A Car Culture Debates for Style or Speed

Originally Published in The West Indian Newspaper on January 26, 2013 

By: Kamelia Kilawan

It’s a cold, brisk Friday night as passerbys watch in bewilderment while dozens of shiny, show cars are photographed in the street between a glass paneled Starbucks coffee shop, a simmering chicken and rice cart, and the Hilton parking lot.

Two glistening Toyota Supras, red and white, with racecar trunk handles shaped like winged bars stop in the middle of traffic on Sixth Avenue as yellow cabs honk their horns while an NYPD van lags behind.

He crouches below, whips out a tripod and a camera snapping photos of the scene before the cars drive out.

“What brings us together is the picture,” Sateesh Parsotan said at Friday’s car meet on Jan. 18. He explained that you never know if your car’s photo will end up on Facebook but if someone posts it, that shows their respect for the style of your car.

The underground car community in the city has become glamorous bringing many young car enthusiasts together, both during car meetings publicized on Facebook and in a thriving online forum of photos, blogs, and websites. But even after the tragic accident where four Indo-Caribbean teens were found dead in a car that sped off a Long Island highway last October, some leaders of the car movement in Queens have ambitions to suit the need for speed.

 Sateesh Parsotan called "Tesh" in the Monkey Wrench auto shop in Ozone Park, Queens. (Photo Courtesy of Ryan Rosenberg)

Sateesh Parsotan called “Tesh” in the Monkey Wrench auto shop in Ozone Park, Queens. (Photo Courtesy of Ryan Rosenberg)

Parsotan, 26, also known as “Tesh” has been driving a car since he was 16 and has coordinated dozens of meetings online for anywhere from several to several hundred car owners throughout New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut through a network of photographers, auto shops, and models called Lowered Congress with over 37,000 Facebook followers.

The meetings have added to the glamour of the scene, allowing owners to show off their posh vehicles in vacant parking lots and street corners throughout the city to local photographers. Although these meetings are often shut down by the police because they are in public locations.

A car meeting last November in front of the United States Postal Office on Liberty Avenue in Ozone Park, Queens. (Photo Courtesy of Jeffrey Liu)

A car meeting last November in front of the United States Postal Office on Liberty Avenue in Ozone Park, Queens. (Photo Courtesy of Jeffrey Liu)

Yet Parsotan continues to be the face of the underground car community for many in the city including Indo-Caribbeans in Queens.

As his black rosary beads dangled down his neck, Parsotan said by altering the suspension of a vehicle it becomes more attractive, similar to the stance of a runway model as she poses for photographs.

“People are breaking their necks to look at you, it’s the attention, that’s the whole beauty of it,” said Chris Totan, 19, from Ridgewood, Queens about car meets who brought his lowered 1997 off-white Civic last Friday.

A photo of a lowered car enthusiast parked for the Jan. 18 car meeting in West Midtown Manhattan. (Photo Courtesy of Sateesh Parsotan)

A photo of a lowered car enthusiast parked for the Jan. 18 car meeting in West Midtown Manhattan. (Photo Courtesy of Sateesh Parsotan)

But advocates against lowered cars say it destroys the vehicle’s suspension and can be dangerous driving on bumpy city streets.

Pravan Kuntmala, 29, from Astoria, Queens who leads a group against Lowered Congress said lowering a car’s suspension often causes drivers to make abrupt stops and swerves on the road in an effort to avoid large bumps or potholes.

Some members of the car community in Queens feel that a track approved by elected officials would be a lawful way of allowing people to race while the only person capable of being injured is the driver.

Harjit Walia a resident from Richmond Hill explained that one way to focus on the safety of youth interested in racing cars is by developing a racetrack in the city. “If the community had access to such a facility they wouldn’t have to risk their life and others racing on the streets,” he said. But Parsotan said creating a racetrack in the city will only add to the need to speed in the streets. “What will these people do when the track is closed at night?”

Though Parsotan also raced on a track in New Jersey several years ago, he said a track in the city is a risk he does not want his friends to take. “I don’t want to lose anymore friends,” he said referencing his friend Bishnu Dinanauth who died in a race on a highway in Long Island in 2011 while racing another vehicle.

But Walia pointed out the closest track for motor sports is in New Jersey. “There is no place for our hobby,” he said. Kuntmala noted that in previous meetings elected officials from Nassau and Suffolk County rejected their proposals for a track in the area.

Leonard Ali John, 41, the manager of Monkey Wrench who also used to import cars from Japan to Trinidad, said he believes a racetrack is a secure environment for young drivers interested in testing the speed of their vehicles, noting that there are often helmets, a safety crew and firemen on the site.

As a native of Trinidad he remembers being in his twenties testing the speed of his car in Trinidad’s tracks. “You do it to see how it feels. Every one tries to see things and do things just for that adrenaline rush,” he said.

But the need for speed does not always thrill parents, even young parents who attend car meets and are involved in the underground car community in Queens.

Shivanie Seopersad, 21, sat in her husband’s lowered Hyundai Sonata with their six month old son and her twelve year old brother during the car meet on Jan.18.
“I don’t understand what all these girls get so excited about. It’s just the turbo charger or the exhaust engine,” she said as she picked up her baby and wiped his mouth with a washcloth while looking over at a group of girls outside gazing at each car as it entered the street.

Seopersad grew up in South Ozone Park, Queens and mentioned that her husband has been taking her to car meets since they began dating. So far she has been to nearly twenty, some in Flushing, Baldwin and Glencove.

Last week Friday, her husband said he wanted to take their son out to his first car meet.

Avienash Seopersad, 22, said when his son grows up he would tell him not to focus on racing in the streets and instead to have a good-looking car that others would notice.

“I would say don’t go and race that side. Just stick to the show because you’ll be more safe, you’ll get more looks, and you’ll probably be in a magazine one day,” he said.