Turning 16 is an important date for many teenagers as they look forward to getting their drivers license, but for Charelle Luiz that age meant getting her competition license in the sport of drag racing. Four years later Luiz has won the coveted “Driver of the Year Award.”
Luiz is no ordinary girl as she grew up attending drag races at an early age with her dad, Donnley Koga.
“I’ve always had a passion for drag racing ever since I was a little girl,” she said. “My dad has been around drag racing since he was in high school and I was introduced to the world of drag racing at a young age.”
Koga would bring his daughter to the track and Luiz would learn the in’s and out’s about the sport.
“My dad would let me help him out with his race car and ever since then I got hooked on drag racing and wanted to learn more about the sport,” Luiz said.
In 2005, while attending Kamehameha School-Keaau, Luiz got the opportunity to race when Ellsworth Fontes chose her to drive his dragster.
“I was only 16 years old and a week earlier I had just gotten my driver’s license when Uncle Ellsworth asked me to drive for him,” she said.
Ellsworth Fontes, no relation to Luiz, had torn a cartilage in his knee when he began looking for a driver to replace him in his 850 horse powered dragster.
“I had known Charelle (Luiz) for years as she grew up at the drag strip,” Fontes said. “I selected her to drive my rear engine dragster called “Sudden Impact III” out of several other drivers because I really felt she understood the science of racing.”
Since those early days Luiz has been a regular at the Hilo Drag Strip and has completed her fourth year as a driver where she competes in the 7.90 index class.
The 2009 drag racing season runs from February to October and Luiz competed in every Index race on Saturdays and in Bracket 1 races on Sunday’s.
Winning the majority of races in the 7.90 class Luiz was recently selected (Oct. 11) as “Driver of the Year” which was determined by the amount of points earned in the index races and in the bracket races.
“All those hard times I went through, all the tears and problems we ran into with the car and what not, all paid off in the end,” Luiz said of winning Driver of the Year.”
“Charelle has excellent reaction time. She is very focused and extremely competitive,” Fontes said of his award winning driver.”
Luiz graduated from Kamehameha in 2007 where she paddled and played volleyball from her freshman to junior years. In her senior year she moved all her focus to the drag strip and in learning to drive the high powered vehicles.
Now in her junior year at Hawaii Pacific University on Oahu Luiz majors in Human Services and is concentrating on becoming a Substance Abuse Counselor.
“My goal one day is to help adolescents and teenagers recover from using alcohol and drugs,” she said. “I also always had a passion in helping teenagers who suffer from domestic violence.”
But it is her recreational weekend hobby of drag racing that gets the adrenaline going and the heart pumping.
“We consider drag racing a family hobby and its one weekend out of the month where we can all get together and have fun,” Luiz said. “One thing I like about drag racing is the adrenaline. I’ve always wanted to drive something that goes over the speed limit and being able to feel what it s like is awesome.”
Luiz is not the only woman driving a dragster at the Hilo Strip. “There are two girls right now that are in the 7.90 index class and there are quite a few girls out there on the track, which is a good thing,” she said.
In the 7.90 index class dragsters try to get down the quarter mile strip in exactly, or close to, in 7.90 seconds. Often times to achieve that feat drivers are averaging between 160 and 170 miles per hour in an extreme display of speed.
“There are over 100 competitors that try for the championship points during the drag season and Charelle beat them out to win Driver of the Year,” Fontes said. “Not only that, she is the first woman to ever be selected for that award.”
“Some people think that this is a guy’s sport but the way I see it is that girls are just as good as guys, if not better,” Luiz said.
“I’m still in shock that I won driver of the year,” Luiz said. “I’d like to thank Uncle Ellsworth for giving me the opportunity and to my crew, Sudden Impact Racing, for helping me get here.”