'Import enthusiasts' decry police crackdown on 'street racers'

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) They drive fast cars. But they don't call them street racers.

"It's just all show," said Ernesto, who spoke on condition that his last name not be used. "Just hanging out, barbecuing, meeting up with friends."

They call themselves import enthusiasts, people who modify imported cars for hobby.

An enthusiast who calls himself "Panda" said there's a misconception that he and his friends are street racers.

"I don't intend to do anything illegal," said Panda, who also wouldn't offer his real name. "I go to the meets to show off my hard work and time, and money and effort."

Local "car meets" are usually held in large parking lots, often attracting hundreds of vehicles.

"We just go out there to hang out with friends," said Panda. "Cops just show up and kick us out, and then whenever we leave, they just start pulling us over for no reason."

At a meet Nov. 16 in Bakersfield, police issued 62 citations for equipment and license violations.

"We have had several fatal traffic accidents that have been linked to street racing," said Sgt. Joe Grubbs with the Bakersfield Police Department. "It's dangerous for people who are out on the roadways."

"Streets are not designed as racetracks," Grubbs continued.

Mike, who also would give his last name, said he considers himself a leader in the local import community. He said law enforcement has the wrong idea about import enthusiasts.

"Spend time with us as we do on a Saturday night, and kind of see who causes the problems, so you can catch who's actually causing the incident that causes you guys to come and mess with us," said Mike.

He even issued a challenge to police, "You guys need to catch the real people that are doing it."