They apparently first started gathering in the Carmel Valley area of San Diego, where police got numerous complaints, including a report of 1,000 cars racing up and down Carmel Country Road.
By the time they reached Westfield North County shopping mall on Via Rancho Parkway, police estimated their numbers at 4,000.
Escondido police cleared them out of the lot by about 11 p.m. with help from sheriff's deputies, San Diego police and the California Highway Patrol. The mass of vehicles turned up at the Shoppes at Carlsbad on El Camino Real at State Route 78 a short time later, and officers spent two hours directing them out of town.
No arrests were made.
"This happens several times a year," said Escondido police Sgt. Fred Cheatham. "I think this is the first one this year."
He said the car enthusiasts are dangerous as they race on public streets and drive in tight "doughnuts," leaving heavy skid marks on parking lot pavement.
The group, known as Krispy Kreme Tuesdays San Diego, or KKTSD, uses social media to post photos of their cars and spread the word on where they will meet next. One 2016 YouTube video of the car meet-up group showed mostly young men hanging out amid a sea of modified cars in a shopping center, bragging about their vehicles and their racing.
"They send out people to watch for cops and listen to scanner apps," Cheatham said. "They'll post to 'meet here,' then 'let's go there.' We get there and they're gone because they hear us coming (on the scanners). We try not to air it on our radios."
On Tuesday, motorists reported seeing cars racing on Interstate 5 and exiting at Del Mar Heights Road around 9 p.m. More callers described 50 to 75 cars racing on the road and forcing other motorists to stop, San Diego police Officer Billy Hernandez said.
Minutes later, the pack was seen around a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop on El Camino Real. By 9:20 p.m., they were revving engines loudly past the nearby Residents Inn by Marriott. Ten minutes after that, an estimated 1,000 cars were speeding up and down Carmel Country Road, Hernandez said.
He said officers did not try to pull over the drivers, who were then reported heading east on State Route 52.
They likely took Interstate 15 north to the Escondido mall. Cheatham said his agency got the word ahead of time from San Diego police. Deputies, CHP officers and a police helicopter headed to the mall to assist local police.
It took almost 90 minutes to clear the racers out of the mall lot and direct them toward Interstate 15. Officers blocked several off-ramps to make sure the drivers didn't come right back into town. They had several fender-bender crashes while they left, but none stayed to file a collision report.
No one was injured and mall property was not damaged, apart from skid marks, Cheatham said.
Carlsbad police Lt. Jason Jackowski said racers started showing up at the Shoppes around 11 p.m. and were doing doughnuts in the parking lot. With help from other police agencies, officers set up a traffic control pattern, then ordered the drivers to leave toward Route 78.
It took about 45 minutes for them to all file out, and officers left the mall about 1 a.m.
Repard writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.