EXCLUSIVE: Oahu's illegal street racers steer toward reviving race track
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Evelyn Souza looks through an aging chain link fence. It's been cut open in one area, not that there's anything to really protect. On the other side is nothing but decaying asphalt, overgrown weeds and litter.
"Way back in the day it was the place to be on a Friday, Saturday night, without your mom knowing," she says with a chuckle.
It was Hawaii Raceway Park. Located in Kapolei, it was for decades the central playground of Oahu's racing community. However, due to what Souza describes as a toxic mix of bad blood and tangled politics, it has been closed since 2006.
"We have more dog parks than we have raceways. And yet we're the capital city," she says.
The track is gone, but the racers are still around.
On a typical Saturday night, a parking lot in Pearl City is taken over by those "in the scene."
"The car scene is so big. Every weekend we got hundreds of cars over here, we got car enthusiasts, imports, muscle cars," said Bronson Tabios, a self-proclaimed gear-head who grew up in a racing family.
Amidst the fraternity are smaller cliques. One of those is reserved exclusively for illegal street racers. Those who ply their trade in the shadows, late at night. Not content to have their passions shuttered with the park, they've taken to the streets. And they've given Hawaii News Now an exclusive look inside their world in order to help tell their story.
"It's a tight teamwork, there's a lot of really good people out here. They've been around, they've earned the respect by just racing and having fun. It's like a brotherhood," said 'G', who wanted his identity protected.
G is one of the elder statesmen of the scene. He earned his stripes racing for years at H-R-P. He admits to taking part in illegal drag racing.
He came forward to voice a collective, singular message from the community.
"If we had a track we wouldn't be doing it on the street. We'd have a safe environment, a home."
Tabios does not race illegally, though he sometimes watches the drag races go down. He knows a thing or two about it. He built his racer from the ground up. To keep it legal, he stores it on Kauai, where there is a drag strip.
"I have to pay extra money to go to Kauai, back and forth, ship my car back and forth. That costs money, but you gotta do what you gotta do," he said.
For so many others that means taking it to the street.
A small Hawaii News Now video crew was taken to where the drag races happen on the Leeward side. It's after midnight. The only light in the area comes from lonely, orange street lamps and the hazy glow coming from industrial plants dominating the surroundings.
The only sound comes from the cars.
Lined up side by side, a pair of mustangs wait for a starter. The young man standing between them raises his arms, then thrusts them downwards.
Reaching speeds of 160 miles per hour over a quarter mile drag, the racers square off three times before the session is cut short. Word of police being in the area from a lookout car in a different part of the neighborhood sends people into their own cars, scattering into the night.
At the state Capitol, State Rep. Andria Tupola, who represents the district where the racing happens, pours over five pieces of legislation introduced in the current legislative session.
"We really do need these recreational areas so people don't have the temptation to engage in illegal activity, but they have an outlet for that energy and interest," she said.
Tupola supports the idea of having a race park but recently voted against a bill to open one.
"Built into that bill was various non-profits that were going to be surrounding the race track to bring in income. These nonprofits had a business license that was taken out by DCCA the same day this bill was proposed. In my mind, those are not LLC's or non-profits that are ready to hit the road with 3 million tax dollars" she explains.
Like the other four, the initiative died, leaving racers out on the streets once again.
"It's like the kids with no skate park. They seem like a violent bunch of kids until they got their skate park, then all that went away," said G.
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