Restarting their engines after more than four years on idle, motor sports enthusiasts have survived an unexpected pit stop and are banking on a grand prix-length presence on Oahu. The presence of the Kalaeloa Raceway Park is a welcome return of a sport that enjoys broad popularity locally and nationally.
Thousands of speedsters had satisfied their desires for 42 years at the Hawaii Raceway Park in Campbell Industrial Park until the owner closed it when his Campbell Estate lease expired and an affiliate had plans to buy the 66 acres and rezone it to industrial. Some disappointed racers shipped their cars to the mainland or neighbor islands while others sought to find another venue on Oahu.
A year after the track was closed, the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands agreed to rent nearly 20 acres inside the former Barbers Point Naval Air Station, now Kalaeloa, to Save Oahu’s Race Track, a company headed by Kapolei entrepreneurs George and Jeanette Grace, for $24,000 a year.
The company spent years developing the racing park and reportedly was given the go-ahead by the Home Lands department in August.
"Literally, thousands of volunteer man-hours and money as well as blood, sweat and tears have gone into this project since the closure of Hawaii Raceway Park," the company stated on its website.
Two races attended by more than 4,000 spectators have been staged since then, and the company was shocked when it received a 30-day notice of eviction by the department on Tuesday.
Although it had been $12,000 behind in rent at one point more than a year ago, the Graces wondered "if this is politically motivated or due to the constant harassment by a very small minority group of individuals."
Department spokesman Kamanao Mills said the eviction notice "was a miscommunication between the department and SORT" but could not say whether eviction still is on the table.
Although the Kalaeloa Raceway Park is less than one-third the area of the former raceway and less than half of what has been discussed in early talks with the department, plans are to include all of the old facility’s events, said park spokesman Michael Kitchens.
Here is a small-business enterprise that is trying to meet a pent-up need for speed in a safe and controlled venue. If it meets terms of its agreements, the raceway should be supported in its endeavors. The fact that it is paying for the use of public lands that otherwise would be sitting unused is a plus.
The new facility has many laps ahead to achieve stability, but for now, the enthusiasm is a welcome addition to Hawaii’s entertainment agenda.