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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 27, 2006

Hawai'i Raceway Park closing

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawai'i Raceway Park, which for 42 years has given thousands of car and motorcycle racers Hawai'i's only legal outlet to display their high-speed toys, will close in April, the park's owner said yesterday.

Mike Oakland plans to hold his last events at the raceway in Campbell Industrial Park either March 31 or April 1, followed by a month of cleanup to return the 66-acre parcel to the landowner.

"You don't make money in racing in Hawai'i," Oakland said. "It's a hobby. But we have hobbyists that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on their toys."

Maeda Timson, chairwoman of the Makakilo/Kapolei/Honokai Hale Neighborhood Board, worries that without Hawai'i Raceway Park drivers will endanger drivers and pedestrians by turning to illegal races on O'ahu streets and freeways.

"I'm real concerned because we get complaints constantly about speeding in our district," Timson said. "Now it's going to be a free-for-all. I know the raceway people have been really professional and talk to the racers to encourage them to do that in the park and not outside. They're the first ones to say, 'Hey, if you see someone racing from our place, call the police.' "

Hawai'i Raceway Park opened on the Fourth of July weekend in 1964. Oakland took over in 1990, and since then Campbell Estate has been granting him a series of lease extensions, the last of which expires in April.

"This is a decision made by Hawai'i Raceway Park and was not caused by Campbell Estate," estate spokeswoman Theresia McMurdo said. "We have not asked Hawai'i Raceway Park to leave and in fact we have been extending the lease."

But with his latest extension soon to expire, Oakland in the last year also received notice from the Environmental Protection Agency that he could no longer allow racers and fans to use the antiquated cesspool system connected to the raceway. And in January 2005, Oakland's zoning variance expired.

"We have an expired variance, we have cesspools closing under federal mandate and we have a lease that's expiring," Oakland said. "All along I've been telling people that we're running out of time. But people have just been looking at me like I've been crying Chicken Little. Well, guess what? Time's up."

The park's impending end comes after years of unsuccessful lobbying by Oakland to develop a permanent, 140-acre center dedicated to a variety of motorcycle and car racing events at the former Barbers Point Naval Air Station, now known as Kalaeloa.

"I am the perennial optimist that it will happen someday," said Oakland, 63. "But am I going to be alive when it happens? Well, I'm an optimist."

With no new home to turn to for now, Oakland said he has told the nine different concessionaires who produce a variety of car, motorcycle and go-kart events that they, too, will be out of business in April.

"Millions of dollars are directly affected by what we do," Oakland said. "There are going to be hundreds of jobs lost because of the downside of not having a motor sports complex."

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.