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Hawai‘i has been lending its mystique to the bikini for sixty years
Vol. 8, No. 6
December 2005/January 2006

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  >>   The Motorcycle Diaries

Saturday Night at the Races 

story by Ric Valdez
photos by Kyle Rothenborg

There might be another Kukini street somewhere on O‘ahu, but there’s only one Kukini Boulevard. This two-lane quarter-mile strip of smooth asphalt—the island’s only sanctioned drag strip—is on the grounds of Hawaii Raceway Park at Barber’s Point. For the last forty years, it’s been the place drag race enthusiasts and assorted adrenaline junkies have stirred up red dirt, tripled the speed limit and, above all, tested their mettle—and their metal.

There’s always something happening at HRP. The park features drag races, stock car races, motorcross, even driving lessons. For $8 a night, you can run your racecar, or you can watch others run theirs. The Saturday night I visit the park, things are loud and fast-paced; some 400 to 500 competitors and spectators are in attendance. The first checkered flag has yet to wave as the sun sets on the nearby Wai‘anae Range, but the oval pit is bustling with activity. The sound of idling engines echoes through the air. Pit teams are busy, fine-tuning their vehicles. They don't seem to mind observers looking under the hood—as long as they don't touch anything.

My mechanical inclinations lean toward reading the odometer at Jiffy Lube, but you don’t have to be a gear-head to feel the vibe at HRP. If you appreciate the aesthetics of the automobiles that rolled out of Detroit in the 1950s and ’60s—Mustangs, Camaros, Novas, Dusters, Chargers, El Caminos—you’ll be happy to see that these muscle cars are very much alive at HRP. And there are also “rails,” flashy, low, long and lean, the rear-engine monsters most identified with the sport of drag racing. They have tiny wheels at the front; in the rear, they’re endowed with curvy pipes, huge block engines and towering blowers, all propelled by meaty tires. These land rockets are not street legal: Let loose, they burn the quarter-mile track in under nine seconds, reaching speeds of over 165 mph. They even have a parachute pack on the back to slow them down. Definitely not H-1 material.