The cars raced in and the men hopped out, their weapons cocked. Overhead, a helicopter chopped the night air, aiming a floodlight on the action below.

The scene, played out Friday night on a side street in Woodbridge, was reminiscent of a television cop show. Prince William County police raided two houses that they said had become the county's first open-air drug market. By evening's end, officials said they had made eight arrests and confiscated a small amount of crack, a cocaine derivative.

The raid, the culmination of a six-week undercover investigation, represented Prince William's first significant assault against crack, a highly potent drug that has just begun to appear in the county, according to police spokesman Sam Walker.

About 55 uniformed and undercover officers, including 10 members of the department's SWAT team, took part in the raid. Some said later that they were disappointed that the number of arrests and the amount of drugs seized were not larger.

Nonetheless, the police had assured themselves ample publicity for the operation. Walker had notified local newspapers and area television stations earlier in the day that the raid was scheduled, and about 10 reporters and camera operators were picked up at the police department's Gar-Field substation and driven to the scene in a county bus.

The raid was conducted at two houses on Herbert Drive, which juts off Davis Ford Road across the street from the Tackett's Mill shopping center. The neighborhood, a stretch of aging, lower income houses, had become home to unusually brazen drug dealing, police said.

"It was like a supermarket -- drive in, buy it, drive out," said Police Chief George T. Owens.

Although the arrests and drug seizures were modest, Owens said he hoped the raid would serve notice to buyers and sellers alike that Prince William will not tolerate illegal narcotics. "We don't want it, we don't condone it and we will do what we can to stamp it out," he said.

Walker said police had been closely observing the property at 12907 Herbert Dr., allegedly the center of the drug activity, and that undercover officers had purchased drugs there several times. During a two-hour period the Friday before last week's raid, police witnessed 43 drug transactions there, Walker said.

Officers said the activity on Herbert Drive may be connected to larger drug operations in the District or elsewhere in Northern Virginia.

Friday's raid took more than three hours, beginning about 7 p.m., when officers working undercover along Herbert Drive and others observing from a distance closed in on the properties.

As suspected drug purchasers left, officers followed them in unmarked cars and pulled them over once they were a short distance away, Walker said.

After police finished that end of the operation, a large number of marked and unmarked vehicles raced to the Herbert Drive site in an effort to catch the suspected drug sellers. A state police helicopter hovered overhead, its spotlight trained on the unfolding scene.

When police arrived -- with the media bus right behind them -- the suspected drug dealers were in the street. Some scurried safely into the woods, while others were quickly apprehended, with several officers yelling "Freeze!" as they encircled the suspects with their shotguns and revolvers aimed.

Arrested were Alfred Delaney, no fixed address, charged with carrying a concealed weapon; Wayne A. Dix, 35, of 13551 Lynn St. in Woodbridge, charged with possession of cocaine; Alfred J. Honeycutt IV, 20, of 15450 Silvan Glen Dr. in Dumfries, charged with possession of marijuana; Adrienne Muse, 27, of 2962 Tomason Pike in Quantico, charged with possession of cocaine; Stephen C. Pieper, 24, of 13882 Montclair La. in Dale City, charged with possession of marijuana; Raymond Rowe, no fixed address, charged with possession of cocaine; Bryan A. Thrower, no fixed address, charged with possession of marijuana, and Ernest J. White of 2809 Banks Ct. in Dumfries, charged with possession of cocaine and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Walker was unable to say early this week how much drugs had been confiscated in the raid.