The Need For 808 Speed

The Need For 808 Speed

Originally Appearing in "Hawaii Intrigue" (Abstract 4)
Text by Ryan Senaga // Images by Raul Soria Jr

For most of us, a dramatic vehicular experience is enduring pau hana traffic on the H-1. Occasionally, we’ll get rear-ended in the parking lot of a shopping mall, be forced to slowly snake through the blue flashing lights of a police roadblock, or wake up to a battery that refuses to resurrect itself.

But sometimes, while waiting at a red light on our way home from a Saturday drink, we’ll hear the revving of rice-rocket engines (a term coined to describe Asian-brand automobiles): Oʻahu’s street-racing scene is alive and well and seemingly unaffected by the over-saturation and cheesiness of a certain film franchise starring Vin Diesel and Paul Walker.

So where are these powerful engines and brightly painted chassis going? To a big parking lot, usually in the Nimitz area. For at least for a couple hours. Here, cars of all makes, models, and engines get together to socialize. In addition to the drivers saying hello and cruising, you can imagine the automobiles talking to each other like a local version of Pixar’s Cars.

Eventually, though, it’s time to hit the road.

Unlike the The Fast and the Furious, no one spray paints lines on blocked-off street corners and no girls in bikinis wave finish-line flags. Most of the action takes place on the freeways.

“The more common places are the ʻEwa side of the freeway heading in both directions towards Kapolei and into town, as well as the airport viaduct and occasionally the H-3 as well.”

This information comes from a now-retired racer known for the purposes of this article as KAY.

“On the freeway the cars will line up, slow down to a predetermined speed, and someone would honk their horn three times, and everyone will jump on the throttle,” he says. “Normally, it’s one car pulls ahead more than a car length and the other car shows no sign of being able to catch up, or the straight line is running out to the point where there’s a turn or curve coming up. That’ll normally finish the race.”

Of course, traffic is a huge factor in a state infamous for its gridlock.

“Racing nowadays isn’t nothing to what it used to be back in the day,” says a current street racer known as Just John (also a pseudonym). “Seven years ago, you jump on the freeway, you do 125 from Pearl City to Kāhala. Jump back around and do the same thing in the other direction. Nowadays you got a buncha kids doing 40, 45 on the freeway, they’ll line up next to each other, accelerate ’til about 80, slow back down and do it all over again. Now once you do past 80 in Hawaiʻi, the cops can arrest you.”

Perhaps the most intriguing part of this activity is the risk factor. Strapping yourself into heavy machinery, going at such deadly speeds…risking incarceration, a police record, and death (not just your own death but potentially someone else’s as well). Why would anyone do this?

“I don’t know why I do it,” says Just John. “The feeling of being behind the wheel, everything… It’s really hard to even say. When you’re racing, anything can happen. I’m fortunate that nothing too bad has happened… My leg still works.

When you're racing, anything can happen.

Just John got into an accident several years ago, severely injuring his leg while street racing.

“It’s not gonna stop me from being the same person I was before it happened,” he continues. “I don’t know if there’s a screw loose in my head or not, but for me, it’s about having a lot of fun. I’m an adrenaline junkie. I see it as having to have fun.”

Of potential interest: Just John is married with a young son.

For KAY, the retiree, it was simple economics that took him out of the game.

“The financial side of the scene was not too friendly anymore so I had to step out. [My car] got stolen right from my own garage. It wasn’t worth the investment anymore when something that I put so much time and effort into could easily disappear. And there’s kinda a stigma where a lot of the police officers don’t really care to go out of their way to help you find the person who took the car, so it’s completely a lost investment.”

Perhaps it is time for a controlled, “safe,” environment, like Tracks at Campbell Industrial Park, to make a return. But that’s unlikely. What’s more likely: when darkness falls across the land and the midnight hour is close at hand, and the nine-to-fivers and their eco-safe sedans are safely tucked away in the garages of suburban slumber, another scene roars to life, satiating those with a need for speed.

Editor’s Note: Excessive speeding is a petty misdemeanor as outlined in §291C-105 of the Hawaiʻi Revised Statutes. First-time offenders face a fine of up to $500 and/or up to five days of imprisonment.