Racing group kicks off season in Mana Sunday

KEKAHA — During the day, Darla Nonaka is busting anyone burning rubber with their cars on the road.

On Sunday, the Kauai Police Department sergeant will be melting her tires legally at the season-opening event of the Garden Island Racing Association at Kauai Raceway Park.

“What I think is unique is when I show up to the track, everybody is supportive of each other,” said the Hanapepe resident. “I like the camaraderie at the track. It’s fun, positive and everybody wants everyone to be safe at the finish line.”

Nonaka, her husband Wendall, and about 100 other GIRA members will participate in the Test and Tune Day Event — part of the final leg of the 40th annual Waimea Town Celebration.

“Test and tune is basically the first time these cars are coming out of the off season,” said Tony Ricci, GIRA president. “Just like any sport, you always try to get a little better the following year. In cars, you’re trying to get the faster car.”

Unlike a racing event, participants may test their vehicles on the racetrack from the beginning of the day until the event commences as many times as they choose.

“Now with test and tune, racers can bring in their cars and start working on your computer program if you have that in your car, your fuel, your setup and really start testing your car,” Ricci said. “You’re trying to get to those estimated times from the start of the race to finish.”

Racers run their cars about four times on race days. On test on tune events, Ricci said cars may get in up to a dozen runs.

“That’s when you can really figure out something,” he said. “The whole idea is try to get this track accessible, and test and tune is a part of that.”

Alma Koetje, Tony’s wife and GIRA member, started racing three years ago and is looking forward to the season.

“This was a bucket list thing for me to do. I always wanted to race. I was always afraid to because I was afraid of failing,” she said. “With Tony and my son Mason giving the confidence to just go do it, I did it. I realized I can do it. It’s just not a guy thing. It was a challenge for me.”

Koetje participated and has been a consistent winner the last three seasons.

“If you’re a girl, don’t let that scare you that you’re a female racing against guys,” she said. “Just try it. It’s addictive. You realize it’s more fun than anything.”

Nonaka is so excited, she can barely sleep at night.

“I want to get better on the line and read my reaction time,” she said.

GIRA members have spent the past three weeks prepping the track, which includes scraping rubber off the track and allowing new rubber to be applied by racers.

“My husband taught me how to drive the tractor and lay the rubber back on the track. That was exciting,” she said.

Adding an electronic scoreboard to enhance the experience of spectators is one of GIRA’s main goals this season, Ricci said.

“We’re going to have two sets of scoreboards: 1/8 and 1/4 mile,” he said. “It’s going to bring the whole audience in it.”

Additionally, permitting has been approved by the Kauai Initiative Utility Coop to set up power poles.

“We’ll start running the power lines back to the tower for future lights to go in and the scoreboard,” Ricci said.

GIRA is hoping the scoreboard and the power lines are installed by August.

“Once we get the scoreboards for the spectators, getting power is the big thing,” he said. “Eventually, to get stadium lighting so we can get the high school program started and get it so we can get events for the kids.”

For the racers, it’s been a long two months, Ricci said. For the board, it’s been getting into the next phase.

“After this year with the power in and the scoreboards up, we can really start focusing on getting stadium lighting in,” he said. “Once we do that, we’re gonna be the hottest track in the state.”

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