Mario Ojito of the non-profit organization Street Racing Made Safe has seen firsthand the kinds of fatal consequences illegal street racing can bring. And he is determined to get as many racers off the streets as he can. Ojito lost his father to a motorcycle crash when his dad was just 36 years old, and he nearly lost his best friend to a similar accident at a car meet. The SRMS founder used to be a street racer himself and realized how many racers resulted in tragedy; he founded SRMS in 2011 to promote his mission to provide a safe and legal alternative to illegal street racing.
Originally, Ojito hosted drag racing grudge matches at Palm Beach International Raceway; after a corporate takeover he moved SRMS’ operations to a track in Homestead, two hours away, and switched over to autocross events. It's much like a track day hosted all over the country, but with an educational element and Ojito's message behind it: get off the street and get your speed fix here, legally.
Right now, Ojito's cause may have excellent timing. Numerous news and law enforcement reports indicate illegal street racing has gotten worse over the past year as the pandemic has emptied the highways. Cities like New York, Los Angeles, Albuquerque, Dallas and more have reported big spikes in street racing since lockdowns started, and tragic outcomes often follow.
Giving people an outlet that is not on public streets is something that other cities like the Atlanta area are actively considering as well, because not only is it illegal, it’s ridiculously dangerous for anyone who happens to be in the racers’ path. Ojito says that SRMS is the only national 501(c)(3) nonprofit solution to illegal street racing, and he has hosted over 300 events to draw racers to the track to get their speed fix, safely away from innocent bystanders.
To register for an event, participants pay $75 on the SRMS site (co-drivers pay $25 to ride along) and the gates open at 7 a.m. for tech inspections and setup. Cars are registered in a variety of classes and each race is overseen by a small army of volunteers who are committed to the cause. When SRMS swapped out drag racing for autocross, Ojito added more educational elements of the program, underscored by processes designed to keep drivers safer overall. Every meet requires a drivers’ meeting before racing, and helmets are required as well as tires that have at least 50 percent tread. Then the teens get to ride with experienced autocross drivers to better understand safe driving techniques. Kids under 18 get to participate for free, and young adults over 18 pay $75.
SRMS is insured for all events, and spectators must be a certain distance from the track. Every racer has to wear a helmet, and convertibles are permitted as long as they’re equipped with a roll cage. On top of all of that, each vehicle goes through a thorough tech inspection.
Today, SRMS runs a meet every other month for about 300 cars; Ojito says each event is designed for people to have fun and get a lot of seat time. At the last event, one driver squeezed in an astonishing 28 runs in 8 hours. New COVID-19 standards require that all staff, competitors, and spectators must have a mask, groups must maintain a 6-foot distance between them, and upon entry, each person has to confirm they are not experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19.
While he may not be able to stop all of the carnage that too often results from street racing, Ojito believes that maybe he can provide enthusiasts a safe and legal alternative to taking to the highways—and hopefully save some lives in the process.
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