By Steven Cole Smith AUTOMOTIVE
June 2, 2010
Don't get her wrong: Cynthia Ranyak is pleased that the Luis Rivera Ortega Street Racing Act breezed through the state House and Senate in the past 10 days, with both votes unanimous.
But Ranyak thinks the bill, which increases penalties for illegal racing, doesn't go far enough. In particular, it doesn't include a provision for educating young drivers.
And if Ranyak has her way, a 1 percent surcharge levied on some Florida businesses that profit from motorsports would address that.
Five years ago last month, Ranyak's daughter, Emily, was killed when her boyfriend, Will Riehl, lost control of his new Honda Civic driving west on State Road 528, also known as the BeachLine Expressway. At speeds approaching 100 mph, Riehl's Honda drove into the median and into the eastbound traffic, striking three vehicles. He and Emily, both 18, died at the scene. Six others were injured, some seriously. And the lives of Ranyak, a Merritt Island paralegal, and her husband, Paul, would change irrevocably.
At mile marker 27 on S.R. 528, about 12 miles east of Orlando International Airport in Orange County, a simple wooden cross bolted to a piece of plastic pipe is the only visible reminder of where Will and Emily died.
The families of Mothers Against Street Racing, most of whom had lost children to street-racing incidents, pushed the Ortega bill through the state Legislature. It's named for a teenager who while riding his bicycle to the library was killed when an out-of-control street racer ran him down.
Now, Ranyak is determined to continue the fight to strengthen the laws.
Though news accounts of the crash did not mention that Will was street racing, Ranyak said she has spoken to witnesses that insist his car was keeping pace with another car, filled with friends of Will and Emily. They were on their way to the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, where Will's best friend, was competing.
Of course, Ranyak has to wonder about that now. "We had only met him once," she says, "and he seemed like a gentleman. But when my daughter got into the car with him, she wasn't signing up for the Indianapolis 500."
Ranyak is convinced that Will, and a great many other young drivers now, was caught up in the world of motorsports and high-performance cars. Will, who planned a career working as a pro- racing team business manager, had been close to high speeds, and Ranyak suspected he wanted a taste himself — like so many other young drivers.
But in a street car, they lack the right vehicle, the safety equipment, the training that a professional driver, or even an amateur racer, gets. So they go fast on the street.
Much of professional motorsports, Ranyak argues, caters to kids. She is especially upset about the latest ad campaign for the Izod Indy Car Series. It's called "Race to the Party!" and it is complete with a Racetotheparty.com Web site, with information like, "Race in for a ride!" that tells you how if you are one of the first 50 people to buy Izod Indy car apparel at an Indianapolis mall, you‘ll get a ride in a two-seat Indy car.
So Ranyak and her husband had an idea: Add a 1 percent surcharge to tickets for professional races such as the IndyCar Series' Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the Daytona 500 and the 12 Hours of Sebring. And spend the money on driver's education. She doesn't want to tax the small local tracks — they are in enough financial trouble anyway — and she's even open to the idea of letting them share in the tax money if they develop proper education programs for young drivers.
And maybe spend money on billboards on race weekends. She wants special emphasis on National Safe Teen Driving week, which is the third week in October, and a Florida-only Safe Teen Driving week each April. And at schools and kart tracks. "And for any professional racers who want to talk to our kids about the devastation of street racing," Ranyak says.
She knows change is possible. The crash that took the life of Emily, who adopted cats from shelters, who wanted to be a doctor, who was an intern with NASA, was the final disaster before the state agreed to put barriers in the median of S.R. 528.
But Ranyak wants more — a little more than a small white cross, stuck in soggy ground, for people to remember Emily by. She plans to approach lawmakers soon with the surcharge idea.
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