Hide your kids, hide your wife, hide your husband, because there’s a group of car enthusiasts who hit speeds north of 140 mph on NEPA streets without getting caught. Ain’t that some shit.
“I can’t go on record and say that I go out every Saturday night and commit a crime, but street racing happens. It’s very alive in the area,” said Wyoming Valley Racing founder George Abraham of Wilkes-Barre. “It’s like a flash mob. It’s very fast. One minute there’s nothing there. The next minute a race is going down. Thirty seconds later, it’s gone. Everyone’s disappeared.”
That lifestyle is punctuated with rivalries between the fast racers and furious car groups who want to hit the brakes on the misconceptions of the scene. And there’s more than one group in NEPA — there’s three to be exact.
“People see us as punks and that’s something we are trying to change a little bit,” said Keystone Underground club leader Charles Storch of Wilkes-Barre. “They think all we are doing is racing and being reckless. That’s not the case.” Exiled Tuners co-founder Brandon Kromko of Clarks Summit added, “We’re trying to have the area come together and enjoy a hobby,” adds Exiled Tuners co-founder Brandon Kromko of Clarks Summit.
With “Furious 7” burning some serious rubber at the box office, we took a look at the people behind NEPA’s car scene.
SAVE THE DRAMA FOR YOUR BABY MAMA
“The car scene in NEPA is pretty much shot,” Kromko said. “It’s full of drama and we want to squash it. We’re trying to get everybody back together the proper way.”
Kromko is among seven founders of Exiled Tuners, a car club established last year to eradicate the drama experienced with another car club, NEPA Street Scene.
According to the car enthusiast, NEPA Street Scene was founded in March 2012, as an endeavor to bring everyone who loved cars together; regardless of age, race, gender, car, make, model or year. When Jeff Squier stepped down from leading NEPA Street Scene for personal reasons, Kromko claims he was put in charge of the club, along with Richard Poch.
“When he stepped down and put me and my other buddy in charge, we wanted to have the biggest car meet this area has ever seen,” Kromko said. “So we got in touch with Johnny Rockets in Moosic, and Cinemark. We had this stuff blown up all over the tri-state area. We had car clubs coming from New York, New Jersey. It was an end of summer slam last August. We had about 500 cars in the parking lot over at Cinemark. I had DJs there. We had food vendors. We had Rita’s up there. It was nuts.”
Kromko claims Squier wanted to take control of NEPA Street Scene following the success of the car meet. “Squier saw what we did and he pretty much said, ‘OK guys, I’m taking over. Step off.’ He wanted to take the credit. He pretty much exiled us from the group,” Kromko said.
Jeff Squier declined to comment on the situation, saying: “NEPA Street Scene never split up. I stopped caring due to personal issues. The Facebook is still active [and] still has plenty of views. People didn’t want to take it to the next level like I did.”
For Kromko and his friends, the drama following the car meet was killing the vibe of the scene. “It made people not even want to be involved with the car scene as a hobby,” he said.
Kromko said he realized the car scene had potential, inspiring him to help inititate a new group that would bring people together. The potential for the future of the car scene at the “Furious 7” premiere.
“Great Escape in Dickson City gave us an entire parking lot and a private theater. The entire theater was filled. It was great. There was nobody driving reckless. Everyone had a positive attitude. The atmosphere was amazing,” Kromko said.
Exiled Tuners meet every Sunday at different locations and invite car enthusiasts to gather and enjoy the hobby with one another. Search “Exiled Tuners” on Facebook for more information.
THE PAUL WALKER MEMORIAL CRUISE AND MEET
Keystone Underground is a car club based out of Wilkes-Barre, determined to unite the community of car enthusiasts throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania.
“There’s so many different makes of cars; styles of cars. You have domestic, imported, classic, modern; there’s so many varieties of cars,” said club leader Charles Storch. “I wanted to bring a place where all car lovers can get together. There’s a lot of places where it’s kind of segregated. If somebody comes in and you’re not necessarily their style, you’re not going to be really welcomed. Keystone Underground is different. Keystone Underground is very welcoming.”
The club started in 2013 when a group of work friends were having a drink at Tommy Boy’s in Nanticoke. “We all shared a love for cars and found that the scene was cliquey,” Storch said.
The club’s first big meet was the Paul Walker Memorial Cruise and Meet in November 2013; the weekend after the “Furious 7” star was in a fatal car crash.
“I remember when Paul Walker died. We were actually having a club feast for Thanksgiving. Everybody was together,” Storch said. “We had a bunch of food set up and everybody was together. We were actually watching the ‘Fast and Furious’ movies. We got to the second movie and somebody saw a news article come up on Facebook. At first we thought it was a hoax; one of those fake stories that a celebrity died. Then the next morning it was on the news. I couldn’t believe it. I remember thinking how we were just watching him, talking about how these movies has an impact. They brought the car scene back to life. They brought a lot of people together in the community.”
Once Keystone Underground found out Walker’s death was true, they felt compelled to do something. “I looked up to him. We all did. We knew a lot of people arond here were going to be upset,” Storch said.
The memorial ride had more than 60 cars cruising to show their respect. “We started at the Midway Shopping Center in Wyoming, cruised down Wyoming Ave. to Market Street and crossed over the told old Ramada parking garage by King’s College,” he said.
Storch saif the mission to bring car enthusiasts together with Keystone Underground evolved following the Paul Walker memorial. “People see us as punks, and that’s something we are trying to change a little bit. We get involved with benefits and fundraisers and aspire to help the community and help our local businesses. We want to raise awareness that it’s a lifestyle and it’s a passion. Some of the best people I ever met was through these car scenes.”
If you ask George Abraham to describe local car clubs, he’s likely to tell you they lack some serious edge.
“I think there should be some rivalry. That’s what the problem is with our car scene around here. Everyone is too nice to each other. No matter if I like your car or not, I’m expected that if I showed up to your car meet, I’m supposed to tell you how nice your car is. I think that’s asinine,” he said.
According to Abraham, “your typical car club in this area gets together, meets, hangs out and just looks at each others cars and admires them; and that’s pretty much as far as they go with it. Myself and my group of guys, we get together and we race.”
Abraham’s group, Wyoming Valley Racing, is described as a page for “area racing information, events, call outs, shit talking, etc.” He said his group is “the anti-car-shows,” adding he and his group of racing friends, called The Crew, go to car shows as a hunting expedition.
“We’ll go to the biggest car show in the area, see who is running their mouth the most about how fast their car is, and call them out. That’s when the excuses start to fly. The car’s not ready. They don’t have the right tires. But five minutes ago you were telling me it’s the fastest car in the valley until; until you get called out, that’s a different story.”
Legally, the group races at Numidia Dragway in Catawissa.
Illegally, Abraham won’t say: “Any time we do an organized race, there is no threat to the public at all. We go to a two-lane road with steel concrete barriers on each side; no entrance or exit ramps. It’s strictly two cars that are lined up.”
While Hollywood is sensationalizing car scenes in “Furious 7,” there are some parallels between local car groups, Abraham said.
“We’re a very tight-knit crew. We’re a family,” he said.
Exiled Tuners and Keystone Underground share the same sentiments, saying their bond is deeper than their love for cars.
Their passion for cars may be directed at different angles, but they all seem to live their life a quarter mile at a time; and no matter where they are in the world, whether it’s a quarter mile away or half way around the world, they’ll always be family.
Ride or die, remember?