Drag Racing Tears Its Way Through Westchester County

AdobeStock/Lukas Gojda

Drag racing was a problem during the COVID-19 lockdown, when a drop-off in traffic created irresistible opportunities for would-be road warriors.

City escapees are naturally drawn to the promise of a safe, suburban haven of peace and quiet — an exquisite tranquility captured by the soothing tones of Rossini’s “Call to the Cows.” In this bucolic setting, one must battle only the minor annoyances of crabgrass and mosquitoes.

And then reality hits: Snap! Crackle! Pop! Kaboom! What the hell was that?

What sounded like a homemade bomb or the rapid fire of an AK-47 was actually the foul, flatulent explosion of a modified exhaust system — the signature racket of illegal drag racing.

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The noise is a nuisance. But the physical act of drag racing is a menace perpetrated by reckless thrill-seekers who seem to have little or no compunction about putting other motorists’ lives at risk, let alone their own. Since 2014, at least four deaths in the Hudson Valley region have been linked to high-speed competitions on public roads, so this phenomenon is hardly new. White Plains and Yonkers have had anti-drag-racing laws on the books for a couple of years now.

But the problem metastasized during the COVID-19 lockdown, when a drop-off in traffic created irresistable opportunities for would-be road warriors.

Like so many others, Eric Hartman is fed up. Seven years ago, he moved to Ardsley from Manhattan, where “we were serenaded every night with all sorts of noise.” Expecting quiet, Hartman was surprised by the high-decibel commotion emanating from the parkways — and when he asked his neighbors about it, they shrugged. “Everybody said, ‘Yeah, that’s what happens around here.’”

And it’s only gotten worse. Complaints have piled up.

Karen Elias, a resident of the Edgemont Apartments on Central Avenue, recalls one night when she compared the noise “to being inside an aircraft engine.”

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Michael James says high-speed car and motorcycle competitions are often staged near his home on Old Tarrytown Road. On one June night, he heard a loud bang: “Outside, in our driveway, was a car that lost control, came over the curb, ripped the mailbox from the ground and totaled one of our cars.” He has photos to prove it, too.

Photo by Stefan Radtke

“The physical act of drag racing is a menace perpetrated by reckless thrill-seekers who seem to have little or no compunction about putting other motorists’ lives at risk, let alone their own.”

Finally, the Town of Greenburgh held a Zoom public hearing to consider a change in a local law that would penalize drag racers in perhaps the most painful way– seizing their vehicle through forfeiture. The change was approved last month. Among those who spoke at the earlier Zoom meeting was Hartman, now a full-fledged anti-drag-racing activist with an online petition (www.shhhwestchester.com) urging municipal officials to enforce existing laws. “Enough is enough!” the petition says. “It’s affecting our way of life, our health, and our property values.”

Evidently, the message got through. The morning after the Greenburgh hearing, Westchester County Police nabbed a 19-year-old New York City man for allegedly racing with another driver on the southbound side of the Saw Mill River Parkway in Yonkers. This was just after midnight, the prime witching hour for speed demons.  The suspect was driving a 2018 Nissan Altima, which police said was not registered in his name. That same morning, police issued 17 additional summonses, for speeding, inadequate exhaust systems, and other violations.

A week later, county police broke up another early morning race along the Saw Mill in Yonkers and arrested three Bronx men in a BMW. A loaded .22-caliber handgun was found in the car.

This isn’t child’s play. Michelle Spiniello of Dobbs Ferry can testify to that grim fact. Six years ago, she all but witnessed the death of 21-year-old Chris Seguinot. He died on the Saw Mill, near her home.

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“It was at midnight,” she told me. “I was in the bathroom getting ready for bed. We heard a zoom and then a loud crash. We knew it was an accident, but we didn’t know where.” Her neighbors heard it, too. Everyone ran outside.

“His car was suspended in a tree,” Spiniello remembered. “He blew right through an iron railing and wound up in the tree. There was nothing we could do. It’s a miracle he didn’t hit anyone else, but he lost his life. It’s a tragedy.”

Haunted by the accident, Spiniello sees drag racing as a scourge that must be eliminated, a goal she knows won’t be easy to achieve. Lately, with the colder weather setting in, the roads have calmed down.

But don’t be fooled by the quiet, warned Spiniello: “In the spring, it will come creeping back.”

The opinions and beliefs expressed by Phil Reisman are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Westchester Magazine’s editors and publishers. Tell us what you think at edit@westchestermagazine.com

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