MERIDEN — In the 1970s, Research Parkway served residents during the day as a road connecting Meriden and Wallingford, but under the guise of night, a portion of the road was used as a drag strip.
Littered with graffiti and tire tracks, the stretch of road was a third of a mile long and was considered “one of the biggest drag strips in Central Connecticut,” according to Record-Journal archives. (The standard distance of a drag race is a quarter mile.) At night, cars lined the side of the road, making a path that allowed only two cars to pass. Painted lines on the road indicated the starting line in Meriden and finish line in Wallingford.
In 1974, officers began an investigation into drag racing. Police reported that anywhere from 175 to 300 people visited the strip nightly between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m.
Meriden Police Major Adam Sokoloski headed an investigation and discovered that the group stationed cars on each end of the road to stand watch. These “blockade men” served as lookouts and came equipped with intercoms used to alert the crowd on the strip when they saw police.
“They really had it down pat,” Sokoloski said.
In 1974, police conducted an undercover operation into the drag strip. Sokoloski said Officers Charles West and William Belcourt posed as “beer-guzzling hot-rodders” to gain entry to the drag races.
West and Belcourt attended the drag strip for several nights, observing the crowds’ behavior and identifying marker numbers on vehicles. West told the Record-Journal that what they witnessed was “akin to having a bad dream” and said he was surprised to see spectators so close to the road during the races.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” West said. “They line up on either side of the road along the entire length of the strip. There are no safety precautions, no seatbelts or helmets.”
Police charged 36 people with reckless driving and racing and issued arrest warrants for 44 residents from Meriden, Wallingford, Cheshire, Southington, Middletown and several other central Connecticut towns.
Drag racing continued through 1980, when police received a tip from residents that “heavy money” would be wagered on cars in races. Police placed roadblocks at both ends of Research Parkway, hoping to catch the racers.
Officer James Comeau told the Record-Journal officers in plain clothes were stationed at various radar traps and two cars were clocked at 90 mph. Police made 13 arrests and issued 16 written warnings. Comeau said that any person speeding on Research Parkway would be cited for “every possible violation” that police can find.
“This has been a recurring problem every year.” Comeau said. “But this year, we are going to be out there constantly monitoring the situation.”
In December 2017, three teens were cited for their reported involvement in a drag race on Research Parkway, though other arrests and incidents have seldom been reported in recent years.