Here is an aerial view of the airport with the runway that is used for the dragstrip. The total length of the runway is 600 meters or around 2000ft. You can see where the starting line is by the familiar black strips. The airport is closed but apparently they maintain it for emergency use.
This last July (2017) I was working as a contractor on a USMC base in Okinawa, Japan. Japan is an interesting country to visit and the island of Okinawa, located 400 miles south of mainland Japan, is a pleasant tropical island with multiple U.S. military bases spread throughout the island. Having been away from the USA for over a year, I really missed drag racing. Since Japan does not have any drag strips, I was surprised when I found out there was a drag racing event being put on by the Okinawa Drag Racing Association (ODRA) scheduled for the weekend of July 15th on Izena Island.
Here I am standing in front of one of the shuttle busses with my beautiful translator, Mayumi.
To get to the Izena from mainland Okinawa, we had to drive two hours north from Ginowan city located towards the south end of the mainland to a small port just north of Nago. After arriving at the port, we boarded a ferry (cost $30 each) and after a one hour ride we arrived at Izena. After exiting the ferry, we were able to walk a short distance to where they had free shuttle busses waiting and from there it was a short 10 minute ride to the airport/racetrack. The local government on the island supports the racers by providing the shuttle busses, some advertising and allowing them to use the airport facility – all for free.
(Left) Here is the ferry that is used to bring people, cars and commercial goods to Izena Island from Okinawa. All of the cars raced that day were brought over on this ferry. (Right) View from the ferry as we approached Izena. The trip over takes about 1 hour and is very scenic.
(Left) Another couple of nice looking cars with the team that races both. The guy front and center name is Ken. His father is American (ex-military) and his mother Okinawan so he speaks fluent English and Japanese. (Right) Here's one of the better looking, faster cars. Yes, that's a parachute in the back though I didn't see anyone throw out any silk while I was there.
After arriving I sought out someone to give me some race information and met Masayoshi Oata. Not only is he a racer, but is also the head man at ODRA and the event organizer. He speaks only Japanese so I had to use an interpreter to converse with him. Masayoshi explained to me that they race at this location 3-4 times a year depending on weather and other factors. Translation from English to Japanese is sometimes difficult and somehow he got the impression that I was the most famous drag racer in all of the United States (ha-ha).
There were a handful of motorcycles and I was actually surprised there weren’t more since motorcycles are very popular in Japan and cheaper than cars to race.
To give you a little background on cars in Japan, let’s just say that Japan’s registration requirements doesn’t exactly embrace the concept of “modified cars”. Japan has a program called “JCI” which stands for Japanese Compulsory Insurance which is a government regulated, mandatory inspection that must be done every two years. So if you want to modify your registered street car to race, there are very few modifications allowed. Because of this, the only race cars that I saw that day were dedicated strip-only cars.
(Left) I think this guy is waiting for his narrowed rear end or his fender flares. Seriously though, if you think about it he is drag racing on a small island in the Pacific. How many of us can say we've done that? (Right) Thumbs up from one of the dedicated racers. Everyone there was friendly even though I couldn't speak any Japanese.
Now I admit that I’m not a big fan of import racing but I thought the racers there were pretty dedicated. There’s not much speed equipment available on Okinawa and so virtually everything they used to modify their cars came either from mainland Japan or imported from somewhere else. I know some of the equipment such as drag slicks (Hoosier & M/T) were imported from the United States. Just to get to Izena they had to ferry the cars over at a cost of $125-$150 each.
(Left) A look back towards the starting line. The track barriers may not be the highest tech but considering this is all temporary, it's hard to be too critical. (Right) Another look at the down track barriers. I'm going to guess that the fastest cars there were capable of running 120ish mph at this track that day. This may not be the best thing to hit at higher speeds but it beats a telephone pole on the side of the road racing on the street.
Bottom line is the cost and effort to build a drag car in Okinawa is difficult and expensive especially considering they may get the chance to race only a handful of times during the year. The racing is not as formal or serious as we are used to; entry is free but there are is money or trophies to win. These guys are here just to race and have fun.
As you can see from the following pictures, the pit area is pretty small compared to what we are used to. They had quite a variety of cars though of course they were all Japanese models except for one VW bug shown in another picture. (Right) The two cars with side view mirrors on the fenders are older vintage cars. Side view mirrors on the fenders was apparently common place years ago and you can still see some beautiful vintage cars driving around Okinawa with them.
The best way to describe the atmosphere of the track and event would be to say it was easy-going and comfortable. They had some nice bleachers set up behind the safety barriers and several tents set up with chairs to get out of the hot sun. Despite not speaking any Japanese, everyone was friendly and the crowd was mostly young adults. I’m not sure how many “classes” there were, the announcements were all in Japanese over the speaker system they had set up. There was also a sound stage set up and local musicians provided some live music during the breaks in racing.
Here is the one race car there I'm sure wasn't Japanese. How cool is it to find a VW bug drag racing on an island in the Pacific? I don't all of the details, but the engine looks very much like the one I had in my Dune Buggy in 1972.
The cars racing were not fast by our standards, I’m not sure I saw any five-second passes during the day and top speeds probably didn’t get into the 120 mph range. There were a few cars there that appeared to have five-second 1/8-mile potential but they don’t have many opportunities to test the cars, so during the weekend they are doing as much testing as racing. Also, the only track prep was right around the starting line and that was only some adhesive they sprayed with hand sprayers. Despite this, after spending a day watching them it was obvious that they were enjoying themselves. As drag racers they are just like us, putting together what they can afford, racing whenever they can and when at the track trying to tune their cars as best they can.