Slowing down to forty miles per hour, Raul lines up his Dodge Charger with the blacked-out Porsche Cayenne on Interstate 70, just inside of Denver’s city limits. It’s after 1 a.m., and behind Raul, over a hundred sleek cars associated with 1320 CC, one of Denver’s largest car clubs, are jamming normal drivers on the freeway.
“Hold on, hold on,” says Juan Chavez, leaning forward from the back seat to show Raul the police-tracker app on his phone. “Cops, cops, cops.” Raul speeds up to 55 but lets the Porsche blow ahead.
“Yo, check this out, though,” says 1320 founder Emmanuel “Manny” Rivera from the front seat, pointing out two cars lining up and slowing down to his right. “Mustang and a Porsche! Oh, shit. This one’s gonna be fast.”
A gambler and car fanatic, Rivera is already making his bets. “Gotta be the Mustang,” he says through a mouthful of Doritos.
A sound like a rocket engine crashes across the freeway. The two cars explode ahead, battling for the lead at 150 miles per hour. The cars are all but gone in what feels like a second — but the Mustang is clearly the winner.
Every Friday night since 2013, thousands of car enthusiasts have scanned their Facebook feeds, waiting for Rivera to announce the first location and time of the weekly 1320 CC meetup (the club’s name is a reference to the length in feet of a quarter-mile drag race). When the information is live, hundreds scramble to gather for a “cruise.”
Overfilling shopping-center parking lots with hundreds of cars and motorcycles, drivers talk shop and check out each others’ rides, bragging about how theirs is the fastest. Then they all leave together, heading for the next stop.
A 1320 CC cruise draws a diverse crowd of car enthusiasts — young and old, individuals and families, from Denver and beyond. They come out to connect over their shared passion for muscle cars, motorcycles, souped-up trucks and luxury rides like Bugattis and Ferraris. As the night goes on and the families trickle home, the most dangerous aspect of cruising starts: street racing on roads and interstates.
Denver’s population boom has created an interesting mix of benefits and challenges for 1320 CC, says Rivera.
He credits the boom for the growing size of his car meets — from just a handful of cars and motorcycles in 2008, when he and his friends started cruising informally, to more than 1,500 at some of the largest. But Denver’s growing population has also increased the number of drivers on the road, making the cruises — and the racing that often accompanies them — more disruptive and, in some cases, more dangerous.
Rivera’s father hails from the drug-cartel-dominated state of Sinaloa in Mexico; his mother is from the state of Durango. After immigrating to the U.S., they met in Los Angeles, where Rivera was born.
Although L.A. is known for its sprawl of roads and freeways — and the street racing that thrives among them — Rivera wasn’t into cars as a kid. Growing up in Paramount, which borders the east side of Compton, he gravitated toward things he isn’t proud of today.
“Especially in Paramount, there are a lot of gangs — or ‘crews,’ as they would call them,” he explains. “By my sophomore year in high school, I started affiliating with the wrong people, trying to be cool. Gangbangers.”
He got picked up by the police at the end of high school for something minor, he says, but it was enough to freak out his parents. They sent him to live with relatives in Colorado in 2005 to get him off a dangerous path. His parents eventually moved here, too, and the family settled in Aurora.
It was a rough transition. Rivera missed the Hispanic majority of his old city, and he couldn’t speak Spanish all day anymore. He says he felt even more like a minority.
But he started working in a warehouse overnight and had some money to spend, so he started frequenting the Denver impound-lot auction, where cars impounded by the Denver Police Department are sold on the cheap to the highest bidder.
There he developed a friendship with a guy named Rob, as well as an almost religious devotion to Chevy Camaros. Rob helped him modify his first one: a 1991 IROC Camaro that Rivera bought for $500.
While they were working on the IROC, Rivera admired the 1966 Mustang in Rob’s garage — and an innocent rivalry began to see whose car was faster, in drag races through empty parking lots in Green Valley Ranch. As it turned out, it wasn’t the Camaro.
“It hurt so bad that I lost. I’m a very competitive person,” Rivera says. “To this day, I hate losing. I go to the casinos, and I could lose $2,000 in one night. To me, it doesn’t hurt losing $2,000; it just hurts losing.”
The second car Rivera bought off the impound lot was a 1978 Camaro that he souped up with a 350 CC engine to beat Rob. That didn’t work, so Rivera turned to something he had only seen in the movies: a nitrous oxide system, or NOS, which can propel even a rusty old Camaro to dizzying speeds.
One day in 2009, he called Rob and assembled some friends at an abandoned warehouse for a race — and won. That’s when his hobby turned into more of an obsession, he says.
“I don’t know what I like more about it: winning or the adrenaline rush. And I started winning more than ever before,” he says.
Rivera bought two more Camaros — a 2000 SS and a 2002 SS — and put NOS in both. He says he raced regularly with a handful of friends in the then largely undeveloped Green Valley Ranch.
“It was all empty lots and warehouses,” he recalls.
With nitrous, Rivera couldn’t lose. He says it was almost too easy, and soon he was racing on interstates, smoking opponents at over 140 miles per hour.
“At that speed, you just focus on driving to make sure you don’t fuck up,” Rivera says with an almost hypnotized look in his eyes. “Everything is going by you so fast, you can’t see shit; it’s just a blur. It’s you, your car and your opponent. And it is definitely an adrenaline rush. You could really fuck up bad.”
By 2011, Rivera had started racing and cruising with his friends under the name 1320 Q.K., short for Quarter Killers. They’d cruise and race on Thursday nights in industrial lots and roads in north Denver, Aurora and Commerce City.
That year, Rivera had his first run-in with the police in Colorado. He says he was racing a yellow Mitsubishi Evo on I-70 and flying toward Denver when he saw flashing lights behind him. Thinking it was another challenger — he’d smoked the Evo — he slowed down to line up with the driver, who turned out to be a Denver police officer.
He got slapped with a 33-point violation on his license, a huge speeding ticket, and charges of reckless driving, including engaging in a “speed contest,” the legal term for drag racing.
Rivera was taking college courses at the time and raising a daughter, which factored into the judge’s final decision on the case: He suspended all but the reckless-driving charge, leaving Rivera with only two points on his license, and allowed him to keep his car rather than have it impounded. He also ordered Rivera to apologize to the courtroom.
That night, Rivera was back racing on I-25. He was lining up against a brand-new Dodge Challenger when he looked to his right and saw the flashing red and blue lights of an Aurora police car. If he got caught, jail time was guaranteed.
“This time I’m like, ‘Fuck it, I’m not going to jail.’ I didn’t have an option at the time,” he says. “So I didn’t stop.
“When I was trying to get away from that one, only three things went through my head,” he continues. “One, I’m gonna crash and get killed — or the car was gonna explode, [because] the speedometer needle was sunk all the way down. Two, I’m gonna go to jail and get raped. Three, I’m gonna get away.”
Rivera did get away, but the experience left him shaken.
“Ever since that day, I was like, ‘This shit is not worth it.’ It scared me, man. I would only race once in a blue moon if the time was right.”
But his love for cars — and racing — didn’t die. After escaping the police, he decided to use 1320 CC not exclusively for racing, but to build a community of car enthusiasts in the Denver area.
Rivera’s has always been an informal car club with no official membership. For early recruitment outside of his friend group, Rivera would seek out luxury cars around town and put a business card on the windshield that read “WE SPOTTED YOUR CAR.” On the back were the sleek 1320 logo and Rivera’s email.
“And it worked!” Rivera laughs. “We grew from being, like, twenty of us to fifty cars in a year, which was really good at that time.” By 2013, the year he says marks the official start of 1320, “we were already one of the biggest car clubs.”
His recruitment efforts quickly drew the attention of other car clubs. Rivera vividly remembers his first run-in with another crew.
He was hanging out with his crew in a massive parking lot off of Tower Road and Peña Boulevard when a friend approached him and said another car club was cruising into the same lot.
“Here they come — here rolls in like twenty cars — and I’m like, We’re going to fight them or we’re gonna get jumped,” Rivera recalls. But that crew, called Nationwide, wasn’t looking for trouble. Instead, members invited 1320 to join them.
Nationwide and 1320 began cruising together in packs of over 500 cars. “With that many numbers, as always, people get stupid,” explains Rivera. “People started burning out, doing doughnuts, loitering — a bunch of stupid shit in those parking lots.” That meant the police were getting called.
Nationwide ultimately cracked down on illegal activity after a few run-ins with police, going so far as to cancel its meets. Rivera says he was upset with that decision and broke 1320 off from the group in 2013.
Despite their past, Nationwide and 1320 are still close, so much so that Rivera decided to move his club’s cruises from Saturday to Friday nights to keep from conflicting with Nationwide’s meets. With the emergence of a third cruising club, Everyone’s Car Scene, the numbers have continued to grow.
“With the different clubs like Nationwide and ECS, it’s been like a growing family,” Rivera says. “And you know what’s scary? It’s just gonna keep on growing. It’s not gonna stop, I promise you that.”
Wheat Ridge Police Department patrol operations division chief Jim Lorentz says his department knows about the growing popularity of car clubs firsthand.
On Friday, August 18, the police department headquarters in the sleepy Denver suburb was being flooded with calls from angry locals about a massive disturbance on West 44th Avenue, a main road.
According to Lorentz, the picture wasn’t pretty: Over a thousand car enthusiasts — from 1320, though police didn’t know it at the time — had descended on a small parking lot that barely contained them. Burnouts and engine-revving filled the nearby neighborhood with noise, and there were reports that the car freaks had attempted to shut down 44th Avenue for drag racing.
“I couldn’t tell you how many calls we got; we were overwhelmed,” Lorentz recalls. So he dispatched Wheat Ridge police officers and quickly called for help from other nearby departments for a “show of force” to disperse the crowd.
By the time the Denver Police Department’s helicopter arrived, Rivera had climbed onto the roof of an overlooking building and was trying to calm the crowd that had gathered below him.
But the weekly 1320 CC meet had gotten out of control.
Hundreds of engines revved as the meet was broken up by the police, who estimated that 500 cars and 1,200 people had gathered. Some allegedly hurled beer bottles at police cruisers, and one driver affiliated with the event quickly ran a red light and smashed into another car. Lorentz, who was not at the meet, says his officers characterized the night’s activities as “general mayhem.”
Although 1320 CC members eventually went home, restoring peace and quiet to Wheat Ridge, the fiasco catapulted the club, and Rivera, into a media blitz.
The next morning, 9News ran a report called “Police Break Up Large Street Racing Event in Wheat Ridge.” From CBS4: “Car Club Party Gets Out of Control.”
When he isn’t commanding the DPD’s traffic investigations unit, Lieutenant Robert Rock races on Wednesdays at Bandimere Speedway, where drag racing is legal. His ride of choice? A nitrous-powered Corvette.
“Before they even put the nitrous package in, I went up [to Bandimere] one time, and I went so fast it felt like the blood was rushing to the back of my head in the quarter-mile,” says Rock. “We did that in thirteen seconds.”
He’s also raced the police department’s 16,000-pound SWAT vehicle, which did the quarter-mile in a whopping 38 seconds.
The longtime car enthusiast cruised Colfax Avenue as a teenager growing up in Lakewood. Later, he led the DPD’s efforts in southwest Denver to stop drag racing up and down Federal Boulevard.
Police departments struggle with how to crack down on drag racing. There’s no specific law that addresses street racing in Denver aside from reckless driving and noise-ordinance violations; as a result, data isn’t available on racing-related offenses. But a reckless-driving conviction results in a twelve-point violation on a license and gives the DPD the power to impound the vehicle in question.
Rock acknowledges the allure of racing, calling it exciting but dangerous. Its victims are usually bystanders. In 2014, a Regis University student was struck and killed by a car going 100 miles per hour on Federal Boulevard; the driver, David Felan, not a known associate of a car club, was later convicted and sentenced to twelve years in prison. In 2016, a seventeen-year-old with a learner’s permit, also not a known associate of a car club, killed a pedestrian after racing with another car on Alameda Avenue.
Both deaths took place on the long, wide boulevards common in southwest Denver, and subsequently led the DPD to use an unconventional tactic to crack down on racing: towing the rare vehicles that are caught racing, under the city’s public-nuisance law.
The nature of the crime also makes it logistically difficult to control. Cars are usually long gone by the time police can respond to calls. Plus, racers often weave in and out of multiple jurisdictions.
That’s why police are taking a more unified approach to cracking down on street racing. The August 18 fiasco in Wheat Ridge offers a glimpse of what that looks like: After Lorentz reached out for help, he got it quickly, not only from the DPD and its helicopter division, but also from the Lakewood Police Department, Colorado State Patrol, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and Arvada Police Department.
“We’re leaning toward that larger discussion because we don’t anticipate that this is a fad that will go away,” Rock says of the weekend car clubs and their illicit behaviors. “From my perspective, we haven’t seen [the car meets] having a negative impact. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t going to. We’re not here to rain on anyone’s parade, unless it is an illegal parade. That’s pretty much it.”
On September 8, before the Mustang and Porsche race at dizzying speeds on I-70, Rivera is in his Green Valley Ranch home wearing a gold T-shirt emblazoned with a print of a winged snarling tiger and the words “I AM KING.”
Juan Chavez arrives. Barely in his twenties, Chavez is already considered a go-to auto mechanic for 1320’s car enthusiasts. He’s also Rivera’s right-hand man.
Seated at his dining-room table, Rivera flips open his laptop to monitor a Facebook post he had written announcing 1320’s first meet that evening. It’s doing quite well. “See, we put this up an hour ago, and it’s already got 7,000 views and eighty shares,” Rivera says. “The whole page has more than 32,000 likes. From a few years ago, that’s crazy.”
Rivera’s phone keeps ringing: He forgot to post the location of the night’s meet. “Mississippi and Chambers, Mississippi and Chambers,” Manny tells callers as he types the location into a Facebook post. Then he announces, “All right, let’s cruise!”
Rivera and Chavez arrive at a parking lot in Aurora to an enormous line of souped-up cars. They’re in their friend Raul’s modified cobalt-blue Dodge Charger.
Luxury cars, garage-modified Hondas, raised trucks and squads of Ducati and BMW motorcycles continue to file into the lot, which is near capacity.
It takes Rivera and his crew about ten minutes to find a spot, across from a jet-black Corvette. Rivera hops out of the car, and immediately a group of teens and twenty-somethings are there to shake his hand. One of them holds a boombox lit up with LEDs that’s bumping Usher’s “Yeah” and other 2000s club hits. At the end of the row of cars are four burly Aurora firefighters standing proudly in front of their shining fire truck. Declining to give their names, they say they were driving past the lot after a call and decided to show off their massive ride, which sparkles in the streetlights and neon LEDs of passing cars.
Rivera and Chavez break off to check out the engine of an Infiniti. Nearby, a friend of Rivera’s, an energetic 22-year-old named Garrison, talks about how special the community aspect of 1320 is to him.
“We’re a big family,” he explains. “I can see what someone is driving and be like, ‘What are you boosting there, man?’ — and connect that way with someone I’ve never met.”
Garrison explains what’s likely to happen next as he sees it. “We do get out on the highway and we do race. But,” he’s quick to add, “we make sure it’s safe.”
Later, Rivera points over to Garrison and the big group of teenagers near him: “Look, 1320 is a chance for people to come together over something positive: cars. I mean, what would these kids be doing on their Friday night if they weren’t here?”
Rivera might facilitate a race or even be in a car that’s racing, but the 2011 run-in with police mostly scared him away from being behind the wheel himself. And he has a young daughter who needs a positive role model.
Rivera and Chavez also recognize that street racing and other illegal activity associated with 1320 could turn the police and local businesses against them.
“You’ll never hear me or Manny say, ‘Let’s all go street racing,’” Chavez explains. “Sure, we used to race when we were younger. Young and dumb. But now, with all the media, can you imagine what would happen if Manny got caught?”
Rivera mounts a pickup truck and gathers people around him. A wave of excitement rushes through the crowd as he gives the next location of the meet, but people run back to their cars before he has a chance to finish. “And, as always, be safe,” he says. “No burnouts, no racing and no revs. Let’s cruise!”
Rivera is visibly annoyed when a crew of five motorcyclists start revving their engines underneath a store’s portico. He sets off and asks them to cut it out — a command they heed only briefly.
“That shit is so annoying,” says Chavez. “That’s what gets people to call the police on us.” They hop into Raul’s Charger and leave the lot.
It seems like 1320 has taken over all of Aurora: Stoplights are backed up by cars from the meet, and when Rivera and Chavez stop for caffeine at the nearby 7-Eleven, they watch beautiful cars and motorcycles drive by for a good ten minutes.
Following the line of cars, they merge onto I-25, and immediately the fun begins. Ahead, a block of some 150 cars have slowed down to thirty or forty miles per hour, forcing Raul to slam on the brakes. Cars race off in front of the pack.
Sitting in the front, Chavez shrugs off the racing and says that, aside from cautioning people against it, there’s nothing they can do to stop it. “If they get caught, it’s on them,” he says. “That’s their choice, man.”
The destination is an RTD parking lot in north Aurora. By the time the 1320 crew reaches the lot, it is 12:20 a.m. and the smells of gasoline and burnt rubber fill the air. A truck on the edge of the lot is spinning and spewing smoke in an impressive (and illegal) burnout, and Rivera and Chavez eye it with disdain. One of their friends walks over and tells them that he has the license plate number and that the truck and its driver have been 86’d from the meets.
It’s after 1 a.m. by the time they leave for the final stop — a King Soopers near Green Valley Ranch — with over a hundred other cars, which quickly fill I-70.
A motorcycle speeds by at over 100 miles per hour, weaving expertly through traffic. Clinging to the rider is a teenage girl, whose hair flies wildly.
In Raul’s car, Rivera and Chavez refuse to race but use the police-tracker app to wave off others trying to get their fill. They pass several Aurora and Denver police cars, but no one is stopped.
The meet has a different feel by 1:30 a.m. It’s down to about twenty cars. Some people are smoking weed, and a nearby Jeep is filled with women twerking to Young Thug. A Bugatti parks in the middle of the lot and revs its engine multiple times before pulling out toward I-70.
The first location for that September 8 cruise, the parking lot at Chambers and Mississippi, hosted seven more meets in August and early September, says Justin Davis, who runs a private security company that protects businesses in that lot, including Nickel-A-Play, an arcade and restaurant that was hidden behind the Aurora fire truck at the September 8 meet. It’s also the only business in the lot that is open that late, other than a Wendy’s on the corner.
Nickel-A-Play manager Allison Groves says she had never heard of a car meet until her employees showed her a security video.
“I watched it, and I was like, ‘This is crazy,’” Groves recalls. “I told my employees to call the police next time, because not only are they doing a car meet, they’re out there drinking alcohol on the property.” (Rivera maintains that there is no drinking at meets.)
She says the meets are starting to impact business. “Everybody else in the shopping center is closed when they show up at 11 p.m. at night,” she explains. “I don’t think [the cruisers] realize that I was open until midnight. People couldn’t even cross the street because they were zooming by.”
Rivera says that he always asks permission from local business owners before deciding on a location for the meet. But Davis says the property management that employs him has never gotten a call.
Before a September 29 meet, Rivera scrambled to find a new location after a property-management company he contacted had threatened to call the police if the meet took place at its Centennial lot.
Trying to fall back on the Aurora lot, Rivera made repeated calls to Davis, who didn’t answer the phone. Rivera appeared distressed but wasn’t deterred: “Either he gives us the green light or we’re going to have to put it there.”
It’s hard to estimate the size of Denver’s cruising scene. The Facebook pages of 1320 CC, Nationwide and ECS have more than 125,000 likes total, but Chavez says that the clubs probably share a lot of car enthusiasts between them.
“We all have a passion for cars, but we all do separate things on separate days,” Chavez explains. “It’s like one whole scene, but with three separate organizers.” (Nationwide and ECS declined to comment for this story.)
Members of 1320 say their club is the biggest in the city’s history. Whether that’s true or not, Denver has a rich history of car-cruising scenes — and street racing.
John C. Bandimere III is the general manager of Bandimere, the quarter-mile racetrack near Golden that has opened its doors to car nuts for drag racing since the 1950s.
“My grandfather started this in 1958,” Bandimere explains. “Back then it was all about hitting the drive-ins, things like that, and just cruising around, and obviously there was still street racing even then. [My grandfather] loved kids; he wanted kids to have a place where they could [race] for fun, do it in a safe environment, play with their cars, and do it safely and not get in trouble.”
From the 1950s through the ’70s, teens would cruise between Federal, 16th Street (before it was redeveloped as the 16th Street Mall) and Colfax. The scene centered around an iconic drive-in called the Scotchman, at Federal Boulevard and 50th Avenue.
The joint was known for its tongue-in-cheek humor: The specialty was the Horrible Burger with a Choking Coke, a special vanilla drink concocted by the restaurant. Carhops on roller skates delivered greasy grub directly to cars, just like a scene out of American Graffiti.
Ivy Richard was usually at the Scotchman on weekend nights and vividly remembers the cars in her life at the time. Her boyfriend drove a lime-green 1970 Plymouth Roadrunner, and then in 1974 bought a 1970 Plymouth Superbird. Her best friend drove a 1972 Plymouth Duster with a custom paint job that made it really stand out.
“That usually happened on Saturday night, so when you went to school on Monday, you saw people who were there — the cool bunch,” says Richard, who now runs Colorado Mopar, a club for muscle- and modified-car enthusiasts. “That’s where you went to be seen. I was sixteen or seventeen at the beginning, and my friend was a carhop at the Scotchman.”
Typically, says Richard, the cruise would loop from the Scotchman to 16th Street to Colfax, sometimes over and over in one night. But the scene, with its crowds of speeding teenagers, soon drew the attention of local police.
“The establishment — the powers that be — they wanted to make sure everybody was safe and everybody followed the rules, that kind of thing,” Richard says. “But this culture tends to be rebel-ish.”
Though the Scotchman closed in 1977 and police started cracking down even harder on racing and cruising, the scene didn’t die there. Many of the cruisers from back in the day flock to the monthly “Supercruise” in Golden and gather regularly for Colorado Mopar club events. Richard says that her son frequents the cruise meets, including those of 1320 CC.
“The passion continues, even with the younger crowd. It’s a real big thing, with quite a big following,” Richard says. “There is such a huge, huge car culture here in Denver and in Colorado itself.”
Maintaining the next generation of car cruising is important to Bandimere — his son also cruises with 1320 CC — but he does raise some concerns about the scene.
“As long as they’re being responsible, it’s a cool thing,” Bandimere says. “The difference is, though, back [in the ’70s], cars were not nearly as fast. You did not have near the amount of traffic, so they could kind of get away with it and not cause a whole lot of grief. But today, kids have got cars that come off the showroom floor that can run a quarter-mile in ten seconds at 140 miles per hour. So that whole element has changed a lot.”
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Rivera and Chavez say they have built a community with 1320. On top of the club, they’ve launched a YouTube channel to showcase superb local auto work and have spearheaded an annual fundraising and donation event that provides low-income children with Christmas presents.
Chavez says he has a tremendous amount of respect for Rivera. “I wouldn’t be who I am without 1320 CC and him, for sure,” he says. “He taught me social skills, too, and did that for a lot of other people. And I don’t think he realizes that all the time, but that’s what he does.”
Rivera is also proud of the community he’s helped build in the past decade.
“What I love about the car meets, man, we all get along with each other,” he says. “I love that our meets bring us some kind of unity. It’s just a passion for the cars.”