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Hawaii legislature considers adding a race track on Oahu

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The former Hawaii Raceway Park.

Fireworks punctuated the night sky over Honolulu on New Year’s Eve as at least half a dozen cars stopped traffic on the H-1 freeway to do donuts and drift their way down the four-lane stretch of otherwise empty road. Less than a month later, two racers drifting up the Mount Tantalus roads above the city critically injured a triathlete in training on her bicycle.

Both incidents could have been prevented, racing enthusiasts say, had Oahu’s lone racing facility not closed a dozen years ago. And now both incidents may prompt state legislators to order the construction of a new race track.

A pair of resolutions introduced late in January in the Hawaiian state legislature, SCR 20 and HCR 14, call for the state’s Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism to work with Oahu-based racing enthusiasts to identify state-owned land suitable for a race track and then to enter into a public-private partnership to develop the track.

As pointed out in the resolutions, enthusiasm for racing has not disappeared on the island since the closure of Hawaii Raceway Park in April 2006 and a new track “would provide an alternative to illegal street racing and other racing activities.”

Founded in 1962, Hawaii Raceway Park served as a launchpad for several nationally known drag racers, including Danny Ongais and Roland Leong. A dirt oval actually preceded the dragstrip and in later years its operators added a couple road courses and a sand drag strip. However, once Hawaii Raceway Park’s lease with the owners of the 66-acre plot of land bordering the James Cambpell Industrial Park expired, the owners sold the land to a company that re-zoned it in preparation for further industrial park development.

Tracy Arakaki of PunishUM Motorsports, who has been the most vocal advocate for a new track on Oahu, told Dragzine in 2015 that any new track would have to be built on state lands due to Hawaii’s steep land values. Some of the island’s airfields have been proposed for temporary tracks, but any facility would likely have to include a track for drifting, given the sport’s popularity in Hawaii.

While other Hawaiian islands still have or will soon have operating race tracks — among them Maui Raceway Park, Kauai Raceway Park, and the Hilo Drag Strip on the big island (the Hawaii Racing Association continues to push for a motorsports park on the big island) — racers would still have to ship their cars from Oahu to legally race. Arakaki has said that many racers, faced with the decision of staying on Oahu and giving up racing or leaving Hawaii altogether for the mainland, so they can continue to race, have chosen the latter.

Both SCR 20 and HCR 14 have been referred to committees.