolerated at the races, since these guys are concerned about their own skins too, they won’t consent to run with people who are under the influence.
    Besides, the interest of safety and the wish to not spend time in the police stations has led people in the scene into alternative. Try this

    There was even an event last month there,

    On another front, Colombo traffic cares not at all about racing buses, coz there is no possibility of getting a bribe from them, and there is the possibility of getting into trouble when a union rep decides to bring all public transport to a standstill coz they want to pardon a bus driver who broke the law. They’d much rather go after guy in cars, specially the ones with bodykits, on whatever trumped up charges they can think of.

  8. Silver Tank permalink
    Mon, 5 May, 08 23:16

    I guess Cerno now knows that he’s not the only one who can put up an opinion on online ROFL! having been around the scene for 6-7 years theres nothing but genuine facts in that previous post I must say :)))

  9. Tue, 6 May, 08 16:45

    Pericles Thank you for your detailed comment correcting me :) I stand corrected. Sorry your post got stuck in the spam filter.

    It seems that there are many kinds of racers out there though non racers seem to view them all as one group through a single stereotype.
    What is apparent is that those who go through the trouble of ensuring public safety gets associated with the nut-case who floors it after a few drinks. Accidents/deaths are the things that get reported. A good accident free race won’t make it onto the papers – though it will be common knowledge to those in the scene. Its a situation that tends to create stereotypes.

    Thankfully these get challenged by comments like yours.

    Silver Tank: “Any city” is a bad way to word it. So the fault is mine. Thanks for pointing that.

    The statement “illegal street races occur in Colombo -as with any city on the planet” was meant to highlight the notion that street racing is a global phenomenon – that people do race each other on vehicles outside formal events in urban setting. Looks like I compressed too much.

    I can see how it could be inaccurate since there has to be some cities where there isn’t any racing taking place. Pyongyang or Baghdad might be a few :)

    Wikipedia entry on street racing (perhaps not the greatest) has sub topics on street racing in East Asia, Australia, Europe and the U.S. The Times online has more on the racing sub cultures in the U.S The Post Gazette has an overview (circa 2006) on street racing in the middle east. The scene in Russia seems heading towards going pro. Moving on, there’s a 9 month old clip from Cape Town South Africa and another from Iran. That’s just a sample of what I could dig up in a quick web search. Then again it seems from this post that my web searches don’t hold too much water. ;)

    However I think what I’ve listed above justifies the notion that street racing is common phenomenon and that it tends to happen in urban centres.

  10. Tue, 6 May, 08 22:53

    Yes, as the saying goes, one “whoops” will wipe out a thousand “attaboy!”s. Although in this case, so far (touch wood) it hasn’t been their “whoops”, but it gets stuck on them.
    Besides, there are problems with the thing being so open. You can’t restrict people who want to show off from coming. Hence that guy who ended up in the stream. I full remember the first night I went to see this, there were actually families present to see the action. I remember a family who had spread a mat next to a van and having a full picnic while watching the races. Even Grandma had come! I even remember one day some ass was standing with his torso sticking out of a sunroof in a van that was pumping out loud music with his shirt unbuttoned, waving his hands about and screaming. Thats when the racers kinda exchange blank looks. Followed by rolling eyes, raised eyebrows, grimaces, “oh no”s. But you can’t tell them to go home. Its a public street and they can behave like that if they want too.
    So wannabes show up. Possibly get all charged up watching the action. Then think they want to try some of that in Mum’s sedan. Mums sedan cant take it, and neither can the driver. Trouble. At the scene, someone can tell them not to be an ass, and it might work. But there are too many need-for-speed players who forget that in the real world, when you knock ur car on something, there is actual damage, unlike in the game. But the point is, you can’t hold the responsible racers accountable for that, and more than you can hold them responsible for random guys breaking the laws of the road. Street Racing is wrong, dangerous and illegal, and technically, it is irresponsible to break the law by doing it. And everyone is aware of Mr. Murphy. Mr. Murphy visited a driver during the Nuwara Eliya Road Races, and despite all the SLAS safety regs (roll cage, helmet, etc) he didn’t make it. But it is wrong to lump street racers as some sort of threat to public safety. The drag boys on Green Path have kept it safe, and their record is, AFAIK, unblemished.
    Just to add, since we don’t have any purpose built locations, the next best place is actually Independence Avenue. IMHO. Don’t know if it has enough run-off tho. Can be easily closed off, non residential, so the noise wouldn’t bother homeowners, and there is a large enough spot to gather. If it could be done legally. Unfortunately, while it runs as illegal, with Cinnamon Gardens Police within hooting distance and a high security zone at the end, it will never happen. Pity. Even more, if we didn’t have a war going on, it opens the runways at Ratmalana for a possibility of weekend fun. However, if my Aunt had ……, she’s be my Uncle, so its useless thinking of “If only”.
    Green Path, despite the popularity, is far from ideal. There is a bend, there is usually some amount of traffic even late at night, and the trees growing in the middle cause the road surface to be uneven. But then, where in Colombo can you find smooth roads? There is some idiot on a mission to break up each and every road in Colombo for the purpose of laying pipes or some such rot, and doing a really bad job redoing the road again.

  11. Wed, 7 May, 08 14:26

    Pericles: Sadly I think the perception issue is due to the tendency for people to generate a flat stereotype about a group of people based on negative news caused by a hand full of nut cases. bad news sells I guess..

    Independence Avenue – your idea makes a lot of sense. I suppose the races will have to be short ;) In a different Sri Lanka I think it would be a fun event. Though as you say it feels like a far away dream. If Only indeed.

    What about Katukurunda airfield near Kalutara? Is it partially used for races/meets these days? I remember going there as a kid to see a race. The noise scared the pants off me 8O I know with airspace restrictions etc and the air force has a presence there – though it seems to be open for civilian use. Is the security establishment willing to make any allowances for civilian events in less high security airfields (if there are such things)? I don’t suppose the Ruhunu Open Skies thing would extend to activities on the ground…

  12. Silver Tank permalink
    Wed, 7 May, 08 15:25

    Inde. Av. will not work as a drag strip ever unless you break a bit off Inde Sq. :P you need 400m as a drag strip and around 150m or so for safety- probably one of the best roads in Colombo though

  13. Thu, 8 May, 08 17:00

    Not sure about the length, and I think I’ve heard the too short theory too. Cerno, I meant drag racing. Not a circuit type race.
    Katu races still happened. Check out the autoLanka galleries http://www.autolanka.com/gallery/ . I’m not sure about this year though, due to the attack at Anuradhapura last year after the races. However, they did have Foxhill in the Diyatalawa camp, so you can never say. Though I am taking about SLAS approved club-organized circuit racing. Even enthusiasts clubs have track days at Katu. http://autolanka.fotopic.net/c1326542.html
    Anyway, they had the MRA drag races at Katu a few years back. http://preveenr.fotopic.net/c619207.html Its mentioned in that Times article you quoted. That comment is correct, many people think its too far, and since these drags are a night event, its too far for people to travel. Besides, its too warm during the day in that open field. Same would apply to Koggala. This is not even considering the security situation. Otherwise, considering the number of people who party at Hikkaduwa, starting early evening and finishing early enough to let people hit the Hikkaduwa clubs later just might have enough appeal to it.

  14. David Blacker permalink
    Thu, 8 May, 08 17:13

    Baseline Road’s a good stretch if you close off the junctions at Narahenpita etc.

  15. Thu, 8 May, 08 17:18

    @David : Thats been done too. Too much traffic even at night.

  16. Silver Tank permalink
    Fri, 9 May, 08 08:42

    Base line road is a critical path in the country’s highway system- lots of container’s need access to the road- you cant just close a part of it off

  17. Fri, 9 May, 08 14:05

    Quite a few interesting ideas :) Eventually something should work out.

  18. David Blacker permalink
    Sat, 10 May, 08 11:27

    I just find Greenpath too uneven a road. With a stiff suspension you get chucked all over the place. I guess the trucks on Baseline are a prob. I think the Bamba end of Marine Drive’s pretty good as an alternative.

  19. AndrewGTR permalink
    Mon, 12 May, 08 07:54

    Baseline Rd, GP, Marine Drive (section 1 and 2 affectionately known to us) have all been done before. The cops are aware of these roads and always close in quick. As we always do the best bet is to get to a location close the road for a few mins run the drag and then leave asap. This has been working for sometime now. Its not as fun and does not have the atmosphere that we love but for the drag-loving crowd that want to compete and compare their cars its the best option available. Pericles you know we have a few good months coming up soon! :D

  20. AndrewGTR permalink
    Mon, 12 May, 08 07:56

    BTW Cerno, the first and last videos you have posted in the article are mine. They were taken way back in 2004 and 2005.

  21. Mon, 12 May, 08 09:05

    AndrewGTR: Thank you for the input :) I’ll leave them unless you want the video clips removed.

  22. Sun, 25 May, 08 15:23

    A little addition to the “Alternatives to street racing” theme.

  23. Mon, 26 May, 08 06:50

    Pericles: Thank you for that :) Will get around to a airport run post eventually..

  24. Wed, 18 Jun, 08 01:55

    you can check out some great street racing and car videos here http://www.autopowervids.com

  25. Mon, 8 Sep, 08 18:14

    well hello there!!
    its mack from s.a ,alright let me come straight to the point , we got a motor club here(horn bill rally) , we have more than 1300 members from all over africa and from arab continent… if your club got a name and registered let us know , we can arrange rallies here in africa and in srilanka (bcoz iam a hardcore lankan), we sponsor 30% of the rallies conducted here.. if interested pls drop a mail tnx…..

  26. Mon, 8 Sep, 08 19:24

    Macky: You need to hook up with Pericles of http://www.autobotswana.com/ http://www.autolanka.com/ :) Curious to here hear about Sri Lankan racing in Botswana :D

  27. Thu, 25 Sep, 08 23:27

    Technically, Pericles is from autoLanka and hasn’t been to autoBotswana in quite a while. The founding father of AutoLanka and AutoBotswana resides in Botswana tho, Chap by the name for Duncan Udawatta. Mentioned in the article. Interesting timing tho, as the Mazda and Ford Owners Club (MFOC) is in the process of planning a fun rally here in the coming month. Talk to Duncan and see if you want to help out. :)

  28. Fri, 26 Sep, 08 14:11

    Pericles yow :oops: v.v.v.v.v.v Sorry. my sloppy copy + pasting. I should have pasted the auto lanka url instead. My apologies.

  29. WaRFreaK permalink
    Thu, 20 Aug, 09 18:52

    Street Racing in sri lanka is almost dead. iv some vids of races in 2004 an 05. if anyone know locations of races plz tell.

  30. iNFINITY9910 permalink
    Tue, 20 Oct, 09 15:00

    I came across this web page while i was searching for something else. Street Racing is widely misunderstood in SL because of the video games. Especially Need For Speed series. Young guys aged around 19-21 think that its the same in the streets as the game. And end up screwing the car and sometimes the life. I’m from Kandy and I know that we used to have some street racing here as well, but it just died down with the roadblocks and the police checkpoints being placed in the new Peradeniya road. They were really amateur races when compared with the racing that happened in Colombo, i was lucky enough to witness one of these races in Colombo once. But there are racers in Kandy who do a race or two a month. Especially after parties, i know of incidents where people were injured due to this(majority are observers). Mostly because these were irresponsible racers who drive at around 9-10 pm. It is not the time to do any street racing as there will be people in the town. The other fact is that a lot of Bike races do happen in Kandy. That i dont have much details though… Anyways, i dont think that Street Racing is that bad when compared to all the laws that other people break while driving. But it is something inevitable with the urban culture.

    • Wed, 21 Oct, 09 14:42

      Thank you for that report from the hills :) I agree that the racing thing is a consequence of urban culture.

  31. Rushan permalink
    Mon, 4 Jan, 10 12:36

    guys .. the kanway autodrome at mirigama seems to be a good venue.
    maybe the drag community can work out a plan with the track owners for some serious action on friday/saturday nights.
    http://www.facebook.com/#/pages/Mirigama-Sri-Lanka/Mirigama-Super-Racing-Track/115547376623?ref=ts

    • Wed, 6 Jan, 10 14:11

      Do you have a public link which doesn’t require a facebook login?

  32. Rushan permalink
    Thu, 7 Jan, 10 15:47

    Try this.
    http://www.srilankamotorcycleclub.org/html/events.html

  33. Tue, 4 Oct, 11 14:00

    CSN Officially will legalize Street racing and drag racing soon!.dont worry people

    • Tue, 4 Oct, 11 18:09

      Thankfully I’m not worried :)

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  1. State of change and Colombo’s street races « Cerno

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