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Deserted Roads Attract Dragsters

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RALEIGH — Preventing drag racing on public roads is oneof the most challenging activities the North Carolina Highway Patrol hasto handle. Many of the states deserted, straight stretches of ruralroadway beckon to dragsters -- and to the spectators who bet on theoutcomes.

But drag racing can of course be dangerous, as witness a NashCounty crash last December, in which two spectators were killed and sixmore injured when a driver lost control of his vehicle. He plowed intothe throngs that lined the shoulder of the two-lane country road.

The vehicles involved -- none of them street-legal -- are oftensouped-up motorcycles and cars, with fuel tanks filled with nitrous oxide.At the starter's signal, the high speed tires are spun up so fast they canproduce enough heat to melt the blacktop surface of the road. In a blinkof an eye, the vehicles are hitting speeds upwards of 100 mph, sometimeshitting 150 mph or more.

Hardly what one thinks of as a Sunday afternoon down South, but that'swhen organizers schedule most of these events.

WRAL-TV5 reporter Robert Carver says the races aren't held just forsport -- the betting that accompanies each race can carry pots that amountto $100,000.

To ensure they aren't caught by Highway Patrol troopers, the dragracing organizers use scanners that warn them of any approach.

The patrol gets only about a dozen complaints a year, but finds itdifficult to catch those involved. A stakeout of isolated roadway is notfeasible because the contests are often staged months apart, and arepublicized only by word of mouth.

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