When you think of Hawaii, you always think of sandy beaches, blue water, great waves, tropical drinks and just enjoying the day in the sun. Well, that is all changing on the Big Island of Hawaii, as UTV racing is the next epidemic to hit the Islands. Locals have moved inward from the sandy beaches to the local dirt tracks ready to make waves. As more UTVs reach the Islands, it looks like UTV racing just may be taking the jungle by storm. This is no easy feat, either. The cost of getting units over from the mainland costs a little more, as well as the aftermarket accessories you will need to get them race ready. For us that live on the mainland, it’s a matter of going down to the local shop or getting them shipped from a neighboring state. If you live in the Pacific Ocean, you will have to put cages on pallets, and wait several weeks as it is shipped by boat. A small group of racers have started to at Hilo Motor Speedway. With thanks to the track owners, Hawaiian residents now have a place to compete. This track has a 40-ft table top, some high speed corners, smaller double jumps and a good whoop section in the infield, making it Hawaii’s first UTV short course race track. They made their show-stopping debut in July of 2008 during the weekend of the Freedom Races at the stockcar dirt oval, which was one to remember. UTVs are a brand-new class, and they were there to have fun and show everyone how awesome UTV racing is. Many people had never seen a UTV before, and there was incredible interest from the crowd. Everyone was curious to see what the machines could do and the racers were anxious to get out there and put on a great race.
The excitement of UTV racing on the Big Island is growing, and with two races already this year it is sure to grow faster than ever. While they are still racing some UTVs in stock form, they are upgrading their vehicles into full race UTVs for upcoming races. A lot of these vehicles are already equipped with long travel suspension, beadlocks, race cages and everything you expect to have on a race vehicle. The following is a short recap by Whitney Schoenburg on a few of the races that have already taken place this year, including the first mountain race and the first short course race on the magnificent Big Island of Hawaii.
Mountain Race – MAUNA KEA 200
This was the first year for the UTV class in the annual Mauna Kea 200 in over 30 years. The main race was a 59-mile course around Mauna Kea, the biggest mountain in the State of Hawaii. The race course started at 6000 ft. and twisted and turned up to 10,000 ft. The non- street legal vehicles, including the UTVs, didn’t race the first section of the course. The two UTVs that entered this race only had two weeks to get the machines ready for the long running race. Jason and I were first to start for the UTVs in our #150 Polaris RZR, with the Kawasaki Teryx starting 20 seconds behind. The start of the course was in unfamiliar territory, rough terrain and tight turns. It started out behind a military base, and it was critical to stay on course and follow the course markers because there were restricted areas with military personnel on standby waiting with guns and mace. One of the Rock Island Rider officials actually had an encounter with them when mapping out the course prior to the race. It ultimately led to a military arrest.
After weaving in and out of the construction machinery and top secret trails, we got to the first check point and left the military base. That is when we hit the beginning of the toughest part of the course. It consisted of steep hills with a lot of turns. The side of the track was uneven, causing the RZR to buck violently front to back and side to side. There were huge rocks on the left side which sent the machine all over the place, and we hit hard a few times. Once we got back on a dirt road, we knew something was wrong with the RZR but we kept on going at the best pace we could. We reached the 3rd checkpoint, and by that time our left side tires were flat. Meanwhile, we were thinking that the Teryx # 149 was close on our tail. The faster we drove, the harder it was to keep the machine in control. Every small rock we drove over felt like it was 5 times its size. When we went over them, it shook us up and we knew it wasn’t good. It was metal on rock, and it didn’t feel good. My driver, Jason, kept saying to me that something was broken, but we weren’t sure exactly what was wrong. It was obvious there was a flat, but we weren’t sure if something else was broken on the front end. We passed a few more bikes and reached the 4th and final checkpoint. It was located at the access road for Mauna Kea and had a very small section of pavement. When we reached that, it was obvious we had a problem. The Polaris was all over the place. We turned onto the final section which was narrow and downhill. We went a football field or so, found a place to pull over, and assessed the damage. We had two flat tires on the left side of the vehicle and the front rim was shattered. We tried to patch the tires and fill them up with air, but both tires were beyond repair. Meanwhile, we kept hearing dirt bikes go by and thought that the Teryx would pass us at any time.
The suspension and the rest of the machine seemed to be just fine, so we had a decision to make. We could turn around and make it back to the 4th checkpoint and take a DNF, or we could just keep going and do our best to finish the race. I knew it was risky to turn around with the narrow road and oncoming racers, and we wanted to finish, so we kept going. The road started to get really steep and narrow as we made our way down the side of the mountain. On our right side there was the side of the mountain, and on our left side was a cliff with a fatal drop. The machine constantly pulled to the left because the left side was dragging in the loamy cinder. Jason had the wheel turned so far to the right we would go up the embankment on the right side, and the machine came close to rolling over several times. It was slow going and intense. We finally made it down to the rocky tight section and were still thinking the Teryx #149 was going to catch us. We made it through and just kept going until we 4 check points by giving checkpoint tickets that were given to us at each checkpoint.
Our #150 Polaris RZR finished with a time of 2:49.23 with an overall place of 46th and 1st in the UTV class. The #149 bone stock Kawasaki Teryx, (with two flat tires), finished with a time of 3:26.32 with an overall place of 66th out of 101 riders.
When we pulled into the pit area, a huge crowd formed around the UTVs. Not many people that live in Hawaii had ever seen them before. There was huge interest and everyone wanted to know everything about these machines. UTV racing is growing in Hawaii, just like everywhere else. There were so many people at the race who had not seen a race ready UTV before, and now some of them are getting the UTV itch, so expect to see more UTVs at next year’s event. Some of the short course Utes could not make this race on such short notice, but they will have a year to get ready for the annual Mauna Kea 200 instead of 2 weeks next time.
Short Course Race – HILO MOTOR SPEEDWAY
Saturday, August 12th, started out hot and sunny following days of rain. The track at Hilo Motor Speedway was packed and race primed. The UTVs were to have two heat races that day, with 10 laps in each heat. The racers were Jason Thurber #150 in the red Polaris RZR, Whitney Schoenberg # 357 in the red Teryx, and Kevin Platt # 030. Jason started pole, Kevin started second, and Whitney started in third. During the hot laps, Kevin # 030 got stuck in the doubles trying to roll them and ripped his valve stem off his rear wheel causing a flat. He wasn’t able to race the first heat. Jason took first place and Whitney took second. In the dusty second heat, Kevin had managed to fix his tire and was back in the race. Jason #150 started in pole again, Whitney # 357 had second, and Kevin # 030 started in third. It was a good race with the three racers. Jason pulled away from the two Teryx UTV’s leaving them to battle for second. Jason took the second heat with Kevin in second and Whitney right behind him.
The following Sunday was the main event for all the racers. The final race was to be 15 laps. Jason started in pole, Kevin started second, and Whitney started in third. It was a great race with high jumps and exciting passes. Whitney and Kevin were racing for second, with each driver passing each other every chance they could. During the second-to-the-last lap, Kevin got out in front of Whitney and was jumping the table top when he landed with his front end catching the bumper, sending him rolling down the landing. He was okay and wanted to continue to race, while everyone else was worried about the crash. It was exciting, and, thankfully, Kevin was okay, walking away with a sore neck and a headache.
August 16th was the second race for the UTVs. There was work done to improve the track, and the doubles were changed into bigger whoops, posing a challenge for the racers. There was a new racer named Josh Detwiler, # 001, in another red Polaris RZR. Whitney showed up ready to race with her new race cage from UTVcrap.com. Saturday started out not too hot and sunny, making it perfect for racing that day. The day was to consist of two heat races, 5 laps each, and a final which was 10 laps. Jason Thurber # 150 started in pole position, Whitney Schoenberg # 357 started in second, and Josh Detwiler # 001 was in third. The first heat was fast with the racers bunched up and ready to race hard. The big whoops were nothing but obstacles for the UTVs, but they didn’t slow them down. Jason took first place, Whitney in second, and Josh right behind in third.
The second heat was the same, 5 laps with Jason in first, Whitney in second, and Josh in third. The main 10-lap race was a little different. Whitney # 357 started on pole, Josh # 001 was in second, and Jason # 150 started in the back of the pack. The starting line-up made for an exciting race. Whitney managed to stay out in front for a little while, but a small mistake enabled Josh to swoop in and take advantage, making him the race leader for a few laps. Jason got tired of eating Whitney’s dust and decided he needed to make a move, so he came up almost next to her in the whoops, and when she went wide to cut in to the big turn, Jason came up the inside causing his rear right wheel to slide into her left rear wheel and some paint was traded. Jason was now hot on Josh’s tail and he made his move again, through the whoops, and made an exciting pass, taking first place in the day overall. Josh was second and Whitney came in third.
It was a great race day with a lot of support from spectators and the association. Thanks to the Hilo Motor Speedway Association. UTV racing has a home in Hilo, Hawaii, and the sport continues to grow.