Engines might start in March at drag strip

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald The gate to the driveway of the Hilo Drag Strip was closed Jan. 17, but could finally be opened March 10 or 11.

The Hilo Drag Strip is slated to open the weekend of March 10-11 after being closed more than two years for renovations.

Hawaii County’s Parks and Recreation Department previously hoped to reopen the drag strip by the end of 2017, but work stalled due to inclement weather, along with delays installing nighttime lighting that ultimately was deemed too expensive, Deputy Director Maurice Messina said Friday.

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“We were trying to get the nighttime lights going so that when we opened, we’d have daytime and nighttime (racing) going at the same time,” Messina said. “(But with nighttime lighting) there’s a large cost and the way our current financial situation is, if we had to wait on that, we’re not sure when we could start the racing. And we want to get these guys out there on the track.”

Messina said the March opening is a “goal date” — the county still needs to finish testing the new wiring and repairing parts of a chain-link fence that protects spectators. The drag strip will open only to daytime racing at first while the county explores alternative night-lighting options, such as portable lighting, he said.

The drag strip closed in November 2015 for renovations, which have included repaving the racing surface, making the facility more accessible for the disabled, upgrades to the restrooms and sewer system, adding new bleachers, making improvements to the oval track, and electrical upgrades to the track timing system.

Work initially was estimated to take six months, but the project stalled due to “contractual issues,” county officials said late last year.

Last summer, drag strip users participated in a large-scale cleanup of the facility grounds, hoping it would help expedite work.

Messina said Friday those volunteer efforts — the strip is used by the Big Island Auto Club and Hawaii Drag Racing League — were appreciated, and “we couldn’t have done it without them.”

“There’s really a big part of the population that wants to see this happen, so we’ve got to do what we can,” Messina said.

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Messina said the renovations have remained within the project’s $5.2 million budget or slightly below, after axing the lighting.

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.