Posts Tagged ‘Hilo’

Part 1

Things were better when I was a kid.

Life wasn’t something that required a credit card, a password or any device with an acronymic name to enjoy. I wasn’t counting calories, concerned about keeping my sugar or sodium intake in check and certainly didn’t give a damn about my abs.

We had 3 channels on TV, the radio played rock, oldies and disco and you had 2 types of blue jeans to choose from: Levi’s or Wranglers. One made you a rad, the other made people gag with a spoon. The two fast food joints were known for their differences; one flame broiled their patties, the other fried them, and you chose were to dine according to your mood.

But those were luxuries found only on the mainland. In the islands, you could go to Tex’s Drive In, Dick’s Coffee Shop or Cafe 100, distinguished only by the quality of their gravy. You wore the pants that were handed down to you or bought on sale at Woolworth’s.

At night on the black and white, you could watch Star Trek re-runs if the rabbit ears were cooperating, followed by Happy Days and Lavern and Shirley. Your choice of footwear was simple: Rubber boots, rubber slippers or cowboy boots; farmer, beach bum, hillbilly.

Life was simple: Get up, eat a loco moco at Cafe 100, go to Itsu’s to buy bait, beer and hotdogs, head down to 4 mile to fish all day while my dad drank with his friends on the side of the road.

How much better could life be?

Star Wars? Oh yeah, I saw that in the movie theater. Ditto, Raider’s of the Lost Ark. Video games? That was when the ONLY place that kids wanted to be was the arcade, and it cost money. The look on your parent’s face as they forked over another fiver whose fate it was to be fed mercilessly into machines that returned the investment with sound effects and perspiration, priceless.

It was a simpler time.

There weren’t as many people, traffic was something that occurred in places like New York or LA, fantastical places unto themselves. People were friendly to one another; they didn’t exchange suspicious looks. No one worried about being mugged, tagged, flash mobbed or twittered about. There wasn’t H5N1, mad cow, GMO crops or Ethanol. No one had to worry about someone stealing their PIN or piggy-backing on their WLAN.

However, what existed in abundance was aloha.

Aloha: Hello, goodbye, love. Those were the good old days. So, where did it all go?

Recently, my wife Anna and I went to visit my mom in Idaho. She was born and raised on the Big Island back in the plantation days, which according to her, was a time that was less glamorous than it sounds. Back then, they were lucky if they got a new potato sack dress for Christmas. They ate what  grew in the garden or was raised in a pen. They watched the knobs on the tube radio.

Life was simple, perhaps too simple.

My mother saw living in Hawi as a trap, a dead end. She wanted more for herself and her son, so as soon as she could she packed me up and headed to the mainland. Although I returned to my home to spend summers with my father and the rest of my family over the next decade, my mother never looked back. She was done.

But I digress.

Despite the fact that the only racism that I have ever experienced in my life occurred in Idaho (granted that was before Idaho underwent a ‘cultural revolution’, yikes), upon returning with Anna, I encountered some of friendly folks that I had met in years.

Genuinely friendly, people.

Cashiers making minimum wage who were eager to engage in conversation over the health benefits of quinoa. Strangers on the street or in the malls that were smiling at one another. Waiters who really seemed to care if our french fries were crispy enough for us, who were willing to stand over the fryer themselves to ensure that we received the deep-fried, chipped spuds of our liking. It was both refreshing and alarming. Refreshing because I was beginning to think that geniality was dead, alarming because I live in the aloha state, which has become, over time, bereft of its intrinsic commodity.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t fantasize about living in Celebration, nor am I the type of person who enjoys engaging door-to-door solicitors of any kind, in any sort of debate. I enjoy my space as much as the next guy or girl. I prefer to sit in the least crowded section of a restaurant, I turn the chat function off on Facebook.

Am I guilty of killing aloha? Did the ideal somehow arrive at its current moribund state because of something that I or my generation had done? Now that we carry, at any given time, an average of three devices on our person that can not only receive radio, TV and streaming data, but help us find our way, do our taxes and make phone calls, shouldn’t we all be happier? Perhaps a better question would be: Where has our happiness gone?

For this year’s Toys for Tots ride, I came prepared, meaning that I brought along a camera. The turnout seemed smaller than last year, but the weather was nicer and it was great to be out in the sunshine with other bikers.

Noah and I rode unaffiliated this year although at the beginning of the ride we did meet up with Koa Puna for the jaunt to Waimea. KP is the major club of the state with chapters on all of the main islands. They are the quintessential HD club comprised mainly of Boomer aged bikers, that spend lavishly on their bikes. We like riding with KP because they’re a bunch of mellow old dudes that don’t really ride past 80 mph.

The other club that we’ve ridden with are called the Rough Riders. They are all our age or younger and all have sport bikes. They are also maniacs that like to ride at a minimum of 80 mph. Today they invited us to join them but because the last time they did wheelies while riding two abreast down the crappy two lane road that leads to Hilo, we politely declined by taking off from Waimea before them. They did manage to catch up to us but we kept our bikes on the boil and managed to stay just ahead of them.

There were no accidents this year that we could tell, and I didn’t spend nearly as much time dodging dislodged HD parts as I did last time. Also because of the lower turn out, everything moved along quickly.

People line the road all the way from Prince K mall, to 4 mile beach and wave and throw candy as you ride by. It’s very cool. The entire ride is a little over 5 miles. My bike is not unlike any other in that it hates traffic. Luckily I have radiators and cooling fans to help when the temp goes north of 205 degrees. But it still cooks the delicates.

I would guess that there were close to one thousand riders this year, give or take. The hot rods were in effect as was the killer scooter club. We saw a guy in a wheelchair riding a bike. It was like a sidecar, and he controlled the bike with a steering wheel and hand cables. No, I didn’t get any pics of that, sorry.

It was a blast! But I am happy to be home in one piece and out of my wet leathers. The rain did make an appearance on our return trip, right as we got into Honoka’a. It was big ugly rain, the kind that hurts. Needless to say, we were both soaked thoroughly.

These pictures don’t convey the actual feeling of being there, but I tried. I apologize for the crappy stitching that I did for the Walmart parking lot shot, but it works.

If you ride, live in HI and have never done this, I suggest that you do. Riding with hundreds of other bikers is not a feeling that one ever forgets. But I must admit that at the end of it all, I begin to loathe the sound of straight pipes and forty-five degree twins.

Put a muffler on that lump! And cut your damn hair, hippy!



Sunday, November 1, 2009 7:32 AM HST

Some say it’s a chance to hone their skills. For others, it’s a family affair. But ask driver George Berdon and he’ll say, with a smile, racing is “all about the rush.”

Brothers Mitch and George Berdon Jr., of Kailua-Kona, make the trek to the Hilo drag strip at least twice a month to get their racing fix. The two-man team, despite only racing for three years, have produced a competitive car, thanks to many dedicated man hours and of course, cash. Mitch, the mechanic of the team, said they have spent more than $20,000 on their Volkswagen Beetle drag car. With wide slick tires and an obscenely large turbo charger hanging off the back, the car does not look like something that would generally be seen on the road.

The Big Island Auto Club oversees daytime operations during the 10-month racing season, which begins in January and ends in October, with races occurring once monthly over a designated weekend. Current BIAC President Brad Miprano said on any given event weekend, there can be anywhere from 60 to 120 cars participating, not to mention motorcycles and trucks. Some weekends, however, are busier than others.

“Labor Day was crazy over here. There were 3,000 people in the grandstands, 150 cars and tents all the way down the drag strip. It was pretty awesome,” Miprano said.

Drivers compete for trophies and cash, depending on the times their cars post, but the real prize seems to be bragging rights. Cars are categorized by how fast they can move down the 1/4-mile track and assigned a time bracket. This occurs during a qualifying period, which often takes place the day before the actual race. Cars with similar times are pitted against one another to keep the race fair.

For some people, racing is often a family affair with several generations of racers competing throughout the event.

Denny Duquette, owner of Island Performance in the new industrial area of Kailua-Kona, brings his entire family with him to the races. Not only do they help with setting up cars from a mechanical standpoint, they also race. His father, Roger, and wife, April, race their own cars as well. With his son poised to begin racing next year the family will be running a total of four cars next season.

“I just got tired of watching from the sidelines. I spent a year doing that then decided I would give it a go,” April said after being asked how she got into the sport. In her ’08 Dodge Challenger she has posted some impressive times; her best is in the high 10s.

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During a time trials run, George Berdon Jr. (Volkswagen Beetle) gets the drop off the starting line against another racer. – Brad Ballesteros | Special To West Hawaii Today

For those who just want to get on the track and race without the formalities and restrictions of bracket racing, there are the Outlaw races, which typically take place in the evening and go on throughout the night. The Outlaw races are open to all people and are overseen by the Big Island Hot Rod Association.

Kohala resident Sky Olson, an Outlaw racing regular, has spent nearly $100,000 on his 2005 Subaru WRX Sti. Olson said the main reason he prefers the Outlaw races to the more formal bracket racing is that drag racing allows him to troubleshoot and fine-tune his car, which is an ongoing process.

“I’m not out there to beat anyone, I’m there to dial my car in,” said Olson, whose times in the low 11s means that no matter what his intentions may be, he is still pretty quick out there.

From the event coordinators to the announcers in the tower to the helpers on the track, all of the men and women who make the races possible do so on a volunteer basis.

Announcer Geoff Lauer has been involved in the drag racing scene on the Big Island since it began back in Kona at the Old Airport in the early ’70s. During his time as an announcer at the Hilo Dragstrip he has only seen a handful of injuries and no fatalities. To ensure safety there are paramedics and an ambulance on standby.

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Mitch and George Berdon Jr. team up wrenching and racing their ’65 VW Bug. The 2332 cubic centimeter engine propels the Bug down the quarter mile in 10.9 seconds at a speed of 125 mph. – Brad Ballesteros | Special To West Hawaii Today

It costs up to $10 per race, and all vehicles must past mechanical and safety inspections. The Outlaw races charge an additional $20 dollars to race all night long.

Hilo Dragstrip not only offers an International Hot Rod Association-approved 1/4-mile strip but also a kart track, a dirt track and a 1/4-mile dirt oval.

Paul Maddox, of Holualoa, hopes Kona will one day soon have a facility similar to Hilo’s.

“It’s important to have a place for the younger crowd to race, so that they’re not racing on the streets,” said Maddox, an ex-racer who understands the need for a place where people can fulfill their competitive urges in a safe and controlled environment.

His project, the Kona Motorsports Park, has been inching forward over the past 14 years but the biggest obstacle he has encountered so far is a lack of funding. In order for the project to move ahead, many things still need to be done to satisfy county and state requirements, not to mention taking into consideration the preservation aspects of cultural burial sites. An environmental impact survey will need to be performed and the cost for that alone is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The cost of the proposed race course is easily in the tens of millions. Not one to be daunted by protocol, Maddox is optimistic that perhaps when the economy recovers, there will be a renewed interest in the park and an environmental study will happen.

In the meantime, West Hawaii residents will continue making the journey to Hilo’s drag strip for their racing fix.

For those interested in finding out more information on racing at the Hilo Dragstrip, contact the Big Island Auto Club track office at 961-2456. Those interested in more information about the Kona Motorsports Park project are encouraged to visit

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65-year-old Roger Duquette roars down the quarter mile in his ’93 Chev, S-10. Roger has been timed doing the quarter mile in the 10 second range for speeds up to 130 mph. – Brad Ballesteros | Special To West Hawaii Today