Why Stealing A Race Car Is Really Stupid

Matt Stanford parked his Mustang drag racer behind Varsity Ford in Ann Arbor, Mich., where a thief managed to snatch it. Cops reunited it with its rightful owner a day later. Here's why you don't steal race cars.

Stealing cars is right up there with strangling puppies and drowning kittens as far as we're concerned. As property crimes go, it's perpetrated by the lowest of the low and the ultimate form of "messing with someone else's car," a cardinal sin 'round these parts. That said, there are clever ways to steal a car. Stealing something generic, easy to strip and sell for parts because it's very plentiful is the smart theft. That's why Camrys and Accords are always at the top of the most stolen list. A custom-built race car meets none of these requirements. It's probably the dumbest possible car you can steal.

When Matt Stanford was on his way home from Milan Dragway, he decided to stash his cherry 1991 Mustang notchback drag racer in the locked and guarded service lot at Varsity Ford in Ann Arbor, a dealership he works at and his family owns. Nothing had ever been stolen from that lot, until Saturday.

Why Stealing A Race Car Is Really Stupid

Sometime under the cover of darkness, a 26-year-old man whose name has not been made public by authorities cut the chain, opened the gate, drove in with a pickup, hooked up the trailer and drove away. It wasn't until the morning guard did the rounds and found a missing link of chain that anyone was suspicious. Turns out the night watchman found the door open and relocked the gate; he's looking for alternate employment now.

A lot of questions haven't been answered yet, including how the thief knew it would be there. Sunday morning Matt went to pick up his 'Stang for a charity car show only to find it gone. He filed a report with the Ann Arbor police and then did what any other American might: Alert the internet.

He hopped on the Motown Muscle forum and laid out the details, posted his most recent picture of the car and hoped for the best. Matt's a moderator over there, so the community spread the world like wildfire.

Facebook, Streetfire, Toledo Tuners, CamaroZ28, Mustang Corral, Stangnet, Mustang Forums, Yellowbullet and more got blanketed with the digital APB. Pretty much anyone into cars within five hundred miles knew within hours to be on the lookout.

And this is reason number one why stealing a race car is stupid. People are passionate about cars and their friends' cars. When something like this happens, thousands of eyes will be looking for it. And when it's a totally distinctive-looking car, the odds are stacked even higher against the thief.

Why Stealing A Race Car Is Really Stupid

Reason number two: Most of the time, race cars are not street legal. They usually have straight exhausts that are too loud, slick tires, missing mirrors and lights and all kinds of track tools. The Mustang thief behind this crime decided none of that mattered and took his girlfriend out to dinner in it the very next day. He did attempt to conceal the car's true nature by swapping license plates with his Jeep.

After joyriding his newly-stolen car, the thief decided it needed a car wash. As he was polishing his ill-gotten gains, a Brighton, MIch., police officer noticed the car's slick tires and decided to run the plates. After it came back registered to a Jeep, he questioned the fellow, who offered an unconvincing excuse. The officer ran the VIN and discovered the Mustang's provenance; the suspect confessed, and is now sitting in a Livingston County jail awaiting arraignment.

At 3 A.M. Monday morning Matt got the call saying his car had been recovered, no worse for the wear and slightly cleaner. Matt tells us he's just happy to have it back in one piece.

Two things stick out about the story. We have to wonder what the thief imagined would happen to a car he stole from just 20 miles away. Would nobody notice him driving around a car built custom through and through, capable of running mid-10s in the quarter mile? Did he think such a well-built car wouldn't get noticed by people who had seen it run? Helped build it? And how do you even profit off such a car? You'd have a whole community watching out for Craigslist sales and eBay auctions of the car's parts. These are questions we can't answer, but just some of the reasons it's really dumb to steal a race car.

Given the passion the Motown Muscle community put into trying to find the car, we're thinking the crook here better be happy the cops found him first.

(Thanks to Matt, the Ann Arbor PD and the Brighton PD)