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Alameda Point Sideshow Goes on Undeterred

Some call sideshow activity an abuse of machinery, a public safety risk, or bad for the environment. Others find enjoyment.

Alameda Point - a huge cloud of smoke surrounds a white SUV at Alameda Point's sideshow
Onlookers capture the action up close on video, as an SUV driver lays into it next to a Monarch Street hangar. Photo Richard Bangert.

On Sunday, January 28, hundreds of cars assembled at Alameda Point at the intersection of West Tower Avenue and Monarch Street (aka Spirits Alley) for a “car show.” The atmosphere was similar to a tailgate party in anticipation of a sporting event, with vendors and people mingling about, talking to friends, and loud music playing.

By midafternoon, the situation predictably changed. Traffic flow through the area was halted as drivers took turns spinning donuts, and a predominantly male crowd gathered around with cell phone and overhead drone cameras ready to capture the action.

With so many drivers anxious to show off their skills, the event soon expanded to a nearby second location off-street next to a hangar, and the sound of screeching tires and revving engines grew even louder. It was impossible for anyone in the neighborhood to miss or not hear it.

Alameda Point - a blue car in the middle of a large crowd at the unofficial car show near hangers at Alameda Point
Sideshow driver performs on Monarch Street on Sunday, January 28, with an overhead drone and bystanders recording the action. Photo Richard Bangert.

“This was not a City authorized event,” said Alameda Police Chief Nishant Joshi. The Alameda Police Department (APD) dispatch received at least seven calls for service, including a call from the Alameda Point security company to report sideshow activity, according to Joshi. “APD did send cars to this event.”

Exactly when those patrol cars were there is unclear. During the height of the sideshow activity, between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m., no Alameda police patrol cars showed up to stop or deter the sideshow, impound cars, or hand out citations like they did at a previous Alameda Point sideshow event last May. Back then, APD had advance warning by monitoring social media. “APD was not aware of this event in advance,” said Joshi. No citations were issued or cars impounded on January 28.

“APD has an ongoing investigation to see if we can seize vehicles that engaged in sideshow activity,” said Joshi. “The City of Alameda does not have a sideshow ordinance. The vehicles seized last year were pursuant to existing California law,” Joshi explained. “However, this law differs from a sideshow ordinance which is specific to sideshow participants and spectators.”

Alameda Post - people cather around a car with their phones out an an Alameda Point sideshow
Bystanders watch and record videos while a driver exhibits his sideshow skill at the intersection of Monarch Street and West Tower Avenue on Sunday, January 28. Many vendors have their tents set up for the show in the background. Photo Richard Bangert.

Executing a good sideshow performance first requires getting the tires hot and spinning. Drivers hold one foot firmly on the brake pedal, while at the same time pressing on the gas with the other. This causes the rear wheels to break loose and start spinning and heating up the tire rubber. Hot, soft tire rubber is key to maintaining control while maneuvering the car in a figure 8. The idea is to break traction so the vehicle slides sideways. It also helps produce the hoped-for plume of white smoke billowing out of the wheel wells. This action obviously takes a toll on a vehicle’s brakes, transmission, and tires, which indicates there is also money to burn.

One fellow had to stop as he was leaving because his right rear tire was on fire. Good thing he had some water left in his water bottle to splash on the flames. The incident gave new meaning to “burning rubber.”

Several guys showed their skill level when there were two cars going at once in a kind of dance. A passenger in one of the sideshow exhibitions held their door open during their spinning burnout, which apparently is a crowd pleaser.

One bystander appeared to get knocked off his feet by a spinning pickup. It is unknown why a fistfight broke out soon thereafter.

Contributing writer Richard Bangert posts stories and photos about environmental issues on his blog Alameda Point Environmental Report. His writing is collected at

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