By Jessica Porter

Beattheheat1

It is a rev-head's paradise.
The pungent smell of burnt rubber, hazy smoke filled air and the sound of a 6.2-litre fuel injected VF Commodore with 450 rear wheel horse power pummelling down the quarter mile in 11.038 seconds.
This heaven-on-Earth scenario is just your average Wednesday night for a group of coppers who love interacting with the community through their shared passion for motorsports.
Acting Senior Sergeant Mike Pearson, Acting Detective Senior Sergeant Chris De Bruin and Senior Constable Lee Watson are half of the six-person drag racing team Beat the Heat WA.
This team of motorsport enthusiasts has taken up the challenge to wipe out illegal street racing and bring it to the track.
Beat the Heat originated in the USA more than 30 years ago as a way to engage young people in a fun, non-confrontational atmosphere to help break down the barriers between authority figures and young drivers.
Eight years after the program’s inception, it traversed the other side of the globe to Western Australia where WA Police started the Tango 1 Police Drag Racing program.
Mike Pearson formed Beat the Heat WA in 2005 after the closure of the Tango 1 program. The WA Police Executive wanted to go in another direction, but Mike still saw enormous potential. So too did the 200 chapters of Beat the Heat across the world.
Beattheheat4The aim of the program is simple; get kids to stop hooning in the streets and take it to the track.
The added drawcard is competing against police officers for bragging rights.
“We want to tempt people who may be into illegal street racing to come on down to places like the Perth Motorplex to compete in a safe and controlled environment,” Mike said.
“The second phase of that for us is breaking down the barriers between coppers and members of the public who are car enthusiasts.  
“The problem we get now - and we’re hearing it more and more from young people – is that the first time they get to talk to a copper is when they’ve done something wrong and they’re getting their butt kicked or they’re getting money taken from them.”
Mike wants to change that first interaction into something positive.
“Down here, we get kids coming up and saying g’day. You go for a walk and people want to talk and look at the cars and things like that,” he said while sitting in the back of Beat the Heat’s first and only undercover-style drag car.
“We are all car buffs,” he added. “We love our motorsports so it’s a good way to interact with the community.
Police News was invited to see first-hand what the program was all about and saw many young people approach the team, check out what’s under their hood and build  positive relationships.
One such person is 23-year-old Ashleigh Wroe. Ashleigh has been drag racing since she was nine-years-old and has been regularly racing against Mike, Chris and Lee for years.
The positive connection Ashleigh made with the team also sparked her desire to become part of the WA Police Force. She is now two months into her recruit training at the Police Academy.
“I first started to chat to those guys when I was about 10 or 11 years old,” Ashleigh told Police News.
“We were always intrigued as kids that we could speak to police officers in a social setting. And as I got older, I actually grew out of the group that I was in and stepped into the class that those guys raced in and we’ve all been friends since then.”
Mike said he was stoked Ashleigh would soon be a colleague as well as a fellow racer.
“We’ve got no doubt that based on a bit of time with us, that’s spurred her to want to become a sworn officer.”
Since 2005, the program has been staffed by both police officers and community members. However, it could not run without the help of sponsors.
“When the Tango 1 program was closed our sponsors were the ones who wanted us to continue,” Mike said.
“Holden give us the cars, we have some really good mechanical suppliers and sponsors for tuning, engine building, parts and each of us as full members of Beat the Heat pay $350 a year to the association.”
Mike estimates the cost of running Beat the Heat WA is approximately $20,000 per year.
While the program is marketed as a police drag racing team, WA Police has no involvement and does not provide any funding. Yet, the community perception is that it does.
“We would love it if WA Police would endorse the  program,” he said.
“We have had retired Detective Superintendents that come on down for a play, we’ve had (former Assistant Commissioner) Mick Burnby in the car, we’ve had a current Assistant Commissioner in the car for a ride… so we know we’ve got support.”Beattheheat5
The current cars in the Beat the Heat collection include Tango 1, which is currently on loan to the Motor Museum of WA. She is a 1997 VT HSV Manta sedan with a 6-litre V8 engine. The best standing time for a quarter mile in this beast is 10.79 seconds.
Tango 2 was donated in 2006 and is a 2004 Pontiac GTO coupe. It has a 6.2-litre supercharged V8 engine and is road licensable. It competes in full street trim with only limited modifications to the engine and transmission. It is the fastest in the fleet, completing the quarter mile in 10.22 seconds.
The third addition is Tango 3, a 2008 Commodore SS-V sports wagon. With a Chevy 6.2-litre LS3 engine, its best time for the quarter mile is 11.203 seconds.
Tango 1 to 3 are all marked up with full lights, sirens, logos and tabard.
Tango 4 is the sly addition to the team and is the only unmarked car. It is a 2011 Holden VF Commodore SS sedan with a Chevy 6.2-litre LS3 engine just like Tango 3. It has undercover style lights on the front dash and even has three antennas in the back. The best time for this car is 11.038 seconds.
Tango 5, which is soon to be released, will be a twin to Tango 4 with a Chevy 6.2-litre LSA supercharged engine.
This season Tango 4 was driven by Chris, who is currently based at Mandurah Detectives. He started racing at the old Ravenswood drag races but became involved with Beat the Heat in 2008.
Lee has also been a long-time racer, joining the original Tango 1 team in 1993.
Lee said while the work they do with the community was incredibly important, it was also equally valuable as individuals to have interests outside of the job.
“I’ve been in the job since ’86 so it’s been 32 years. I think if you lived and breathed being a policeman, you’d probably be insane by now. So to have that interest outside of work, and for me having that interest being 99 per cent removed from other policemen, is very important,” Lee said.
“And I keep coming back because you can always go faster.” Speed is only one part of drag racing that attracts the team to the quarter mile. It also comes down to nailing the reaction time.
“It’s a cruel sport, in as much as you’re winning and losing by a thousandth of a second,” Mike said.
“We race in what’s called a dial-in bracket so the biggest budget doesn’t win. It starts from 10 seconds flat and goes to 12.999 seconds,” Mike explains.
“So if I’m in this car at 11 seconds flat and you’re in a corolla at 13 seconds flat, then we give you a two second head start.
So if everything goes to plan and you both cut the same time at the lights, you should get to the finish line together.
“It’s when you have a really, really good race where you’ve cut a killer light, run to your dial-in, as has the bloke you’re racing against and you pip him by .0002 of a second… when you get that close, that’s amazing.”
Mike hoped for tight competition at the 47th Westernationals, WA’s peak drag racing event held over the Labor Day long weekend. His aim was to put two Beat the Heat drivers through the finals to pit cop versus cop.
But the day didn’t turn out as planned.
“Tango 2 recorded a personal best of 10.17 seconds at 136mp/h (218.87km/h) before getting a little lean and cooking six spark plugs,” he said.
Tango 3 qualified well but the run was ended by driver Mike Caridi breaching a red light.
“That left Bear (Chris) in Tango 4 flying the flag for BTHWA. Unfortunately, a slower reaction time in his round four elimination gave the win to Joel Trotman in his top qualifying VC Commodore.”
Despite the exhilaration of speeding down the drag strip, Mike said he was passionate about Beat the Heat because he believed the program has the potential to save lives.
 “I often get asked what I hope to get out of this and I tell them that by the time I have hung this up, the one thing I hope to achieve is to save one life,” he said. “If I can get one person off the street to come down here, I’d retire a happy man.”
Lee also echoed Mike’s comments.
“It would also be to have one conversation with somebody that has said I used to do this on the street and now I’m down here because you’re down here and I can race you.”
“Then you know you’ve actually changed somebody,” Lee said.

 See the video of our ride below!