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Hilo Oval Track Welcomes Back Spectators This Weekend

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If their excitement was audible, it would be louder than the cars racing around the Big Island’s only oval dirt track.

A small group of spectators watches the races during the 2022 season opener Feb. 26 at Hilo Oval Track. (Photo by and courtesy of Zak Silva-Sampaio)

Hilo Oval Track welcomes back spectators this weekend for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and organizers and crew members can’t wait.

“Spectators bring their families, support; they bring out the competitive side of the drivers and make it more exciting,” Sue Toilolo-Cabral, Hilo Oval Track treasurer and racer, told Big Island Now in an email. “They make the drivers feel appreciated for putting on specular performances.”

The track’s second race day of its 2022 season is set for Saturday, March 26. The driver gate opens at 6:30 a.m., with driver registration from 7:30-9:45 a.m. The gate opens at 9:30 a.m. for general admission.

General admission for adults and children 12 and older is $15, keiki from 6-11 years old cost $7, kids 3-5 years old are $5 and keiki 2 and younger are free. Those prices include a pit pass since it is required for full access to the track.

Concessions also will be available.

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“It’s actually a great spectator sport. Just to come over on the spectator side, where the bleachers is,” Darrick Rodrigues, who has been the track’s flagger for more than two years, told Big Island Now during the track’s 2022 season opener last month. “Bring a cooler, bring a pop-up tent, some chairs and just enjoy the day. It’s exciting. Pick a car, follow it, be a fan of that particular race team. It means a lot to the drivers when that happens. Definitely.”

The track was limited to just 100 people during its opener because COVID restrictions were still in place. There were a few spectators who were able to attend last month because some drivers couldn’t, but nothing close to the 200-500 people, including spectators, drivers and pit crews, that can be accommodated by the track grounds.

The track team was informed before their season opener that spectators would be allowed to come back in full force this month. And now that restrictions are no more and the county gave the track a 750 person limit, organizers hope to see the grounds full again this weekend.

“We need people to come down and watch so we can get the excitement going,” Sen Cabral, a member of the track’s tower crew and Toilolo-Cabral’s daughter, told Big Island Now during last month’s season opener.

“I’d like to see the grounds full,” said Toilolo-Cabral. “Hopefully, we have about 250 spectators or more.”

A race car drives past the tower Feb. 26 during the 2022 season opener at Hilo Oval Track. (Photo by and courtesy of Megan Moseley)
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While she’s still hesitant about not wearing a mask and still plans to wear one to protect herself, Toilolo-Cabral is sure the day’s turnout will be great on the first day when no masks are required at all, inside or out.

“I anticipate that some will be conscious and wear their mask and then there will be the ‘we’re finally free,'” she said.

As a driver and member of the tower crew and the track’s board, Toilolo-Cabral said she enjoys seeing the support spectators bring to the table for a dying sport in Hawai’i. She also likes to see children’s faces light up and how excited they get when they choose their favorite car.

Toilolo-Cabral hopes Saturday’s races will be a big, fun-filled family event day — something different to do on a Saturday in Hilo.

“As we are trying to keep the sport alive in Hawai’i, hopefully we can get more people of all ages interested in the sport and grow our driver numbers along with steady growth of spectators,” she said.

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No matter what, anyone — drivers and fans alike — who comes out for the races is sure to get an experience like none other on the island. And the track welcomes everyone and anyone who wants to come out and watch racers make the dirt fly in their pursuit of a checkered flag.

Sen Cabral encourages people to “come down to the excitement and see if they like it.”

“If they like it, they can keep coming back,” she said last month during the season opener. “You can bring a cooler, tent, chairs, table, barbecue pit, make food, kick back, relax. Like a family day.”

For more, follow Hilo Oval Track on Instagram and Facebook.

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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