Imagine being 16 years old, fresh off your driver’s ed test with a crisp license in hand, and you’re drag racing against a uniformed police officer. That’s the opportunity teens are given at the Top the Cops program in Santa Rosa, Calif.

Each Wednesday afternoon from April through August, high school students in the Bay Area are given the chance to rev their engines and stare down a quarter-mile track at the Sonoma Raceway as they race local police officers in official vehicles.

“There was illegal street racing being done in and around the city of Santa Rosa, and I thought, ‘We need to get these people over here to the racetrack so they stop doing that out on the street,'” retired police officer and founder of Top the Cops Kevin McKinnie told Great Big Story.

The program just finished its 23rd season, and according to McKinnie, incidents of illegal street racing have declined dramatically in the area.



According to Sonoma Raceway, it’s $15 for students to race ($10 for spectators), and each competitor must have a current high school ID card and driver’s license, and a car that passes a simple inspection. Then the students are allowed a few practice runs before going head-to-head against officers in their patrol cars.

“You could bring your mom’s Volvo out. We’ve had everything from station wagons to minivans,” Sonoma Raceway spokesperson Laurence Lea told KCRA3.

Not only is the program giving teens an outlet for their need for speed and desire to race, but it’s giving officers the chance to interact with students in a different way.

When not waiting for the light to turn green, officers converse with teens about their race times, talk a little trash, and offer tips for safe driving and warnings about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, especially behind the wheel.

Top the Cops is the only known program of its kind in the U.S., and after 23 years and counting, its leaving everyone else in the dust.