Safety paramount at racetrack

The Garden Isle Racing Association hosted its annual Independence Day races this past weekend at Kaua‘i Raceway Park in Mana, an event that has been going strong for over 35 years now.

Jed Kaiakapu, one of our veteran racers, was injured during a qualifying run. Jed was transported to KVMH where he was kept overnight for observation then released. In a statement, Jed said the safety equipment in his car and the safety design of the chassis worked above and beyond expectations, considering the severity of the incident. Jed praised the GIRA track safety crew, on-site American Medical Response EMTs, and his own crew for responding quickly and with expertise. While visiting with family and friends Jed said, “This is not going to stop me, it’s (drag racing) in my blood, I’ll be back.”

Jed and his family thanked all his friends and fans for all their prayers, get well wishes and support.

It is a tragedy anytime anyone is injured, especially doing something they love. On Kaua‘i recently we’ve experienced serious injuries for participants in different sports and leisure activities, but we know motorsports is special because the public thinks motorsports carry a higher risk for accidents and injuries. Although we’ve had injuries at the racetrack, thankfully none have been serious. And that’s no accident.

Our safety record is a direct result of stringent, enforced safety rules. GIRA, the non-profit group which manages KRP, is sanctioned by the National Hot Road Association, one of the largest motorsports sanctioning organizations in the world with 80,000 members, 35,000 licensed competitors and more than 140 member tracks. Since it was founded in 1951, NHRA has been dedicated to ensuring drag racing is made as safe as possible.

Every vehicle racing at every event is thoroughly inspected by NHRA certified tech inspectors to ensure all vehicles and safety equipment meet stringent national standards. A dragster like the one involved in Saturday’s mishap would need its chassis inspected and certified by a NHRA tech inspector from the Mainland, the driver would be surrounded by a heavy steel tubing to protect him or her in the event of an accident, the driver would also be required to wear a SFI certified firesuit to protect him or her in the event of a fire, and the driver of a fast car like this needs a special competition license awarded only after trials to ensure the driver is ready to move up to such a fast car. These are just some of the mandatory safety rules — the complete list runs to hundreds of pages.

Beyond safety rules for the cars, we have safety procedures about how the track is run. At every race an ambulance with certified EMTs is always at the starting line ready to respond, so if an accident occurs, paramedics are on scene within seconds. A fire truck staffed by trained firemen is also on site. Even the design of the track guardrails and crowd-control fences is dictated by safety rules. And a strict zero-tolerance policy about alcohol consumption reinforces that driving and serving as crew for a race car is a serious activity.

GIRA uses donations from sponsors, spectators’ admission fees, and racer registration fees to pay for the ambulance and fire truck services and maintenance of the facility. GIRA receives no funding from the county or state government.

An important final issue: Drag racing is not street racing. Drag racing is a sanctioned motorsport that happens on a racetrack under stringent, supervised conditions. Street racing is irresponsible behavior carried out by irresponsible drivers on public roads that endangers themselves and others. Drag racers hate street racing. The whole reason GIRA exists is to create a safe environment at a sanctioned racetrack on Kaua‘i for men and women to compete. And yes, we do have women competing in all classes. Our biggest class of cars is the “Street ET” class whose drivers average age falls in the 18- to 27-year range. We truly feel that by giving the “kids” a safe place to race, they are less likely to be out on our public roads challenging each other to a race. We know it helps — the Honolulu Police Department saw a sharp rise in street racing when the O‘ahu racetrack closed.

We invite all of you to pack your coolers (without alcohol), barbeques, lawn chairs and come down to Kaua‘i Raceway Park for a fun-filled family day in the Mana sun. Our next event is scheduled for Aug. 2, time trials start at 2 p.m. with competition following at 7 p.m. For more information about GIRA, KRP and drag racing on Kaua‘i, please visit www.dragrace-Kaua‘i.com

• This commentary written with the support of the GIRA Board of Directors: Bill Turk, president; Bobby Barros, vice president; Mary Kealoha; Teri Groves; Gary Long; Gilbert Barretto; and Bill Winningham.

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