CARIBBEAN QUAR­TER-MILE

NOW THIS IS FUN IN THE SUN!

Drag Racer - - Contents - Text and Photos by Bill Stephens

Now This is Fun in the Sun!

MOST PEO­PLE COME TO ARUBA TO RE­LAX; NOW SOME ARE COM­ING TO RACE. IT’S LATE AU­GUST AND I’M SIT­TING IN A SMALL, CA­SUAL, LO­CAL RESTAU­RANT NAMED THE GRILLE HOUSE ON THE OUT­SKIRTS OF DOWN­TOWN ORANJESTAD, THE CAP­I­TAL CITY OF ARUBA. Seated across from me is the fa­ther-and­son team of Ven and Trevor Eman. Be­sides com­pet­ing in the re­lent­lessly chal­leng­ing Moun­tain Motor Pro Stock cat­e­gory of the IHRA with their Team Aruba Ford Mus­tang, they are work­ing to give Aruba a world-class drag rac­ing fa­cil­ity, one which has gone through a litany of ups and downs through a pass­ing pa­rade of man­age­ment changes for nearly four decades.

Team Aruba’s rac­ing suc­cesses have been solidly sup­ported by the Aruba Air­port Author­ity, Aruba Tourism Author­ity and Aru­bathings.com due in large part to the valu­able ex­po­sure their Pro Stock team pro­vides the is­land. An even greater in­flux of pro­mo­tion is now on their agenda based on the fu­ture of Palo

Marga Race­way.

Aruba is an equa­to­rial is­land par­adise 18 miles north of Venezuela with im­mac­u­late, pow­dery beaches, sooth­ing breezes hus­tled along by trade winds, and a true cos­mopoli­tan vibe spiked by the de­signer shops, gourmet restau­rants and mas­sive ship ter­mi­nal in the cen­ter of Oranjestad. Not widely known about the is­land is its ac­tive and en­thu­si­as­tic com­mu­nity of de­voted drag rac­ers (and drifters) who have built sizzling ri­val­ries on their own turf and with rac­ers from nearby Cu­raçao, Bon­aire, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

Palo Marga Race­way is about a 40-minute drive south­east of Oranjestad. The quar­ter-mile dragstrip is sur­rounded by lit­tle in the way of devel­op­ment, stretch­ing by it­self across the dry, desert-like to­pog­ra­phy, watched over by a string of im­mense wind gen­er­a­tors spin­ning in the face of the trade winds as the gov­ern­ment of Aruba works to­ward achiev­ing to­tal en­ergy in­de­pen­dence in the near fu­ture.

Palo Marga is owned by the Aruban gov­ern­ment but has been man­aged by sev­eral groups dur­ing its tu­mul­tuous life­span, the lat­est of which in­cludes 30year-old Trevor. This am­bi­tious team of lo­cal rac­ers and rac­ing en­thu­si­asts is plan­ning to build Palo Marga into a truly pro­fes­sional drag rac­ing epi­cen­ter ca­pa­ble of pre­sent­ing pro­fes­sional drag rac­ing events on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. The ros­ter of those who have taken up this goal in­clude for­mer Team Aruba racer

//The Palo Marga man­age­ment group also has its sights set on a gi­ant step for the fu­ture of this work in progress: to bring in an IHRA na­tional event in 2018. Much still re­mains to be done to make that goal a re­al­ity, but Palo Marga has a very valu­able ad­vo­cate who is a big believer in what the track means to the is­land.//

Burt Kelk­boom, Frank Iob­brecht, Maz Arendz, Der­win Ruiz, Den­nis Ecury, and An­dre and Ilan Lopez.

This lat­est group took over the fates and for­tunes of Palo Marga in De­cem­ber 2015, their short-term goals were to bring the track back into good op­er­at­ing con­di­tion, be­gin sched­ul­ing events to help pro­vide the fi­nan­cial re­sources to make im­prove­ments, and start the process of pro­vid­ing area rac­ers and drifters a safe al­ter­na­tive to com­pet­ing on the streets.

Ven’s as­so­ci­a­tion with Palo Marga be­gan some 30 years ear­lier. The brother of Aruba Prime Min­is­ter Michael Eman, Ven was part of a gov­ern­ment-cho­sen gath­er­ing of lo­cal busi­ness­men who took over the reins at Palo Marga in 1989, work­ing along­side rem­nants of the pre­vi­ous man­age­ment team.

At the time, the rac­ing fa­cil­ity was in se­ri­ous dis­re­pair with no guardrails, toi­lets or light­ing. Once the track was re­stored to rea­son­able shape, the next 14 years saw a steady se­ries of suc­cess­ful events fill the grand­stands.

How­ever, that man­age­ment coali­tion even­tu­ally broke apart and the next 10 years were rough for the track. In­ex­pe­ri­enced man­agers took con­trol and were un­able to re­peat the pros­per­ity Palo Marga had en­joyed dur­ing those pre­vi­ous 14 years. Not long there­after, the track closed, leav­ing a vac­uum in Aruban rac­ing cir­cles. Young en­thu­si­asts were left to race on the street, and the is­land saw a sharp in­crease in road fa­tal­i­ties.

Fast for­ward to De­cem­ber 2015. Kelk­boom and his co­horts be­gan sched­ul­ing street-le­gal rac­ing, a pos­i­tive strat­egy to get peo­ple back to the track to see for them­selves how it was be­ing re­vived. As be­fore, the track needed ex­ten­sive re­fur­bish­ing, in­clud­ing an en­tirely new tim­ing sys­tem, gen­er­a­tor for the lights, im­proved guard walls and bet­ter san­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties. Sev­eral trees had to be bull­dozed that had been ob­scur­ing the track’s sign out front for years.

The street-le­gal pro­grams, bracket rac­ing and grudge rac­ing im­me­di­ately be­gan gen­er­at­ing much-needed op­er­at­ing cap­i­tal.

Balachi, the lo­cal brew­ery that pro­duces the “Of­fi­cial Beer of Aruba,” ea­gerly came aboard as a track spon­sor. Nagico In­sur­ance has also be­come a val­ued part­ner at Palo Marga, pro­vid­ing a pickup truck and flatbed tow ve­hi­cle for use dur­ing the var­i­ous events. An­other spon­sor has be­come a truly in­valu­able part­ner to Palo Marga’s newest brain trust. The Valero oil re­fin­ery on Aruba closed in 2012. After sit­ting idle for four years, it was pur­chased by Citgo this past sum­mer and has re­opened. This has led to Palo Marga hav­ing a ti­tle spon­sor, Citgo, and the ben­e­fits of that re­la­tion­ship are ob­vi­ous.

In the mean­time, the fu­ture pic­ture for Palo Marga Race­way con­tin­ues to get brighter. Last Au­gust, One Cool Sum­mer, an in­ter­na­tional drag rac­ing event that at­tracted sev­eral hun­dred cars and an equal num­ber of mo­tor­cy­cles, packed the pit area and filled grand­stands for the en­tire week­end. Billed as “The

//The fu­ture pic­ture for Palo Marga Race­way con­tin­ues to get brighter. Last Au­gust, One Cool Sum­mer, an in­ter­na­tional drag rac­ing event that at­tracted sev­eral hun­dred cars and an equal num­ber of mo­tor­cy­cles, packed the pit area and filled grand­stands for the en­tire week­end. Billed as ‘The Quest for Six Sec­onds,’ it was an event that cre­ated a wel­comed sight at a track that has sur­vived a long his­tory of highs and lows.//

Quest for Six Sec­onds,” it was an event that cre­ated a wel­comed sight at a track that has sur­vived a long his­tory of highs and lows.

Plans are un­der­way for a bi­monthly pro­gram with streetle­gal com­pe­ti­tion and bracket rac­ing, plus as many as five ma­jor events in 2017, two of them in­ter­na­tional.

The Palo Marga man­age­ment group also has its sights set on a gi­ant step for the fu­ture of this work in progress: to bring in an IHRA na­tional event in 2018. Much still re­mains to be done to make that goal a re­al­ity, but Palo Marga has a very valu­able ad­vo­cate who is a big believer in what the track means to the is­land.

Prime Min­is­ter Eman, whose gov­ern­ment owns Palo Marga, is quick to point out why hav­ing this rac­ing fa­cil­ity op­er­at­ing suc­cess­fully is im­por­tant to the is­land.

“First, my broth­ers and I grew up around rac­ing here on Aruba so there’s a per­sonal con­nec­tion there. Se­condly, hav­ing drag rac­ing events at Palo Marga serves as an­other reason for peo­ple to come here, es­pe­cially rac­ing fans who va­ca­tion here and find out we have an ex­cel­lent rac­ing fa­cil­ity. And third, when Palo Marga is giv­ing the young peo­ple on Aruba a safe place to race, we see a sharp drop in ac­ci­dents and fa­tal­i­ties on our pub­lic roads.”

Fab­u­lous sun­sets, re­fresh­ing swims in the warm waters of the Caribbean and tan­ta­liz­ing rum drinks served in hol­lowed-out co­conut shells while the trade winds gen­tly ca­ress the palm trees are all ex­cel­lent rea­sons why Aruba has re­mained one of the most pop­u­lar va­ca­tion choices for mil­lions of vis­i­tors ev­ery year. Thanks to the com­mit­ment of the Eman fam­ily and other de­ter­mined ad­vo­cates of Palo Marga Race­way, drag rac­ing is sure to be added to that list.

//Fab­u­lous sun­sets, re­fresh­ing swims in the warm waters of the Caribbean and tan­ta­liz­ing rum drinks served in hol­lowed-out co­conut shells while the trade winds gen­tly ca­ress the palm trees are all ex­cel­lent rea­sons why Aruba has re­mained one of the most pop­u­lar va­ca­tion choices for mil­lions of vis­i­tors ev­ery year.//

/ Road­sters hit the strip at Palo Marga Race­way with the beau­ti­ful blue waters of the Caribbean pro­vid­ing a scenic back­drop.

/ Team Aruba won the 2016 IHRA Mopar Cana­dian Na­tion­als in Grand Bend, On­tario giv­ing Trevor his first ca­reer MMPS vic­tory. The team fin­ished a close sec­ond in the 2016 cham­pi­onship points. Fourth from left, Aruba Prime Min­is­ter Michael Eman, Trevor is hold­ing the tro­phy and sixth from left is Ven Eman.

/ A turbo Honda blows flames up through the hood as the driver spools the boost for a mind-numb­ing seven-sec­ond pass.

/ ABOVE. Palo Marga Race­way has un­der­gone nu­mer­ous changes dur­ing its life­span in Aruba. The new man­age­ment team is plan­ning more im­prove­ments.

/ LEFT. Posters like this in­form rac­ing fans across Aruba that One Cool Sum­mer is about to fire up at Palo Marga Race­way.

/ BE­LOW. This Pro Mod knock­off of the in­fa­mous movie star, Chris­tine, em­pha­sizes the va­ri­ety of race ma­chines that high­light One Cool Sum­mer com­pe­ti­tion.

/ Two drag bikes pre­pare to scorch Palo Marga dur­ing last year’s One Cool Sum­mer. Trevor Eman, the Team Aruba Pro Stock driver and mem­ber of the Palo Marga man­age­ment team, is to the left, serv­ing as of­fi­cial starter.

/Fire-belch­ing Sport Com­pacts like this rad­i­cal Mazda bring the fans to their feet at One Cool Sum­mer. Six-sec­ond elapsed times are su­per-quick in the warm, hu­mid air of Aruba.

/ Rac­ers on Aruba are no dif­fer­ent from rac­ers any­where else in the world. Prep­ping in the pits prior to hit­ting the strip is a univer­sal rit­ual.

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