After years of strenuous effort, old No. 27 was put out to pasture. Literally. The remains of the stock car racer sit in the pasture below Calasa Service Station in Waiakoa. The engine is gone. The wheels are gone. The interior has been gutted. Memories of weekends at the Kahului Fairgrounds are fading.
For years in the 1940s and 1950s, a three-man crew raced what would be classified today as a modified sportsman car. Valentine Calasa ran the station, which is now operated by master auto technician Mike Pakela.
Until the current Kula Highway was built, Kula Road twisted its way through Omaopio and Waiakoa. In the early years, anyone wanting to keep the dust down would water or oil the throughway. No pavement, just cinders and dirt.
Arthur Ventura Jr. thinks No. 27 was brought over from Oahu after World War II. There were few cars on Maui that could be sacrificed on the altar of speed, but there were many Maui motorheads who went to those Sunday services at the fairgrounds. Exhausts would roar, tires would skid and competitors thought nothing about nudging the other guy off the most efficient way around the dirt track.
The track was originally built for horse racing. It was also used for track meets and on the weekend the fair was held, the infield was the site of the annual football "championship" between Maui High and Baldwin. Right up to the end of the fairgrounds, cars and motorcycles raced in front of a grandstand filled by hundreds of excited Mauians. The air would be filled by dust and the aroma of hot engines and oil, particularly during the car races. Short-track stock car racing was revived in the last decade at Maui Raceway Park.
All that came later.
No. 27 probably began life as a 1934 or 1935 Chevrolet coupe, not the heaviest or crash-proof car around. During its racing career, a stout pipe cage was built around the body, wheels and both ends. Another cage was built inside to protect the driver. Racing on a dirt track tends to get rough. No hard feelings, though.
Valentine Calasa worked on 27's engine when he had time during the week. Arthur Ventura Sr. handled the sheet metal work. Danny Kimura was the driver.
Arthur Ventura Jr. readily admits his father's racing was "before my time." But he remembers the stories and the times when he and his buddies would sit behind the wheel of No. 27, imagining they were race car drivers.
"They would race on Saturday and tow 27 back up to Kula," Arthur Jr. said. "Dad would pound out the body work. Uncle Valentine would tune the engine. Then they would tow the car back to Kahului for Sunday's races.
During the week, Calasa would test his race car on the closest straight stretch of road. Kula Road was a little too narrow, a little too close to houses and had a few too many curves. At the Rice Park end of Kula Road, Calasa could make a left turn, go across the bridge and stomp on the accelerator. The section of road out to Polipoli Road was mostly a straight run with empty pastures on both sides. The cows didn't seem to mind.
"Uncle Valentine said that was the test of your car," Arthur Jr. said.
The power plant was most likely a straight-six taken from a truck. That was a favorite engine for stock car and drag racers during that era. The engines made more horsepower than the V-8s, ran smoothly and were reliable. In those days, few Maui residents had any extra money for race-car parts. It was a make-do time on many levels.
A postwar economic depression - few or no jobs - was so deep that in the 1950s, there were more Maui-born individuals living on Oahu or the West Coast than on the island. Resident families farmed, raised cattle and fished to keep food on the table.
Racing cars was something of a luxury, but there were many motorheads on the island. Among the racers, about the only thing that could lure them away from their steeds was watching local boy Danny Ongais on television. The Kula-born driver made a name for himself on the Mainland in Formula 1 and Indianapolis races. The name was "Flyin' Hawaiian." Of course.
Old No. 27 is an artifact, a memory jogger. A 4-foot-high ilima grows out of the engine bay. There is very little rust on the car. Early Maui race cars were as tough as the men who raced them.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.