To ask the question 'Does Fast and Furious happen in real life?' will probably be immediately met with scoffing, but on further examination many of the events, particularly in the earlier series entries, have some basis in reality. The Fast and Furious series is a fundamentally escapist pleasure, but the first movie in the series released way back in 2001 was based on an article in Vibe by Ken Li called Racer X, which as you can probably guess was about street racing and that movie was very accurate in its portrayal of the underground culture.
The street racing lifestyle minus the truck hijackings is captured pretty much perfectly in the first movie and to a slightly lesser degree in the first two sequels. The atmosphere of a street race is captured in great detail. The street races in the first Fast and Furious movie have a sweaty intensity to them which resembles a real life gathering of street racing aficionados. For anyone who has ever witnesses a real life gathering of street racers then the scenes at the beginning of the first movie will not be too dissimilar. The imported Japanese cars complete with expensive tune-ups are exactly the type of cars typical of a street racer. The attire of Brian, Dom and the other street racers is spot on and so is the depiction of women. Much like in the film, women are there to entertain men with their short skirts and pouting lips, emphasising an underlying current of misogyny in the street racing culture.
Compared to Fast and Furious and Fast Five, the first two films seem deeply realistic in their depiction of street racing culture, and that's because, for the most part, they are. The big street racing event in the first movie, 'Race Wars' is an accurate depiction of many meets that go on all across America, and on a much lesser scale in places such as England and Japan. For the 'Race Wars' scene, thousands of real street racers came and participated in the movie to be a part of the huge scene. There were around 1500 cars in the scene and the majority of them were from real street racers, showing that the movie isn't just pure fantasy with regards to its depiction of street racing.
Everybody knows that the absurd events of Fast Five, in particular the dragging of the giant safe are the thing of pure fantasy, but Vulture.com and physicist, Dr. Randall Kelly scientifically proved that to drag a safe of that size and weight it would take 467 cars to do what Brian and Dom did. But part of the fun of the more recent Fast and Furious movies is their escapism and detachment from reality. In fact, the most recent Fast and Furious movies feel like they're from an entirely different franchise in comparison to earlier entries. The first two Fast and Furious movies are fundamentally grounded in reality and capture the essence of street racing as well as what goes on at a street race, but as the series has transgressed more towards heist movies, they have lost that reality and have become simple escapism for the masses.