That was the month that VIBE decided to chronicle an ambitious street racer from the gritty blocks of New York City’s Washington Heights. Little did anyone know, the issue’s “Racer X” article would play a monumental role in the inception of the worldwide box office-smashing saga, The Fast & The Furious. One article, six chapters and 17 years later, VIBE teamed up with Universal Pictures to celebrate the release of the $2 billion dollar grossing franchise’s highly anticipated sequel, Furious 7. Over the last month, VIBE has shined the spotlight on four of the cast's main stars - Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Ludacris and Tyrese – in the form of special edition digital covers. With the newest instalment hitting theaters and IMAX on April 3, VIBE decided to take you on a joyride down memory lane by reuniting former VIBE writer Kenneth Li with the “Racer X” - Rafael Estevez. Scroll down to see their reunion, outtakes from the digital cover shoot and the best moments from the Fast & Furious series.
New York City was his domain and he was a pedal-stomping sultan during the late ’90s, earning eternal respect and dusting any challenger who dared to line up bumpers. The Dominican daredevil from Washington Heights was making major bank via illegal highway races, flooring Honda Civics at velocities nearing 200 miles per hour all while evading cop cars. But he never imagined that he’d become the inspiration for a film franchise that has grossed in the billions worldwide, 15 years later.
It all started with an article. Kenneth Li, then a newspaper reporter for New York's Daily News, got put on to the auto underworld in his Queens, New York stomping grounds while chasing a story on a car theft ring. He canned that piece after being introduced to Estevez. Fascinated by the turbo-charged import vehicles and organized races, Li profiled the then 30-year-old speedster, even riding shotgun during a contest to discover first-hand what truly keeps Estevez going. The feature, which also chronicled the quest to build a car that could zip a quarter mile in less than 10 seconds, was published in VIBE’s May 1998 issue. It was titled “Racer X,” and would be plucked by Universal Pictures as source material for a script on underground car culture.
Seven feature films later, Furious 7 is revving up to become another sure-shot blockbuster, perhaps the most action-packed and emotionally charged of the entire saga. To celebrate, VIBE popped the clutch in reverse and reunited the two men who originally push started the F&F franchise in our own publication. More than a decade after their last meeting, Li sits down with Estevez in his DRT Racing auto shop in Queens, New York to reminisce on the “Racer X” story that started it all, reflect on how authentic the movies are and how the Internet has transformed the street racing culture.