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Photos from Inside the Modified Car Culture of Toronto's Suburbs

Norman Wong

Photographer Norman Wong's latest project delves into the underground scene in the suburbs where he grew up.


At an organized legal event called Canada Sport Compact Series, hosted at Toronto Motorsport Park in Cayuga, Ontario

This story appeared in the June issue of VICE magazine (Canadian edition). Click HERE to subscribe.

Growing up in the Greater Toronto Area—specifically the suburb of Markham, Ontario—drag racing had always been in the background for me. In high school, I would hear of meetups and races around Kennedy Commons, which became a prime ground for Modified Automobiles Showcases. It was a weekly meet up—people who knew, just knew, but that was my only personal connection to the world growing up. This is an ongoing series exploring the Toronto suburbs through the culture of modified automobiles and street racing.

Last year I met these two guys at a wonton shop near my folks' place in Markham, I noticed them at the parking lot shining their modified car, I approached them and started to chat with them. Then I started to try to get my foot in the door, to see what was really going on, I photographed a bit here and there and discovered that the world is big—the more I dig the more I find.

For the past year, I've been documenting official and unofficial car lot meets, ranging from very organized (STRADA) to more DIY (Phantom Meets GTA, Club Synergy, Kaiten). Ultimately I'm trying to document as many angles as possible, to fully explore the world of modified automobiles in Toronto and do it in a style that hasn't been done before.

I've also been going out to the "runs"—a term for street races around the airport strip. I couldn't find a way into the runs last year, but this year I slipped in and started to finally document the event. There is a lot of unspoken code during the runs. It's pretty simple, but people just meet at a spot—generally at a Princess Auto shop with a Tim Hortons—where they wait until a unanimous leader starts revving his or her engine, and they lead the pack to a race zone where motorcycles and mod cars race. These races happen with a couple rounds, and they race until they get busted. Then everyone meets at another location until it happens again, eventually ending up in somewhere like Oakville, sometimes going until 5 AM.

I always dreaded the suburbs, I fought hard to get out so that I could pursue outsider ambitions like photographing the music scene in Toronto. But when I started a collaboration with a Toronto men's wear shop called Working Title, which also focuses on art photo books, co-owner Paul Shkordoff and I had been talking about working on a project together that helps us embrace where we grew up (he's from Oshawa, another Toronto suburb). So it was funny to find myself this past year going back out and embracing the suburbs only to realize that there was such an exciting and subversive underground scene going on around me all along.

This article has been updated from a previous version to include additional and corrected captions.

Follow Norman Wong on Instagram.

Updates on Norman Wong's street racing photo book can be found at index.workingtitleshop.com

At dusk at a meet in Rexdale, at the western edge of Toronto

Brampton kids vaping in their car during a night meet

Strada car meet

ZORO working on rims at his underground DIY shop

Underground auto shop in Mississauga, Ontario

Cars doing burn-outs at the tail end of an organized meet-up called @club.synergy

A 1,300 horsepower motor

Member of the Chinese bike gang 14 Blades