Car racing fans push for a track at Barbers Point
(Source: Star Advertiser)
A state Senate committee will hold a hearing today on a resolution “expressing support” for a racetrack on 220 acres at the former Barbers Point Naval Air Station that backers want initially for coned-course driving but could expand to quarter- mile, oval and dirt bike racing.
It’s been a long road for car racing enthusiasts, who lost Hawaii Raceway Park in 2006.
Organizer Li Cobian said his group wants to restore a portion of an old Marine Corps Air Station Ewa runway built after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack to provide the same type of coned-course racing that is organized at Aloha Stadium’s parking lot now. Ewa Field eventually became part of Barbers Point.
The hearing will be held at 2:45 p.m. today before the Energy, Economic Development and Tourism Committee. A House hearing will be held next week.
If the city, which is obtaining the land, approves the plan, the group could ask for a “right-of-entry” permit and conduct dirt racing almost immediately, Cobian said.
The car racers want to “show the city and the community that we’re not outlaws,” Cobian said, “then maybe in a year or two maybe propose something else for other people to participate in. But right now the only thing we want to do is use the existing infrastructure there.”
A longer-term use could include a quarter-mile drag strip, oval racing and dirt bike track, he said. Car racing dates back to the 1940s at what was then an active military base, he noted.
The long-awaited transfer of the 220-acre parcel to the city is expected this spring and stems from the closure of the old Barbers Point in 1999 and the anticipated turnover from the Navy of 400 acres total.
But the racetrack plan has plenty of challenges from the standpoint of use, noise, dust and proximity to homes, a Navy golf course and Ewa Field, a Dec. 7 historic site.
The racetrack would utilize portions of Ewa Field that were built after Japanese aircraft attacked the base.
The National Park Service placed as much as 200 acres of the 1941 portion of the base on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.
Ewa Beach historian John Bond previously noted that even post-1941 parts of Ewa Field, including the 1942 runway that’s on the racetrack plan, are National Register-eligible in association with the base’s World War II history — including a key role in the Battle of Midway.
“The area has major Native Hawaiian history, archaeology and cultural sites, including known iwi burials, sinkholes and caves throughout the former MCAS Ewa base where promoters want a racetrack,” Bond said in testimony against the plan.
A host of state and federal regulatory agencies “will take great interest in any development plans for this site,” he said.
In December, Kapolei- Makakilo-Honokai Hale Neighborhood Board member Dean Kalani Capelouto said another Barbers Point parcel on the far southwestern side of the runway was suggested for a racetrack.
“This is the only location supported that addressed the concerns of our board leadership and community with regards to noise, dust, proximity to homes and other historic-preservation concerns,” Capelouto said.
City parks officials have stressed the need for open fields and play areas, meanwhile.
Neighbor island raceway parks received $2 million to $3 million a year in state capital improvement support, Cobian said, adding he’d like to see a similar city-state involvement at a Barbers Point racetrack.
“This is not something we want to try to do a business with. We want it just like the neighbor islands (where racing) is all under parks and rec, and that’s exactly how we want to have it,” he said.
The city runs soccer fields, swimming pools, botanical gardens and volleyball courts, Cobian said.
“Everyone always asks us, ‘Oh, the money, the money, the money,’” he said. “How come nobody asks about the money for all the other stuff? It’s like billions that gets subsidized. But when it comes to motor sports, it’s like, ‘Show us the business plan.’”