UNCC club probed in I-485 races

Authorities are investigating a possible link between organized street races and a UNC Charlotte car club after an undercover investigation led to numerous arrests last weekend.

The former president of the UNCC Horsepower Addicts told the Observer this week that the organization was not involved with Saturday's races, which blocked Interstate 485 and involved police chases in excess of 100 mph.

But Charlotte-Mecklenburg police and university officials are still asking questions.

“We don't know the truth yet,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Detective Louis Rango said. “But we will.”

CMPD began investigating organized street races a few weeks ago. UNCC officers had responded to several complaints at a campus parking deck where cars and drivers began converging on weekends this summer. Lately, the group had gotten larger and there were complaints about loud noises and cars peeling out of the deck. A number of tickets were issued by university police, Rango said.

Horsepower Addicts is a campus organization that was formed three years ago by students who like to hang out and talk about fast cars. The club, which has about 15 paid members, says it meets at 6p.m. Fridays in a campus parking lot during the spring and fall. Many members legally race their cars at drag strips in the area, they said.

“We do not condone street racing,” former group president Ashley Ross told the Observer. “We have always been very law abiding.”

Club bylaws specifically say the organization doesn't plan or participate in street racing, she said.

“Back in the day you used to be able to pull into a parking lot and hang out. Now there's a cop there to shoo you out,” she said. “Our organization was a way for us to hang out and not get in trouble.”

On Saturday, about 300 cars filled the parking deck around 9 p.m. It was at least the second time recently that undercover CMPD officers filmed vehicles there, Rango said.

Around midnight about 30 of the cars – BMWs, Cobras, Camaros and souped-up Hondas – paraded from the deck to the Interstate 85/485 interchange near University City. The drivers formed columns across five lanes and about five cars deep, blocking traffic behind them, including police and state troopers.

Two cars then raced ahead and pulled to the side, letting the next two in line go. When the caravan reached an exit 13 miles south of I-85, it turned around and did the same thing northbound.

The racers held more than a dozen races before police and N.C. Highway Patrol troopers moved in.

“You can't just let them do that on the freeway and potentially wreck right into you,” Rango said. “You hit someone going 120 mph and everyone's dead.”

Police arrested four drivers – none of whom are UNCC students. They seized six cars, all modified Honda Civics. Investigators are still trying to figure out how the group got together and how long – and where – they've been racing, Rango said. More charges are possible.

Rango plans to interview former and current members of the Horsepower Addicts group this week for more details about the organization and to see a list of its members.

Former president Ross said some of the people who attended the Friday night gathering could have been people who aren't official members of the Horsepower Addicts group but attend some of their meets.

Still, the organization's constitution prohibits dangerous behavior that could hurt members or other people, she said.

“Nobody street races,” said Ross, who says she owns a Trans Am and has raced legally at a drag strip in Mooresville. “It's not our thing whatsoever.”

University officials are expected to meet this week to review the recent arrests, said Art Jackson, vice chancellor for university affairs.

“We take this case very seriously and we are taking prompt action to see if we can get as much information as quickly as we can,” he said.

He referred questions about the campus's role in the investigation to UNCC Police Chief Marlene Hall, who could not be reached for comment.

Staff writer April Bethea contributed.