Kauai resident Rich Hoeppner came across autocross in his younger years and has had a passion for it ever since.
Since moving to Kauai about 15 years ago, though, it would be a while until he’d feel the rush of racing through a course trying to get his best time. That happened just a few years ago.
Hoeppner discovered a local chapter of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), and ever since he’s been racing the courses on the parking lot at Vidinha Stadium.
Hoeppner sat down with The Garden Island and talked about his love of autocross, how he came to be part of the local club and competing in his rather unconventional race car.
Do you have some sort of title or affiliation with this club?
No. I’m just a racer. I’ve been racing either cars or motorcycles for the past 40-50 years. I’ve been here (on Kauai) 15 years now. When I came here, I was really disappointed there was nothing other than drag racing. There was nothing I could do here. Then a couple of years ago, or three years ago, I got a Honolulu newspaper and looked at the car clubs. And, here was SCCA Kauai.
The Sports Car Club of America, they’re a national organization. They sponsor a whole bunch of racing. They have regional events. They have national events. When I found out they have an SCCA club, I looked them up on the Internet. Lo and behold, they hold autocrosses here. And, they had just started autocross maybe two or three weeks before I saw it in the paper. So, the next one, I was there. I went to Vidinha Stadium and started doing autocross again.
My first autocross was back in 1963. I had moved to California from Iowa. Here I am, a farm boy not knowing anything about anything. My wife and I went to an auto show in San Francisco. Their event stadium is underground. It’s a big underground event stadium. Up in the parking lot, there was these cars running through pylons.
I had no clue. I asked the guy, “Hey, what’s this?” “Oh, that’s autocross.” “No kidding,” I said. “How do you get into that?” He went, “Well, what do you drive?” At the time, I had a little German sedan — a DKW. He said, “You ought to enter and do it.” “You mean I can do this?” “Sure. You pay your $5 entry fee, and you run through the timing lines.” I thought that was it, you know? Two weeks later, I get a trophy in the mail.
Well, I was hooked, and I’ve been doing it ever since. In California, Oregon, in different places. I’ve raced cars and motorcycles for the past 40-50 years. So, autocross is my thing here on the island.
What do you drive now?
Would you believe I have a Toyota Prius?
My wife and I have a 2013 Toyota Prius. That’s what I race.
Please forgive the look of shock on my face. No one associates Priuses (with racing).
Let me tell you. It’s a hybrid, you know. It’s got a gas motor, and it’s got the electric motors. Those electric motors are instantaneous torque. When you floorboard it, those electric motors come in full force, and you’ve got instantaneous torque to the ground.
Now, with that, I run H-production class. There are different classes you run in. They got A through H production. They’ve got sports classes. They got modified classes. So, almost any car you drive, there’s a class they put you in and you run against comparable vehicles.
What I do is I run against little Mazda3 sedans, Chevy Cruze, there are cars on the market that are about the same horsepower as my Prius. And, I found out what I have to do is run against guys my age. November, I’ll be 80 years old.
My grandson was here for a week, so we went to an autocross. Believe it or not, he ran my Prius seven seconds a lap better than I did. At 80, my coordination, my eyesight, I’m not the way I used to be. My body doesn’t respond the way it used to, because I used to be pretty good at it. When he ran seven seconds a lap better than I did, my God.
But, there’s guy that’s 70. He runs a Mazda3. We’re right there, really close to lap times. I’ve got guys in similar age that I can run against. My grandson had lap times almost equal to one Corvette and equal to a Honda (S2000), which is a little two-seater Honda sports car. He matched their times with a Prius. So, Priuses aren’t what they’re cracked up to be.
My grandson is really good. … He was within tenths of a second to that 2000’s lap time. That guy that runs the 2000, he’s probably in his 60s. He’s where I am. He’s not as good as when he was in his 20s or 30s.
Can you tell me more about the club?
They’ve been on the island about three years. It’s still fairly new. Now, there’s a club on the Big Island, and they’ve been there a little longer I think. And I think there’s an Oahu chapter. There’s SCCA clubs all over America. They’re everywhere. It’s a national organization. Now that we’ve got it here on the island, it’s such a fun event. And, anyone can do it. If you join Sports Car Club of America, a national membership, it’s only $35 to go out on Sunday.
What we do is, say there’s 20 cars, 10 cars line up and 10 guys work the track — picking up flags, pylons, starter. Tens guys go out, and one at a time runs through the timing lights, runs the lap. Those 10 guys do that, and they do six laps.
They’ll go through, line up and go through again. Six times. Then they come in, park their cars, go out and work the track. The other 10 guys run six times. Then, we take a lunch break, and then we do it all over again. For your $35, you get 12 laps through the timing lights. Then a couple days later, all the results come out on what they did. They got a website.
It’s totally safe. It’s not hard on the vehicles because I doubt we go over 40-50 miles an hour. The parking lot is really big. … You’re out there, maybe, 60-70 seconds it takes to do a lap.
You get to run 12 of those for your $35. And, it’s not hard on the car. It’s totally safe. We’ve never had any kind of incident where somebody crashed a car. It’s fairly low-speed. But it’s all in handling and the driver. The driver is what it’s all about.
Is this something that has to be organized with the county?
It’s authorized by the county. During the summertime, like when the fair is going on, there are days, like if you’re a motorcycle rider and you have to do a riding test, they do that out there at the parking lot.
Those days, the lot is taken up by those things. But, we usually get it once a month, maybe twice a month.
The county authorizes it. The club has all the pylons. They lay out the course the way they want it.
It is so much fun. A lot of guys have these little Hondas that are lowered — a lot of little sports cars. There’s a Viper that runs. There’s several Corvettes that run. There’s BMWs and Porsches. I enjoy it so much.
So, it’s not the same course every time?
The course is different every week, every month.
How many people are in the club?
I would guess club membership is about 25-30. I don’t know that exactly.
What’s the best time you got?
Well, each time you run, it’s different because the track is different. The last race, it was a long course. It took more time to run it. I think my Prius, with me driving it, was something like—I’m usually about 10 seconds slower than the top time of the day. Typical day, they’ll run a 59-second lap time and I’ll run a 69. The last time, the guy that had a Miata, I had a 69 and he had a 68 — just a second slower. … Mazda Miata is probably the most popular car. There’s a lot of Mazda Miatas that run the course. You can pick one up for $6-7,000, fix it up and put some decent tires on it. It’s just such a fun event.