Political Hacks, New Jersey Turnpike Edition

We interrupt our usual programming for this brief rant about some of the political hacks of the world:

The intertubes are abuzz about this high moderate speed run of 30 hot cars down the New Jersey Turnpike to Atlantic City. (See e.g., N.J. State Police Investigating Sports-Car ‘Death Race’) and this NJTodayOnline video). The politicians involved have thrown the two State Troopers to the wolves. Unless they did something wrong, they should have calmly defended them until an inquiry proved some illegality.

Allow me to explain: Over my driving years, I have participated in numerous road rallies (legal and otherwise), including police escorted versions. In my experience, here is how these police escorted rallies actually come about.

Some VIP — usually a big political donor — is also an exotic car owner. There are many car club events throughout the year, and this gent belongs to a group that has an upcoming weekend caravan. A few weeks in advance, he calls his favorite politico, typically the guy he gave the biggest check to. That elected official’s staff calls the local Governor or Mayor, who then kicks it over to the Police Commissioner or Captain. The Captain assigns two State Highway Troopers to babysit the group.

These Troopers are professional drivers. They spend as much as 8 hours a day on the highways, supervising,  driving in and enforcing laws. They have taken all of the advanced driving courses and high speed pursuit training. Their cars are the beefed up versions of the standard issue cop car — better suspensions, tires, brakes, and of course, bigger engines. (NYS Troopers out in the Hamptons on 24 used to drive a 500HP Camaro Z28 to catch the Porsches and Ferraris during summer traffic).

In short, these guys are pros who know how to drive.

Whenever you caravan with police escort, the day begins with a quick meet and greet, usually over coffee and. At a certain point, the president of the car club calls the meeting to order, says a few words about the days events, then introduces the officers. They then give a lecture that ALWAYS includes the route and rules: You are told that this is not an excuse to speed, that this is a courtesy to the group, not a license to break the law. Here is the route we will take, and we will not deviate from it unless there is a problem on the road. One Officer will be in the lead position, the other in the tail. Lights are not necessary, but may be used to move slower cars out of the way.

You get the sense that its an easy day for them, but they look at it as babysitting a bunch of rich dudes. My strategy is always to chat them up, see what they think, and if I can befriend a State Trooper I do. I have spoken to police groups about personal finance and waived my $20k speaking fee. (My hopes are to one day to become ticket-proof).

The 30 cars in the NJ caravan included Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches, Ford GTs and other exotica. They typically come with a 6 speed gear box, and by the time you slip it into 3rd you are already approaching 100mph. The performance envelope of these cars makes that the equivalent of cruising along at 60mph.

The cops are there to prevent the natural tendency to allow these little beasties to run away from you. It cannot be helped. I cannot tell you how many times I have been driving along at what seems like a normal speed to look down and see I am doing 90+. Its how these things run. I almost bought a friend’s 575 (the missus DK’d it) and you must make a conscious effort to keep it under 100 mph on the highway. It just wants to go. Lime Rock is how I satisfy my need for speed and stay out of jail.

At some point in the babysitting duties, the officers will have  stretch of open highway ahead of them. From the radio, they know its clear ahead. So for a few minutes, they open it up. In NYS, its not much over 100. In Wyoming and New Mexico, its mid-triple digits speeds. On public, open (as in not a close course) roads.

Regardless, these cops are there on assignment at the request of some politician. Instead of giving the officers the benefit of the doubt, they threw them under the bus at the first sign of trouble. That is wrong. So while the Pols look to blame the officers, understand why these guys were there in the first place: Some politician doing a favor for a wealthy donor.

I am not trying to defend anyone who engaged in reckless behavior that put the public at risk. I do want to explain how these things happen, and why suspending the officers because of the YouTube video is not the right thing to do.


UPDATE: April 24, 2012 9:09pm

I am sometimes surprised by the reaction to specific posts, and this one is a perfect example.

I have to admit to being caught by the negative reactions to my explanation of how cops get roped into these sorts of events. Comments ran about 5 to 1 agaisnt, emails ran about 4 to 1 in favor. Fascinating . . .


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