Race track built for the safe, not speedy

| April 30, 2010 | 0 Comments

Story and Photos by
Maj. Jeff Parker
8th Military Police Brigade Public Affairs

HALAWA — With his palms saturated in sweat, the driver briefly let go of the steering wheel, reached downward to give a confirming tug on his helmet strap and checked the functionality of his seat belt clasp. 

Driving enthusiast Earl Ford sits on his Ariel Atom II prior to the start of “Hawaii Solo,” a Sports Car Club of America event held once a month at the Aloha Stadium. The Ariel Atom is known for its face-flattening speed and covers 0-60 mph in 2.8 seconds.His heart was undoubtedly racing at the moment, and the knuckles on his hands, placed securely back on their respective spots on the steering wheel, were turning white in anticipation of the drop of the green flag.

For this driver and others, their presence on the racing track wasn’t about satisfying a need for speed. 

Sure, they all wanted to arrive first, but more importantly, they were hell-bent on doing so safely.

On one Sunday each month, driving enthusiasts from all over the island converge on the Aloha Stadium’s east parking area, here, to test and build their driving skills, one at a time. 

Called Hawaii Solo, this nonprofit, Sports Car Club of America-sponsored event, is open to the general public, welcoming spectators, at no-charge, and licensed drivers with their road-worthy “rides” — all of which span the spectrum in vehicle classification by type, age, horsepower, speed, weight and more.

“Ninety-nine percent of the cars here are the cars you drive to work on Monday,” said Curtis Lee, solo chairman, SCCA-Oahu. 

In recent months, spectators and drivers have witnessed a slew of automobiles on the track — from the mundane family car, to the more exotic, eye-catching Lotus Elise and Ariel Atom II,  the latter of which reaches eyelid-peeling speeds of 0-60 mph in 2.8 seconds. 

Unlike the majority of SCCA courses around the world, the Oahu course encourages efficient, safe driving rather than reaching breakneck speeds. 

“Everybody thinks they’re a pretty good driver,” Lee said. “This is such a good place for you to learn how to drive your car well. It’s also a chance to get some adrenaline out, here, and not out on the street.”

The adage “put the pedal to the metal” is seldom heard at this race track. 

Michael Bux, seated inside a ’99 Porsche 911 breaks out of the gate and is well on his way around the track before the “flagger” completes his wave. Bux, a U.S. Army captain with the 8th Military Police “Watchdogs” Brigade, said, “More than the overall thrill of putting my car through the rigors of this course, I leave each event with a better understanding of my driving and my car’s abilities and limitations, which in turn benefits my everyday driving, immeasurably.” With its radical turns and minimal straightaways, speeds in excess of 60 mph are rare. The drivers’ reflexes, thought processes and adrenaline rushes, however, are about all that run wild.

The developers of the course also intentionally tried to replicate the uncertainties found in everyday driving, according to Lee. 

“The track changes every single (month),” he explained. “I don’t have any advantage over you because I’ve never seen this course layout until today. That’s the beauty of our course; it’s more like accident avoidance, because you never know what’s coming up.” 

Demographically, Lee added, “30 percent of our participants are military.” 

“I believe that getting reacquainted with driving and your car in a safe and controlled environment is what every (redeploying) Soldier should do,” said Capt. Michael Bux, 8th Military Police Brigade, who recently returned home to Schofield Barracks following 12 months downrange.

Bux, a Porsche 911 owner, also emphasized the course’s importance for all high-performance automobiles owners. 

Drivers desiring to press their vehicle through the rigors of the demanding course must be approved by the on-site safety and technical inspection team for proper licensing and vehicular structural integrity. The drivers are then grouped into competing heats, according to their competency and like-vehicle category. 

First-time solo event drivers are required to receive training by an on-site SCCA certified instructor prior to novice category placement and first solo lap. 

The Halawa track hosted its first race more than 20 years ago. 

Since then, however, Oahu’s racing events have relocated several times, to Barber’s Point and portions of the H-3 freeway during the early construction phase, before returning permanently to the stadium just over three years ago.

For more information on the Hawaii Solo (Sports Car Club of America-sanctioned event), visit www.sccahawaii.org, and the national SCCA homepage at www.scca.com

Category: News, Safety

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