JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The News4JAX I-TEAM has been covering the issue of car meetups for several months as many participants in the local drag racing scene have been under scrutiny for illegal meetups and drag races all over Jacksonville. Many drivers have said the solution lies in Jacksonville building a track.
This issue came to a head over the past weekend when the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office arrested several people for “actively racing on roadways in the Southside area.”
That follows months of videos uploaded to social media of car groups doing doughnuts and peel-outs in parking lots as well as drag racing. One of the groups who’s been most notorious is the group 904 Banditz. They invited News4JAX to one of their meetups on a Saturday night in an empty parking lot along Beach Boulevard near St. Johns Bluff Road. When our cameras arrived, we noticed hundreds of people show up, most around 18 to 20 years old.
Quickly the scene turned into a smoke-filled loud scene of cars doing doughnuts in the parking lot. In some cases, people were hanging outside the windows of cars as they sped in circles traveling very close to large crowds of onlookers. There were also people on cell phones in the middle of the circles recording videos of the event. There were no police in sight. This meet-up was weeks before JSO put out a statement that they were conducting deployments to curb “illegal and dangerous behaviors.”
It was also a few weeks before Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry spoke out on the issue telling News4JAX that citizens should not have to put up with this.
But the people who gathered told News4JAX that this is a safe alternative to what many young people could be doing on a Saturday night. “This is just entertaining. You know what I’m saying? This for fun. People like doing this. Y’all need to give us a space so people do it legal,” said one participant named C.J.
“I mean it’s people having fun. I would never do it. It’s safer for people to be here in a secluded parking lot than out,” said Ava Sears.
Many people in the racing community have reached out to News4JAX for months saying the City needs to provide some sort of track. Historically there used to be Jax Raceways on Pecan Park Road but that closed several years ago. More recently a track in Green Cove Springs closed and racers said they’ve been forced into the streets.
So, we traveled to the nearest racetrack in our region that regular drivers can use. That’s Gainesville Raceway in Alachua County. We found several people go there on a regular basis to race their cars.
“There’s another one in Orlando that we go from time to time,” said Jennifer Robards who lives in Jacksonville and said she started racing in Gainesville mostly after the track in Green Cove Springs shut down. She warns there’s an issue with opening a track in Jacksonville. “In 5 years when they build, and they start developing around it are you going to want to come in and shut it down?”
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Robards thinks building a track should be funded by private dollars, but she doesn’t think there’s any remote land in Jacksonville that a developer wouldn’t eventually look at to put homes in. The track in Gainesville is extremely noisy and located in an extremely rural area where it won’t affect nearby residents. She said that may eventually be impossible in the ever-growing Jacksonville.
Another complication is beyond Gainesville there are not even any tracks in the region. “There’s not many, Valdosta, Georgia. Orlando. St. Pete. Fort Meyers. Kids as you say is not going to leave Jacksonville is not going to travel to Gainesville, Orlando to fool around,” said one driver who lives in Alachua County.
News4JAX investigated whether tax dollars have ever paid for a racetrack, and we couldn’t find any in Florida or Georgia. So private dollars would likely need to fund it which echoes what City Councilman Kevin Carrico told News4JAX in January following several car meetups along Beach Boulevard which is his district. “Tearing up private property is not legal, so if they, that’s what they want to do, I don’t think there is a resolution. Unless they buy their own property which they can do whatever they want with. But doing it on public property is certainly not an option in my mind,” said Carrico.