By Bay City News Service
Starting today, high school students will have the chance to drag race against Bay Area law enforcement officers at the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma County.
Tonight marks the opening night of the 18th season of the raceway's "Top the Cops" program, which runs from April 4 to Aug. 15 in conjunction with the track's STP Wednesday Night Drags program.
According to the raceway, the program offers an alternative to illegal street racing on city or backcountry roads.
"It's a pretty safe, controlled environment here to do drag racing," raceway spokeswoman Diana Brennan said.
Nine law enforcement agencies are participating in this year's program: the California Highway Patrol; the Fairfield, Fremont, Napa, Novato, Sonoma and Windsor police departments; the Sebastopol Peace Officers Association and the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office.
Brennan said agencies have come and gone over the years but that there are no new agencies this year.
Fairfield police Officer Robert Marin, who has participated in the program since 1999, said the program gives teens space to express themselves.
"This program has given teens an avenue to satisfy their need for speed and has provided a wonderful way to bring youths with similar interests together to hang out and have fun while being in a safe environment," he said in a statement.
Marin said the program also allows law enforcement agencies to positively connect with teens and the community, and gives officers the opportunity to talk with teens about safe driving and the rules of the road.
Brennan said many of the officers already work with local high schools, so the event gives them the chance to develop those relationships.
Participating officers compete in full uniform in their official patrol vehicles.
Students are allowed practice runs before competing head-to-head with an officer.
To participate, students must present a high school identification card and driver's license and a car that passes a "simple technical inspection," according to the raceway.
Gates for today's event open at 3:30 p.m., and races begin at 5 p.m. The cost is $15 for students and $10 for spectators.
Each Wednesday, 300 cars are allowed to participate in the drag races. According to the raceway, an average of 900 to 1,200 spectators and competitors flock to the raceway on Wednesday nights.