"We’re lining up with a Ford F-250," Edmy Sotelo says. "We’ll see how it goes. I’m pretty sure I can beat him."
I’m in a car with 23-year-old Edmy. He’s about to gun his Dodge Charger down a quarter-mile racetrack that’s surrounded by oil rigs.
"What would Eddie think? What would he say right now?" I ask Edmy.
"Oh, he’d be happy. Eddie would want to drive my car," Edmy says. "I’d probably let him too, if he was here. I’d let him race it instead of me."
The Culture Of Street Racing
Edmy started racing when he was 15 or 16. He says, for him, it all started with watching action movies with his brother, Eddie.
"You know, we grew up with those movies, man," Edmy says. "When those movies came out, it was kind of like, 'Wow, people are doing that?' Like, that can happen. You can race. So, that kind of opened the door. Here, especially in Odessa, in the West Texas area, everybody knows about cars — girls, guys. You know, just to distract yourself. And that’s what everybody does over here."
There’s not a lot of entertainment in this dusty, one-industry town. So Odessans make their own: They cruise on long, straight roads outside city limits that have code names like 9-mile, County Line and Mexico. They cruise in old Chevelles, tricked-out Mustang 5s and non-stock GMC pick-ups loaded with nitrous. They cruise from red lights, from rolling starts. Some cruise to nothing the but the panther purr of their cars’ engines. Some cruise to hip-hop.
"The first time I raced ... I kinda was dragged into it. I was really a scaredy-cat," Edmy says. "So, I was with my cousin, and he had a race truck. He liked racing. He would be, like, ‘Look, dude, just put your seatbelt on, or just hang on, 'cause we’re doing this.' And he put his foot down, and we hit like 120 on his truck racing down a back road in Odessa. And I was, like, 'Wow, it’s scary, but it feels good.’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, you wanna try it? I’ll let you borrow my truck.’ He showed me how to do it. He showed me what to do, and that’s the start. And, man, it just consumes you, you know? It’s just like — it's a lifestyle. You get drawn to it instead of doing of other things."
A few years ago, Edmy got married and had a kid. He started racing less and less. But Edmy’s brother, Eddie? He fell deeper into illegal racing. Right around the same time, the brothers’ parents got divorced, and there was no one keeping track of Eddie at night.
"My dad gave him an Expedition," Edmy says. "He locked up the engine on the transmission. We thought it was a normal thing. We didn’t think he was racing. So, my dad bought him a little Ford Ranger, and he messed up the transmission on that. And that's when we were like, 'OK, Eddie. What’s going on, dude? Come on.' He was like, ‘No, it’s 'cause...' He always had an excuse. "
For Eddie’s 18th birthday, Edmy and their Dad gave Eddie a souped-up Nissan 350ZX. Last December, less than a year after he got the car, Eddie pulled up to a white Dodge Charger at a red light on University Boulevard. It was two in the morning. When the light turned green, the two sports cars blasted down the city street at 120 miles per hour. Eddie hit a dip in the road.
"My uncle calls me, and I’m like, ‘What's up, Tio?' And he’s like, ‘Your brother, he’s been in an accident,’" Edmy says. "And I was, like, 'OK, what hospital is he at? I'm on my way.’ And he’s, like, ‘No, Mio, he didn’t make it.’ And I was, like, ‘What do you mean he didn’t make it?’ ‘Yeah, look. Just calm down. Take your time. Get your stuff, slowly. Don’t speed or anything. Come over here. Your mom and your grandma are waiting for you over at your grandma’s house.'
"I get to the kitchen — I’m like, ‘Mom, what’s going on?’ She’s crying — like crying -- and she shows me a picture on her phone of the news of Eddie’s car. That’s when I get on my knees, and I just lose it. I just cry. I cry, and I'm like, ‘I was just with him — two, three, four, five -- like five hours ago.'"
If Edmy had any lingering need for speed, it died with his brother. Edmy says he'll never street race again.
From The Street To The Track
Penwell Knights Raceway is a legal racing track just outside Odessa. One of Eddie’s cousins approached the track about doing a memorial event to raise awareness about the dangers of street racing. Edmy had some reservations.
"I came into tonight kind of skeptical about everything," Edmy says. "I’m being honest. Like, we’re gonna come to the race track, you know. My brother’s gone, and we’re just here, you know?"
More than 500 spectators and close to 100 racing cars showed up for the night's races. From 8 p.m. until past midnight hot rods roared down the track.
"But when I got here, I saw everybody smiling — all my family and especially his friends because they knew him. They knew that side of Eddie that I didn’t know," Edmy says.
Racing is so rampant in Odessa, police haven’t been able to keep up, despite assigning entire units to deal with the problem. Last year, Odessa PD made 115 arrests for reckless driving and street racing. In the first six months of 2016, they were already up to 71. For a city of only 100,000, that’s a dramatic figure. Because cops have such a hard time policing street racing, tracks like Penwell are increasingly seen as a way to prevent accidents and save lives. That’s why the track dedicated a night’s racing to Eddie.
Drivers have to wear seatbelts and a helmet. Staffers make sure nobody’s been drinking. Paramedics and a fire crew are on site if a wreck does happen. One more safety rule is no passengers. The manager of the track made an exception for me that night. That’s how I found myself lined up against an F-250 with Edmy at the wheel.
Edmy and the family hope to make the memorial race an annual event.
"I wanna come down at least on the day of his birthday and get some runs in, in his name, you know," Edmy says.
A few months ago – after the memorial race – Ector County ruled on the felony charges against Tyler Brooker. Tyler was the other driver in the accident. He faces no jail time, just five years probation. After the ruling, Edmy met in a courtroom with Tyler, Tyler’s mom, Margie, and Edmy’s own mother, Myrna. This was the first time the families had gotten together in person. Edmy recorded the meeting for himself, but everyone who was in the room agreed to let the some of the recording be aired to help spread the word about the toll of illegal racing. Edmy stayed mostly quiet, as Tyler told him how it all unfolded. It started when Eddie hit a dip in the road.
"And when he did, he caught air," Tyler says in the recording. "As soon as it happened, I ran to go check on him in the alley. I checked and I tried shaking him to wake him up. But he wasn’t waking up. And so ... I ran back to my vehicle and I was telling people to call the cops."
After Tyler called the cops he had another call to make. To his mom. Eddie’s death hit her hard, too.
"I read, I mean, I went on Facebook — we were told not go on Facebook and don't read anything — but, I mean, how can you not when you don’t know anything about him? And that’s the only way I got to know Eddie, was through all the Facebook posts. And I read all the things his friends said about him. And him and Tyler are so similar," Margie says. "So I told Tyler, it’s like everything everybody is describing about Eddie is everything that Tyler basically is."
"Like I said, I’ve always wanted to reach out to y’all, just to kind of give y’all a sign," Tyler says. "Like I said, I pray to Eddie every day. I pray for him every day."
Edmy knows it easily could have gone the other way. And he has his own regrets.
"If I would have known he was so much into racing, I would have done something," he says.
Edmy Sotelo is doing something now. He and Tyler Brooker are getting the word out together about what happened. Telling their friends. Offering forgiveness. They both know street racing is a way of life in Odessa. And they both want that to change.
This segment aired on September 17, 2016.