Boys Under the Hood

What makes fast-car enthusiasts furious? Cops, speed limits, and punk kids with loud mufflers and no brains.

A handful of cars dots the fast-food joints along University Drive in northern Davie -- so few it's almost not worth the eateries' while staying open late this oppressively muggy Saturday night in July.

Miami Subs, on the other hand, is bustling. Just a quarter-mile from the I-595 ramps, it has nary an open parking spot but for the three handicapped spaces by the side door. A steady stream of tricked-out cars circles the restaurant's driveway between the two rows of parked vehicles. Import-car zealots and street racers from three counties are cruising this Miami Subs, whose manager has sanctioned the group's gatherings -- much to the distaste of Davie police. A carnival-like din of distant bass, rumbling engines, and muffled conversations fills the lot. Groups of friends gather beside cars; a jumble of voices swirls from the booths and tables inside.

Just after 11, a ponytailed young man eases his Trans Am into one of the handicapped spots to pick up a couple of friends roosting on the curb. Sitting behind the wheel of the idling car, he is apparently unaware that police monitor the lot from afar; within three minutes, a squad car has the Pontiac blocked in. Because of the egregious nature of the crime, a second squad car joins in writing out the parking ticket.

Colby Katz
Jeff Archibald's Nissan is sleek outside, bare inside, and dangerous under the hood
Colby Katz
Jeff Archibald's Nissan is sleek outside, bare inside, and dangerous under the hood

Surveying the exchange, the veteran street racers cluster on their usual slab of pavement 20 feet away. Marlon Gurley is here with his 1985 Mazda RX-7; it's a fast runner, but its exterior wouldn't draw many second looks. Gurley waxes lyrical: "Cars get a reputation, you know? If you have an RX-7, you kind of keep your eye open for them. If you hear that someone in Miami is claiming to have a fast RX-7, you might drive down there to check him out."

Three of the racers have arrived on their motorcycles -- crotch-rockets, of course. One of them, Stefan Petrov, left his souped-up Ford Escort at home again because it just costs too damn much to run it every Saturday night. One racer left his fastest car at home, bringing instead a modestly zippy early '90s red Honda hatchback. It's faded, and dings cover the side. The front wheels don't match the back. Jesse Scungio, a rail-thin 18-year-old from Margate, has parked his silver Acura elsewhere, but mingles with the group, about a dozen strong now.

As a racing newbie solicits speed advice and drags Petrov off to look under his hood, a turbocharged import out on University gets a green light and punches it hard. The winding motor is a mix of roar and shriek; think panicked pig in a lion's mouth. Two Civics in the parking lot gun their engines, then slam on their brakes. Some of the race vets shake their heads, a bit disgusted that these two -- and yahoos like them -- only draw the attention of cops.

When Jeff Archibald arrives in his shocking yellow Nissan 240SX, the clique is complete. The racers' elder statesman of sorts, 35-year-old Archibald is the man who brokered the agreement with Miami Subs to gather here about four years ago. Not yet parked, his car is surrounded as though he's a wartime liberator. He's brought the good news that the police have agreed to let everyone hang out at the vast parking lot of the neighboring Tower Shops. He pulls the Nissan ahead, parks, pops out, and starts working the crowd.

On any given night of the week, you can find street racers and import buffs gathering in the parking lots of strip malls, superstores, and fast-food joints in Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade counties. The Saturday-night summits in Davie are among the best attended because of the central location. Moreover, unlike other meeting spots that are frequently shut down by police, Miami Subs is a safe haven -- at least until its 1 a.m. closing.

About 15 minutes after Archibald's arrival, the Subs lot quickly hemorrhages people to the Tower lot. In a short time, Miami Subs looks as sleepy as the Taco Bell to the south. Archibald, already in the Tower lot, is surrounded by a throng of men and women, a mix of races and nationalities that rivals a United Nations conference. Around 6 foot 5, he looms over the crowd and holds forth in a thick Jamaican accent. He's wrangling with a bantam Puerto Rican who has driven down from West Palm Beach with a hopped-up, circa-1980 Toyota. The Puerto Rican wants to race, but Archibald and company know that there's not another car here that has a chance of winning -- at least by the rules the visitor insists upon.

"He's the fastest car here," notes Mike Reich, a Subaru owner, as he watches the deal-making on the sideline. Look at the roll bars, the rear racing wheels, he advises. He and others have seen it race at Moroso Motorsports Park near Palm Spring Gardens. "It's a 10-second car," he sums up, referring to the time it can cover a quarter-mile from a dead stop. "You're probably going 140 [mph] by the finish."

Archibald, arms flailing, tries to broker some kind of contest and proposes beginning the race with a rolling start. His Nissan, which holds a transplanted RX-7 turbo engine, can beat the Puerto Rican, he believes, because it has a top speed around 180 mph. The Toyota will top out at 140, 150. ("Puerto Ricans are famous for cars that are brutally, brutally quick because they get up so fast," Archibald explains later.)

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