East Hawaii News

Hilo Oval Track Race Season Starts This Weekend

By Nathan Christophel
February 23, 2022, 3:20 PM HST
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Start your engines, Big Island, because racing is returning to Hilo Oval Track.

The opener for the dirt track’s 2022 season is Saturday, Feb. 26. And despite restrictions still in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic, drivers and organizers alike are excited to put their pedals to the metal again.

A driver takes the checkered flag following a past race at Hilo Oval Track. (Photos courtesy of Hilo Oval Track)

“Everyone’s super excited to be getting back into the seat,” Sue Toilolo-Cabral, Hilo Oval Track treasurer and racer, told Big Island Now in an email. “I love the adrenalin rush and excitement of the power, like the rest of the drivers.”

Gates open at 6:30 a.m. Saturday at the Big Island’s only oval dirt track and one of just two in the state. Races begin at 10:30 a.m. and run until about 5 p.m., said Toilolo-Cabral, depending on how many cars are entered, how many accidents happen, interruptions on the track and how much watering has to be done.

“So far, we have 21 cars entered for the season opener, in various classes,” she said, adding that the number of cars typically ranges from 20-35.

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The 2022 season runs from Saturday to Oct. 22 and the track has nine events planned, provided they don’t get rained out. Races are slated for once a month on dates approved by the county.

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That’s two more races than last year. In 2021, the track played host to seven events before restrictions were tightened again because of the pandemic.

Toilolo-Cabral, a member of racing team Sweet Thunder Racing that also includes her husband, Eddie Toilolo Jr., and brother, Lawrence Cabral, said there are six different classes of minimally modified stock cars that can run during each event. There must be three or more cars to make a class and no turbo cars are allowed.

“We have a variety of makes and models,” she said, including Toyota cars and trucks, Mazdas, Dodges, Chevy Camaros, Oldsmobiles, Fords, GMs, among others, and even specialty built cars. There also are mini modifieds and fan-favorite sprint cars.

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Each class races three heats, running 2-10 laps in the first and second heats and then 15 laps on the almost quarter-mile oval track for the main heat.

Unfortunately, at least for the beginning of this season, spectators won’t be in the stands cheering their favorite drivers on during race day because of gathering restrictions due to the pandemic.

The track is only allowed to have a maximum of 100 people. That number not only includes drivers and their pit crews, but also the personnel to man each event, such as maintenance crew, safety officials, tower officials and people working the gate and security. The limit also impacts race teams themselves, as drivers are only allowed to have two people on their pit crews.

“If there are more drivers that enter, we try to have teams buddy up to help each other in the pit area,” Toilolo-Cabral said, adding that more drivers means less pit crew members because of gathering restrictions. “It’s hard to run a pit crew of one.”

There also are no concessions allowed at the moment. She said when restrictions are lifted, she will be seeking a vendor with a business license, certified kitchen trailer and a green placard from the state Department of Health to again provide concessions during race days.

The track is supported by a four-member board that includes president Ken Antonio Sr., vice president Don Nunes, Toilolo-Cabral and secretary Darrick Rodrigues. There also is an amended board consisting of seven former board members. Drivers are also required to be track members to have voting rights.

The board and drivers are looking forward to the new racing season and the time when fans can once again come watch rubber meet dirt.

“It’s usually a fun-filled family day that any age can enjoy if you love the sun, dirt, loud motors, action and excitement,” Toilolo-Cabral said. “Kids love to choose their favorite cars. The drivers love hearing the spectators cheer them on.”

The track is located at the Panaewa Drag Strip in Hilo, past the landfill and transfer station.
For more information about Hilo Oval Track, racing there or becoming a member, check out the track’s Facebook page or email [email protected].

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel has more than 20 years of experience in journalism, starting out as a reporter and working his way up to become a copy editor and page designer, most recently at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo.
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