VEHICLES PIROUETTE BETWEEN SPECTATORS, IT DOESN’T TAKE A GENIUS TO SEE IMPENDING DANGER COMING...
TWISTED DYSTOPIAN IMAGES OF smoke, fire, flashing lights and screams flood my laptop screen, a cacophony of roaring engines and screeching tyres a constant backing track.
It feels as if I’m watching a mix of the Fast and the Furious and The Purge, but it’s really just a YouTube video. In fact, it’s but one of thousands of its kind chronicling the growing ‘takeover’ phenomenon that is proliferating across the American underground car scene.
As its name suggests, a ‘takeover’ is essentially an automotive flash mob. In this scenario, empty car parks, intersections and even major highways are blocked off by crowds of thousands while cars perform donuts, skids and dangerous stunts. Maybe you’ve seen some clips on social media. Hundreds of youths on foot fill the screen as vehicles pirouette between spectators who watch and dodge in perilous proximity. It doesn’t take a genius to see impending danger coming.
I spot a kid with a video camera, chasing a flock of dancing Camaros, knocked over by the flank of an out-of-control car and is quickly carried into the crowd by fellow spectators. Seeing him picked up by the crowd reminds me of the hardcore and punk shows I used to attend at that age. It’s that same moshpit mentality, a sense of community emboldened by a group that sees themselves on the fringes of society. When looking at this relatively recent explosion of the subculture I see more in common with the old warring British punks, mods and rockers than I do with car enthusiasts like you or I. In fact, I’m sure many of these kids would say they don’t care about traditional car culture at all. So where did this all come from?
Takeover history is long and complex, originating from the ‘side show’ community of Oakland, California. It’s rooted in the 1980s, at the same time that hip hop music was just being introduced to the West Coast. There were no burnouts or donuts back then, just the youth of the primarily Black and Latino communities cruising and showing off their cars by Oakland’s Foothill Square carnival.
Anti-cruising ordinances were introduced in 1992, and increasingly aggressive policing pushed the community underground and away from the public’s eyes. It was here in abandoned industrial streets, that these impromptu street parties morphed into the Summernats-on-steroids events that plague the American car community today.
It got to the point where people began traveling to Oakland specifically to take part in these dangerous and illegal events. In 2020 local police estimated that ‘no more than a third’ of drivers and spectators were in fact local residents.
Travelling attendees soon meant that the side show phenomenon was exported all over America, quickly taking on a life of its own in the form of organised public ‘takeovers’. Concerningly, we’ve also seen local car cruises here devolve into similar chaos
The rise of social media also fuels the fire, with many drivers earning sponsorships from local businesses based on their online followings. It soon became established that the more public the location, and the wilder the stunts, the better.
It all looks crazy and unrecognisable, but niches of car culture have always intersected with counter culture and antiestablishment ideals. The takeover phenomenon is an evolution of the illegal drag racing scene that emerged all over the globe after WWII. Australia is no different, with its own colourful street racing history and underground organised skid meets. But it’s the unashamed public nature of these events that seems so jarring and shocking. Bad apples have seen young car enthusiasts painted with a broad brush before, but the people engaging in these shenanigans aren’t car enthusiasts.
They’re clout enthusiasts. They’re using cars as vehicles, in a metaphorical sense, but the community and passion they’re feeding into isn’t the same one that you and I are. It diminishes the continued efforts of all of us who do the right thing. The ‘enthusiast versus hoon’ theme continues to endure, it just looks very different in 2021 as it enters a new generation.