More street racing feared when track shuts down
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dan Nakaso
The impending closure of Hawai'i Raceway Park in April has parents and police concerned about a potential rise in illegal street racing — while machine shops and other racing-related businesses are wondering how they'll keep operating.
"We hope that it doesn't, but we realize that the possibility (of increased street racing) exists," said Honolulu Police Department spokeswoman Michelle Yu.
"We'll continue to conduct enforcement."
In 2004, HPD officers issued 199 "racing on highway" citations and 381 citations for "exhibition/acceleration of speed." For the first nine months of 2005, they issued 186 "racing on highway" citations and 283 for "exhibition/acceleration of speed."
"I think the racetrack has been a great outlet for folks who do want to race in a safe manner, rather than on the freeways," said Scott Ishikawa, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.
LEASE EXPIRES IN APRIL
Mike Oakland, president of the Hawai'i Motorsports Center, said this week that he will close the 66-acre Hawai'i Raceway Park at Campbell Industrial Park when his lease extension expires in April.
Oakland has been frustrated in his attempts to develop a new race complex at Kalaeloa.
Rodney Gouveia of Foster Village says he practically raised his two sons — ages 19 and 24 — at the raceway park, and for years has lectured them about the appropriate time and place to race.
"I've always told them that if you want to race, race on the track and not on the street," Gouveia said. "Both boys have never had a speeding ticket at all. I don't know if it's from that or we're just fortunate. But their driving records are as clean as a whistle."
Gouveia is thinking of shipping his race car to the Mainland, where he'd store it and possibly race it once a year. "Our hands are tied," Gouveia said.
Like Gouveia, Larry Petersen of Wahiawa worries that drivers will use their modified cars and motorcycles to race on Honolulu's streets and freeways when Hawai'i Raceway Park closes.
"Just look at what already happens on the freeway now and triple it," Petersen said.
He, too, lectures his two sons that racing and speeding are reserved for the track.
"We tell them that if you want to race, if you want to go fast, you need to do it on the racetrack," Petersen said.
"Whether it's driving in a circle or on the dirt or straightaway on the quarter-mile or whether it's drifting, it needs to be done where there's no traffic, there's no kids running all over the place and no dogs on the street."
FAMILY AND FRIENDS
Petersen usually brings 10 to 15 relatives and friends with him to Hawai'i Raceway Park, where the family most recently had been competing in sprint-car races.
"Some sit in the stands, some scrape mud, some change tires," Petersen said. "This particular hobby takes up a lot of time. That's why you try to do it as a family. You get your wife involved, you get your kids involved. It's a blast."
Petersen just spent $15,000 on a new, nonwing sprint car that he ordered from the Mainland. Tires, wheels and a high-performance engine will cost him another $12,000 or so.
Petersen, 46, started out racing stock cars at Hawai'i Raceway Park and doesn't want to calculate how much money he has spent there over the years — or how much he spends annually on his hobby.
"I'd be scared to think of the number," Petersen said.
Gouveia of Foster Village said he recently purchased an $11,000 econo-sprint car to use at Hawai'i Raceway Park and expects to spend another $9,000 getting it race-ready.
SHOP OWNER WORRIES
Mark Tavares, who owns Snyder Machine Works in Waipahu, worries what drivers with street-legal cars will do when the race complex closes.
"We can't do without a racetrack on the island," Tavares said. "There will be chaos on the road. Nobody wants that. That endangers everybody."
Snyder Machine Works specializes in high-performance engine work, where customers pay anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000. The average customer typically spends about $6,000 to $7,000.
Tavares estimates that the end of the racetrack will cost him 40 percent to 50 percent of his business.
"It'll take a lot of customers away, definitely," he said.
Tom Bryant expects that he will have to close up for good when the raceway park runs its last events.
He is owner, part-owner or key employee of four separate racing, drifting and driving businesses that put on various events at the park.
"I'll have to change industries altogether," Bryant said. "I could try and open up a repair shop or go where the money is, which is construction.
"But what's worst of all is the fear that these guys are going to take to the streets.
"That's the hard reality of the racetrack closing."
Reach Dan Nakaso at email@example.com.