By NANCY COOK LAUER
The Big Island Auto Club says it’s being kicked to the curb in favor of a politically connected concert scheduled on a day that’s been long reserved for a race event it’s held for more than 40 years.
The car racing club says it reserved the short drag strip in October for Friday through Sunday, April 20-22, for a sanctioned points race that’s drawing national attention, including participation by Volkswagen Magazine. The benefit for the Food Basket draws racers from all over the Big Island, as well as Oahu and Maui, said club board member Bear Barrilleaux.
But Hawaii County Parks and Recreation earlier this month agreed to allow a get-out-the-vote reggae rally on April 20, being promoted locally by Alton Nosaka, United Public Workers business agent in Hilo. The for-profit event will be drug- and alcohol-free and features nonprofit food vendors, said Parks and Recreation Director Bob Fitzgerald. Admission is $10. Nosaka did not return a telephone call Friday.
“If we don’t get to use Friday night, the event won’t be able to continue,” Barrilleaux said. “Who’s going to stop them from destroying everything in here?”
Fitzgerald claims the racing club reserved only April 21 and 22 for its race. But club members say that’s not the case. Otherwise, they ask, why would the promoters have approached the club board and asked them to give up that day. The club said it wanted an $8,000 damage deposit, hoping to dissuade the promoters. Instead, the promoters went outside the Parks and Recreation reservation process and appealed directly to Mayor Billy Kenoi, board members said.
The club says it needs that Friday before the racing weekend to clean, dry and dress the track, a four-hour process that requires washing, sweeping and rubberizing. In addition, racers and vendors use the Friday afternoon to set up tents and tables and stage and prepare their racing cars and equipment. Several Kona members stay overnight at the track to provide security, Barrilleaux said.
Fitzgerald said he walked the property with the concert promoter and thinks both events can coexist. He said concert organizers have agreed to keep the public off the track, and he said he didn’t think leftover trash, cans and broken bottles would pose a safety issue for racers and fans.
Barrilleaux worried the club wouldn’t even be able to get into the track facility that Friday. Gates for the concert open at 3 p.m., and the track facility is in a muddy, mosquito-infested field deep in the woods at the end of a long one-lane road past the Hilo landfill.
“Why would they pick the racetrack?” asked board member Marie Miporano. “It’s way out in the boonies.”
Barrilleaux predicted traffic jams, especially for the big trailers that carry the race cars. Barrilleaux also wondered how the liability insurance the club holds for Friday would be affected by the concert.
Fitzgerald said he feared the auto club has over the years gotten into a sense of entitlement over the facility. He said the club’s request for a deposit, and its use of the grounds for “camping” are indications of problems.
Barrilleaux, on a tour of the facility Friday with Stephens Media and Council Chairman Dominic Yagong, pointed out lights and guardrails the club has installed along one-half mile of racetrack, as well as other improvements he said the club has installed over the years.
“I think it’s been too loose in the past,” Fitzgerald said about his office’s history of monitoring events at the racetrack.
Yagong got involved as mediator at the club’s request.
“I’ve seen the schedule of dates that is provided by the BIAC to the county, and each event is on a three-day schedule. Historically, the event has always been a three-day endeavor,” Yagong said in a letter Friday afternoon to Fitzgerald. “Please consider the options other then what you are recommending. Let’s treat our community partners (for over 40 years) with respect that they deserve.”
Yagong said he can understand that trash and glass could be safety issues, but he also believes the two events may be able to coexist, especially if concert promoters agree to move the event away from the short track and pit area where it’s now scheduled and move it closer to the front of the facility.
“I think there is enough room to do both,” Yagong said.
Email Nancy Cook Lauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.