MANA — In his father’s 1968 black Chevy Camaro, Calvin Costa blasted through a quarter of a mile at 130 mph and crossed the finish line with a time of 8.8 seconds, besting Tom Brown’s 1966 Nova in the final of the Door Slammer drag race earlier this month.
It was well past midnight at Kauai Raceway Park in Mana, but Costa, his racing crew and his family celebrated the victory in front of a record-breaking crowd at the biggest racing event of the year.
“This is the most people we ever had in the park,” said Tony Ricci, Garden Island Racing Association president.
The two-day July event drew about 6,400 spectators. Last year, it had around 5,000 people.
“I think every month is a little bit bigger than the month before. Knowing that the highlight is July, August is going to be bigger than last August,” Ricci said. “Once we reopened in 2014, we had racing families that have been getting the bug again.”
Dragsters with a race time of 9.99 seconds or lower competed in the Door Slammer division. Other divisions included a junior class for children 17 years and under, and an open street class for cars that are legal to drive on the road.
GIRA holds nine drag racing events a year at Mana, starting in March and ending in November.
The dragstrip at Kauai Raceway Park went through a $1.5 million repaving in 2013 and reopened in 2014. Legislators were able to secure the bulk of the money through Capital Improvment Project funding in 2013.
Part of the reason more people are attending is because of the new track, which was last repaved in 1971, Ricci said.
“As time has gone on, a new track takes prep time to get (it) ready to handle the race car,” Ricci said. “Now it’s been seasoned, over a year. Now you can see that we have exceptional grip. All the racers are really happy.”
Racing families such as Ricci, whose son and wife race, are the heart of the dragstrip. Dozens of these families have been racing for decades, and interest in the sport has reached an all-time high on Kauai.
“It’s one of those things you can do for a lifetime. You can participate as a family,” Ricci said. “You can have people not only as spectators, but as participants at the same time.”
And the numbers don’t lie.
Of the 6,400 spectators in attendance, 2,600 were children 12 years old and under.
“When you’re having (that many) children coming, it’s because you have the parents saying, ‘Hey, this is safe, they’re enjoying it. It’s a drug and alcohol-free zone,’” Ricci said.
Calvin’s father Wayne brought him into the sport 17 years ago. The Costas are among one of the most recognized and oldest racing families at the Kauai dragstrip; Wayne has been racing since the mid-1960s.
“There’s actually a lot of families out there that have been doing this well over 30, 40 years,” Calvin Costa said. “The part about it is we all come out there — even if we’re racing against each other — it seems like a big ohana out there. Everybody knows each other and everybody tries to help out.”
Stephen Watkins, who is part of the Costas’ race team, was first exposed to the drags on Kauai earlier this year. When Wayne Costa asked the former motocross racer to help the team, he agreed and became hooked.
“You can go up to a complete stranger in the pit area and ask to borrow an expensive piece of diagnostic equipment or a torque wrench or something,” Watkins said. “It’s an innate camaraderie in trust. I got that feeling almost immediately here. Within minutes after arriving before the races, I can see the mutual respect.”
For Calvin Costa, who’s been racing at Mana since he was 10, the repaving of the dragstrip is a blessing, especially when the money could have been allocated elsewhere.
“I’m thrilled with all that support out there and having the funding to do that track,” he said. “We’re just very fortunate as racers to have a beautiful racetrack in Mana.”
The next drag racing will be on Aug. 6. The theme will be ladies night.