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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Effort afoot to rescue Campbell Park racetrack

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

There may be hope yet for Hawai'i Raceway Park.

George Grace III, who helps run oval dirt-track races at the park and supplies the operation with port-a-potties, wants to organize a new effort to keep the track open past April.

"We don't need a new track," Grace said. "We just need ours fixed up."

Mike Oakland, president of the Hawai'i Motorsports Center, said last week that he will close the 66-acre Hawai'i Raceway Park at Campbell Industrial Park when his lease extension expires at the end of April, raising fears that drivers will turn to illegal racing on Honolulu's streets and freeways.

Oakland has unsuccessfully tried to get a 144-acre raceway developed at Kalaeloa, the former Barber's Point. He is closing the existing park because his zoning exemption has expired and he received notice from the Environmental Protection Agency that he could no longer allow racers and fans to use toilets connected to a cesspool system.

Grace, the owner of Paradise Lua Inc., said yesterday that it would be no problem for him to supply enough temporary port-a-potties while he works to get the proper permits to install a permanent sewer system.

But Grace acknowledged that he will need help from lawmakers on the zoning issues for the property, which Oakland said is zoned for agricultural use. And Grace has yet to get an audience with the raceway's landowners, Campbell Estate, concerning a possible new lease.

In a statement yesterday, Campbell Estate spokeswoman Theresia McMurdo said, "The property is currently under lease, and we cannot discuss the property with anyone other than the lessee at this time."

MONEY NEEDED

Grace estimates that he would need "a couple of hundred thousand dollars" to improve the raceway and is willing to raise the money on his own.

Grace said he has spent "well over $250,000" in the past three years "for machinery, repair work done at the track, fixing fences, fixing gates, fixing electrical, fixing the lights."

Over the same period, Grace estimates that he has spent another $30,000 to $40,000 at the raceway sponsoring individual drivers.

"I think I've put out a lot of money and a lot of effort for this thing," he said. "I don't make any money. It costs me money."

Grace, 40, spent much of his childhood at the raceway with his father, George Grace Jr., the owner of Grace Enterprises an operation that his son called "the island's biggest junkyard and used auto parts operation."

"My dad was a huge race sponsor back in the '70s and I was just a kid who used to hang out with him at the racetrack," George Grace III said.

KEEPING THE TRACK

About four years ago, Grace said he began working with Jerry Apana, the track's general manager, to organize a series of competitions in seven car classes: bomber, mini-stock, super street, modified, econo-sprint, wing sprints and mini-modified.

"That made the guys bring their cars out of the bushes," Grace said.

In December, Grace and Apana organized a "Race Against Hunger" that attracted 107 cars and 4,100 fans and collected 2,700 cans of food for the Hawai'i Foodbank.

"We wanted to help feed the hungry during the holidays," Grace said.

Now Grace plans to turn his energy into saving Hawai'i Raceway Park and renovating it for the future.

"If they go ahead and destroy this track when the lease ends, we've got to start from scratch," he said. "But we don't need to find another track. We just need to do whatever's necessary to keep the one we have."

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.