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Atlanta Police Chief not sold on idea Atlanta Motor Speedway would solve illegal street racing problem

Chief Erika Shields said it's not a matter of just giving people a place where they can race.

ATLANTA — Days after a major street racing crackdown in Atlanta, the city started talking about using the Atlanta Motor Speedway as a potential legal and safe solution.

The idea came up in a city council meeting as a possible way to help alleviate what has become a growing problem, ramped up by the emptier streets during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The speedway previously told 11Alive that they would be "willing to be part of the solution" to the issue of street racing in the Atlanta area. 

In their statement to our station last Friday, Atlanta Motor Speedway said they do have an existing program that has given people a legal way to pursue high speeds in their own vehicles in a controlled environment with emergency personnel present. All that’s required is a DOT-approved helmet and a working seat belt.

But Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields said it's not a matter of just giving people a place where they can race.

"They want their five minutes of internet fame, and they wanna show they are doing this illegally, they're doing it in a city street, they're stopping interstate traffic," Shields told 11Alive.

Last weekend, her department followed through on the "hard stand" they said they would take against drivers seen on social media racing and drifting on interstates and Midtown streets and those who record them and gather in large groups - sometimes even lighting fireworks. 

RELATED: APD arrests 11 people in effort to crack down on illegal use of dirt bikes, ATVs

The operation resulted in the arrests of 44 individuals for activities related to street racing. Additionally, 114 citations were issued, 29 vehicles were impounded, and four firearms were recovered, including a semi-automatic rifle.

Some suggested the legal avenues would help put a stop it it, but Shields predicted that that likely wouldn't be the case, adding that there were sponsors of illegal racing from as far away as Detroit. 

"Interestingly, Detroit has set up a legal space for people to do just that," Shields said. "But there was this group of individuals who have no interest in that. They want the illegality of it, so they came to Atlanta."

RELATED: Actress Maia Campbell among 44 arrested in illegal street racing bust in Atlanta

She said the department is now trying to find an arrest the sponsors, since they are accused of encouraging illegal activity. And since they're out of state, that operation will likely involve the FBI.

Meanwhile, Shields said the department would have no choice but to crack down on street racing here. She said lives are at stake. 

"Their conduct is so reckless. It is astounding how little regard they have for any human life, including their own," she said.

Atlanta Police said after the major crackdown, they've only had a few more arrests for street racing. But when it comes to a long-term solution Chief Shields said a place where they can race may not be the answer.

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