Drive time

LIHUE — Doug Gray silently showed his elation after breaking 30 seconds Sunday at the Vidinha Stadium parking lot.

“The goal is to go through the lap with the fastest times,” said James Cardinez, doing microphone duty at the Kauai Sports Car Club of America autocross. “I’ve run all three autocrosses and I think I did pretty good. I usually run around 30 seconds.”

The Kauai SCCA hosted its third autocross Sunday before a field of more than 20 cars trying to get the best time through the designed, quarter-mile course.

“There is no practice,” Cardinez said. “The wind doesn’t matter because we all drive with our windows down.”

Gray said this is the third time Kauai SCCA has hosted the event.

“We’ve been working for the past three years to get this going,” Gray said. “We almost had an event last year after getting permission from the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Mana to run it on their runway. But at the last minute, NASA had their launch and we had to scrub.”

He said after working with the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation, they were finally given permission to host the event at the Vidinha Stadium.

“This is good,” said Andy Canavan, one of the drivers negotiating the specially-designed course. “Events like this give kids an opportunity to run their cars other than the drag strip.”

The technical course includes short straightaways, some soft turns and some hard curves. If you hit a cone during the run, time is added. Following the competitive run, drivers enjoyed a fun run so they could further tune their machines. Safety is a priority.

“It’s not about high speed,” said driver and organizer, John Pennell. “It’s about maneuverability. Speed comes after you get the hang of it.”

Kauai SCCA has about 20 members and is growing. It plans to meet once a month.

Avery Tsui of Oahu is regional executive for sports car club of America, Hawaii region. He liked what he saw of the young Kauai SCCA group in February at Vidinha Stadium.

“The real key is having a core group that’s willing to run the event and work with each other,” he said.

If the Kauai club can run regular events, drivers will get better — and faster, Tsui said.

When it comes to driving, the key is simple: Seat time.

“The more time you spend behind the wheels and get comfortable driving the cars at these kinds of competitions, the better you can become,” he said.

Cars competing in the SCAA event are not souped up hot rods. Most are simply stock with good tires. They’re Hondas, BMWs, Subarus, and Miatas.

And it’s not trophies that are at stake. It’s bragging rights.

Canavan negotiated his Corvette to the starting line, getting viewed from a friend outside the driving area.

“I have a bigger car,” Canavan said, absorbing his run of 31.21 seconds. “Having a bigger car is a conflict. The first box is super tight so I need to adjust.”

“This is my third, or fourth time,” said Kanani Dreier in her Honda. “I did have a trial on Oahu, and the Oahu people have been really helpful in setting up this event for Kauai. This is really fun. It’s an adrenaline rush.”

The next autocross is scheduled for April 24 at the Vidinha Stadium parking lot with registration starting at 8 a.m., and the first runs going around 9 a.m.

Anyone is welcome to show up with a car and helmet. Once their vehicles passes the inspection, they’re good to go.

“Autocross is driving your car like it’s never been driven before,” said Catherine Pennell, another driver. “You’ll never drive on the street the way you’re drive on this course.”

Pennell’s Volkswagen did not fare well on her first run, crunching the cones on the first turn before running clean for her ensuing runs.

Such driving improves reflexes, especially reacting when on the road, “Catherine Pennell said. Besides, it’s “super fun and it gets your heart racing.”

“One thing I love about it, it’s all about your skill,” she said. “It’s not necessarily how fast your car is. So, maneuvering the course, you really learn better driving skills.”

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