The word was relayed through the drive-ins, malt shops and garages speckling the Los Angeles suburbs. "Tonight, Sepulveda and Hawthorne." By 10 p.m., 100 hopped-up jalopies and denuded, low-slung hot rods had gathered at a mile-and-a-half stretch of straight highway between suburban Torrance and Redondo Beach.

Lookouts were posted along both sides of the straightaway, flashlights ready to blink at the first sign of police. The first few cars took off with a roar, sped down the highway at 60, 70, 100 miles an hour. They ripped along two abreast, made oncoming...

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