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road sage

The Alberta Legislature is seen at the end of empty streets in downtown Edmonton on March 26, 2020. The city has seen a marked increase in the number of vehicles driven more than 50 km/h above the posted speed limit.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

There is no problem so bad that human beings cannot make it worse. This truism has been made clear on our highways in the wake of COVID-19 and social distancing. People are staying home. The roads are as empty as they’ve ever been – and this has led certain individuals to try to make them their personal speedways.

Stunt driving, street racing, whatever you want to call it, is on the rise. Police around Canada and the rest of the world are reporting an increase in incidents. In Napanee, Ont. (Population: 16,000), the Ontario Provincial Police issued 11 stunt-driving charges in a single weekend. In Ottawa, cops seized eight vehicles, among them a motorcycle from a guy popping wheelies. Toronto’s York Regional Police reported that stunt-driving and other speed-related charges have increased by 60 per cent, while Edmonton police saw the number of drivers driving 50 km/h over the limit triple. In Atlanta, police recently broke up a street race involving souped-up vehicles and attended by over 100 onlookers.

It’s a stunt-driving pandemic. The Fast and the Spurious.

Spurious because the people who try to take advantage of this unfortunate situation are bogus wannabes. They have nothing in common with talented racers who pit their skills against one another on a track. Stunt driving is about delusional drivers playing dress-up on the highway.

By speeding around municipal roads at high speeds, they can pretend that they are as good as the drivers they see in NASCAR or Formula 1. They can make-believe they are as expert as the stunt drivers they see on screen. It’s sad. It’s puerile. It is what losers do. They lie to themselves at the expense of others.

There would be nothing wrong with it, if it weren’t so dangerous.

Look, if you want to die pointlessly there are ways to go about it that do not involve endangering others. Try bungee jumping without a cord.

I understand the love of speed. It is one of the most unappreciated of highs. Until you’ve driven a car in the upper limits, you won’t get it. It’s dangerous. That’s part of the appeal. Hemingway wrote, “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.”

There is no shinny version of racing. There is no touch football. It must only be pursued on the racetrack. This even applies to go-kart racing. There is no place for racing on public roads.

If you are still stuck, I have a system that I apply whenever I face a tough choice. I ask myself “What would Senna do?”

I’m referring, of course, to the late Brazilian Formula 1 legend Ayrton Senna, who I consider to be the greatest race car driver of all time. Think of him as the Joe Montana of Formula 1. These videos illustrate his sublime technique. He died racing in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, Italy. He was the Mozart of the Motorway.

Would Senna speed around local highways? This is the racing legend who said, “I don’t know driving in another way which isn’t risky. Each one has to improve himself. Each driver has its limit. My limit is a little bit further than others’ … And so, you touch this limit, something happens and you suddenly can go a little bit further. With your mind power, your determination, your instinct and the experience as well, you can fly very high.” Can you really achieve that on Highway 403?

Would Senna take advantage of a pandemic to waste his time turd-dogging around residential streets?

No. And neither should you. If you love speed and driving prowess, spend your time at home studying the art – and as soon as this horror show has passed, go to your local racetrack or driving school. If you’re in central Ontario, get yourself to Wings and Slicks, a Milton, Ont.-based driving school that offers courses such as “spin class.” Wings and Slicks, which I have profiled before, offers an entry-level class in a BMW 328 IS Coupe for $349 called “stunt driving 101.” That’s cheaper than a minimum $2,000 ticket for stunt driving.

As Senna would say, “The past is only data. I only see the future.”

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