The crash was reported on Richmond Parkway at about 1:15 a.m., Richmond police Lt. Bisa French said.
Police believe the two cars had been drag racing in the eastbound lanes when they clipped each other and spun out of control.
One of the cars crashed into a ditch on the side of the road, killing the driver, who has been identified as 23-year-old Pablo Lopez-Jaime. Two passengers -- a male and a female -- survived the crash and were taken to a hospital, where they remain in serious condition, French said.
The second vehicle spun into westbound lanes, and the driver and two passengers were not injured.
They initially told police that a third vehicle had clipped the cars before the crash and fled the scene, French said.
Investigators later determined that the two drivers knew each other and had been drag racing.
The driver, 21-year-old Israel Gomez, was arrested for vehicular manslaughter.
Gomez was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash, French said.
Neither Lopez-Jaime nor Gomez were licensed drivers, and both had been previously cited for driving without a license, French said. The crash remains under investigation.