Box-car kids riding gravity for thrills, skills
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Michael Tsai
There's nothing remotely high-tech about the classic American box car — just wood housing steel powered by gravity. No bells or whistles. No smoke and nary a mirror.
Still, that didn't keep thoroughly modern Joshua Okuda, 5, from having a blast on his first visit to American Box Car Racing International's recently opened track in Kunia.
"It's deceiving," said Joshua's dad Ivan, 38. "It doesn't look like it would be real fun, but it is. You can go pretty fast around the turns."
The weekend fun can be deceptive — in a good way.
"Our whole purpose is to teach parents how to teach their kids to drive safely and responsibly," said BC Cowlings, executive director of the nonprofit organization.
Before they get behind the wheel, riders are given comprehensive instruction on how to safely operate the vehicles as well as a briefing on the rules of the track.
Many younger kids start by riding along with an adult. Those who are capable eventually take the wheel themselves, learning hands-on how to maintain their center of gravity, keep their feet on the pegs and lean to build momentum.
The track was designed with the help of University of Hawai'i physics instructor Pui Lam for maximum safety and rideability.
Cowlings said the rules of the track help to ensure safety while teaching young drivers an important lesson. "There are rules, and if you don't follow them, there are consequences," he said.
Reckless lane changing, crashes and other dangerous behaviors result in a warning, then assignment to a slower lane, and, if necessary, a time-out.
"The principle is to teach kids the rules of the road at a point where the consequences are still minor," Cowlings said. "Later, when they're teenagers out on the road at 2 a.m., they'll already have had a series of good decisions behind them."
In the five months since the track opened in Kunia, thousands of adults and kids have manned Cowlings' fleet of low-riding vehicles and circled the clearly marked, tire-lined track.
Ivan Okuda said he and Joshua had such a good time, he plans to bring his youth ministry with him next time.
Wil Cristobal of Mililani steered his daughter Emily, 6, around the track on their first visit last week.
"I thought it was going to be a lot slower," he said. "I didn't expect it to be fast."
Cristobal said some of the younger drivers had difficulty keeping control of the cars, while others excelled after just a few laps.
The track is available to private groups by reservation, and to the general public during open track hours.
Reach Michael Tsai at firstname.lastname@example.org.