Hilo resident hopes motorcycle in honor of late mother will be next Hot Wheels die-cast

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Karl Kekela Jr. is hopeful his motorcycle will be chosen as the next Hot Wheels die-cast during a car competition on Saturday in Kona. He built the bike in honor of his late mother Nanette “Sweetie” Leslie. Photo courtesy.

Hot Wheels collector Karl Kekela Jr. custom built his Harley-Davidson Sportster with pink glitter and letters that spell “Mama’s Boy” to honor his mother, Nanette “Sweetie” Leslie, who died of cancer in 2004. 

The now 32-year-old from Hilo is hopeful the motorcycle that helped him cope with the grief of losing his mother will be chosen as the next Hot Wheels die-cast. 

On Saturday, Kona will be the last stop in the United States for the competition that is part of the Global Hot Wheels Legends Tour. It takes place at the Kona Walmart parking lot from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. 

The contest provides custom car builders with a chance to have their beloved four-wheels, or two, recreated into a 1:64 Hot Wheels die-cast. This is the first time the competition will be held in Hawai’i. It also is the sixth year of the challenge, and the winner on Saturday will have a 1-and-10 chance of being added to Mattel’s “Garage of Legends.” 


John Yates, general manager at the Walmart in Kona, said he’s been working with toy manufacturer Mattel for two years to bring the competition to Hawai’i Island. He believes Hawai’i drivers will “bring out the best of the best.” 

“Hopefully we’ll get one of our cars to the finish line,” he said. 

Kekela hopes to be the one to reach the finish line. As an avid Hot Wheels collector with more than 1,000 in his assemblage, he said Saturday is an exciting moment for him. 

“Coming from someone that has loved Hot Wheels all my life, this is a dream come true. We live on a rock, it’s not every day this opportunity comes around,” he said. 

Karl Kekela Jr.’s late mother Nanette “Sweetie” Leslie is pictured here on his pink Harley-Davidson Sportster. He built the motorcycle in her memory and is hoping it will be picked to be the next Hot Wheels die-cast during a car competition in Kona on Saturday. Photo courtesy. 

He’s also excited to share his bike and his story with others.

“When people look at my bike, I want them to know how much I love my mom,” he said. “Having a mom is something that money can’t buy.”

He said his mother, whom everyone called “Sweetie,” worked as a cook at the local restaurant Kozmic Cones in Hilo before her passing, and was somebody “everyone knew and everybody loved.” 

Karl Kekela Jr. named his motorcycle “Mama’s Boy,” in honor of his late mother. Photo courtesy. 

“Mama’s Boy” will be one of more than 100 cruisers that will be assessed by a panel of judges Saturday, who will vote on which car from Hawai’i will get to compete next month in the global semifinals. 


One of those judges will be Elizabeth Bassett, who runs the 501 © 3 nonprofit ʻOhana Motorsports Foundation on Oahu with her husband Joey. The group organizes various charity and car-related events, such as Hawaiʻi Cars & Coffee, to help community causes. The foundation was formed in memory of Kadence “Kady” Baranek, the daughter of friends and fellow car enthusiasts, who lost her life to a rare form of brain cancer at 6-years-old.  

She also describes Saturday’s contest as a “dream come true,” and said she’ll be looking for which entries meet the contest’s criteria of creativity, authenticity and garage spirit. 

Kekela said if “Mama’s Boy” wins, it’ll be a moment he’ll never forget.  

“I would cry. It would mean a lot,” he said. 

The Hot Wheels Legends Tour takes place at the Walmart Store #2321 at 75-1015 Henry St. in Kailua-Kona and is free to the public with kid and family-friendly activities. 

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Megan Moseley
Megan Moseley is a full-time journalist for Pacific Media Group. Her experience ranges from long and short-form reporting to print, digital, radio and television news coverage. In Hawaiʻi, she's worked for local media outlets and has covered a wide range of topics including local and state politics, environmental affairs, Native Hawaiian issues, travel, tourism and education. She covers the West for Restaurant Hospitality.

She's a 2010 graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, with a Bachelor's of Science degree in Magazine Journalism and specializations in Geology and History. She's currently working on her master's degree from New York University and Ohio University and is focused on conflict resolution and peace practices in indigenous cultures in the Pacific.
Megan can be reached at [email protected].
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