NOW THIS IS FUN IN THE SUN!
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
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.