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Racing Organizer Seeks Terminal Island Strip to Heal Race Tensions

September 16, 1993|LISA RICHARDSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH AREA — The Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners has received an unusual prescription for easing ethnic tension--a request to allow drag racing on Terminal Island.

Drag racing organizer Willie (Big Willie) Robinson, president of the International Brotherhood of Racers, told the board he had been negotiating with port staff members for more than a year in a fruitless effort to use a quarter-mile strip of land on the island. Now, he said, he is fed up with delays and hopes the new board will tell its staff to give the Brotherhood a lease.

"We bring black, white, yellow and brown together," Robinson said of the Brotherhood. "And we do have the extremist groups in our membership; we do have the skinheads and members of the Nazi party and the Ku Klux Klan. But they all love wheels.

"And we do have members of the Black Panther and the Black Muslims. And the yellow extremist groups are there too. And we do have the top cholo gang members and the Mexican Mafia in our membership," he said. "But they all love wheels."

The board decided last week to delay its vote on Robinson's proposal until its meeting next Wednesday meeting. Commissioner Steven Soboroff asked Robinson to return with assurances that if granted a lease, the Brotherhood would not try to extend it beyond one year. (The port wants to ensure that racing would not interfere with its expansion projects.)

Soboroff also requested evidence that harbor area residents would support the racing.

"Those are going to be the people impacted by the noise and traffic," Soboroff said.

Wearing his trademark leather vest, camouflage pants and black beret, Robinson, who is 6 feet, 6 inches tall and weighs about 300 pounds, ignored the time limit for public comment and asserted that drag racing can help heal racial hatred in Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Police Department asked him to organize drag racing after the Watts riots, Robinson said, and he brought together residents of various neighborhoods and ethnic groups to race each other on blocked-off streets.

In 1974 the Brotherhood moved to an old Navy airfield on Terminal Island. It paid the port $1,000 a month in rent and charged $5 admission. But the strip closed in 1984 when the port needed the land for an expansion project.

And after the racing strip was demolished and there was no place for people from different neighborhoods to meet and compete with each other, hostility became outright violence, he said.

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