Over the years we have watched one of Hawaii's own turn into one of the WORLDs best in motorsports. Todd Okuhara started working at his dads machine shop in Kakaako and his passion for drag racing began at Hawaii Raceway Park.
Todd's professional journey started in 1993 working for a legend in the sport of drag racing and native son, Roland Leong. He then went on to work for one of the biggest names in the sport of drag racing, Don "The Snake" Prudhomme. A few years later younger brother Scott decided it was his turn to see how well he could do in the "BIG" Pond which is the Full Throttle Series of the NHRA at the highest level of the sport, NITRO Funny Cars.
Todd Okuhara, Crew Chief Team FRAM
Today Todd is entering his 16th year as a professional tuning Nitro powered race cars. He is now one of the most respected crew chiefs in the entire world. Todd is in an elite group of less then 30 men in the whole world who have "THE" title, "Crew Chief" of the worlds fastest accelerating vehicles from a dead stop. Where zero to over 100 miles per hour is achieved in .8 seconds, speeds of over 280 miles per hour in 660 feet and reach more than 300 + miles per hour in a little more than 3 seconds. No space shuttle, no fighter jet can compare to the awesome power these 8000 + horsepower vehicles can generate. Where 6.5 G forces are reached at the hit of the throttle, INSTANTLY and pulling the parachutes at the end of the 1000 foot run can generate over 10 negative G forces. Forces so violent it can detach your retinas. Negative G forces are so dangerous that even fighter pilots avoid them as this can cause the phenomenon known as "Red Out". Red Out is caused by Negative G Forces that forces your bodies blood to rush towards your brain. Besides causing problems with your eyes Negative Gs can also cause hemorrhagic strokes. Positive G Forces at the launch of these land missiles forces the blood flow away from your brain and can cause Blackouts. These race pilots experience "REAL" Dangers no "Stick -n- Ball" player will ever come close to experiencing.
6.5 Gs and 120+ decibels at the hit of the "Loud Pedal"
How dangerous is the sport? Three of the worlds top drivers have been killed in the past four seasons. Like I always say,"If Tiger has a bad day, Tiger still gets to go home." Todd has the awesome responsibility of making sure not only do they win rounds and races to satisfy sponsors who shell out millions of dollars to have their names on the cars but to make certain it is absolutely safe for the driver piloting his machine. As Scott Okuhara said,"If you really don't know what you're doing, you can KILL the guy ( Driver )."
Hawaii's Highest Paid Mechanic
Todd has been the assistant crew chief for future hall of fame driver Ron Capps with two different team owners. In 2006 Todd Okuhara became a FULL Crew Chief for "Fast" Jack Beckman of Don Schumacher Racing ( DSR ). In Jack's 2006 rookie season they ran only the last five national events. Todd got Jack his first win in just his fourth event at Las Vegas. Amid controversy at the 2006 World Finals, NHRA officials claimed that the fuel in Jack Beckman's funny car was over the allowable limit of Nitro to Alcohol ratio. This motivated Todd to prove to himself and fellow competitors that they were "NOT" cheating. During the last qualifying session he told "Fast" Jack Beckman,"Hang ON, because it is either going to run a number or BLOW UP." During that run they set not only the quarter mile record for elapsed time at 4.662 seconds but also the record for speed at 333.66 miles per hour. A world record for speed that still stands till today.
Parachutes Stop 330 Miles Per Hour Run
Near the end of the 2007 season another switch was made. Todd was again trusted to be the crew chief for yet another future hall of fame driver, Gary Scelzi.
Todd came on as Gary's Crew Chief at the 2007 Brainerd event. They didn't even qualify for that event until the fourth and final qualifying session. Talk about performing under pressure. In 2007 there was also a change in the way the points system to determine who will be the World Champion. The World Champion would now be determined in a playoff style format. The top 5 drivers in points will now battle it out during the last 6 races and the points would reset to zero. Driver Gary Scelzi was not even qualified for the Countdown to 1 when Todd came on board. He tuned Gary Scelzi's Funny Car to "2" wins in 4 races and they made it into the "Countdown". After the smoke and nitro cleared at the World Finals in Pomona California the team finished in third place for the season. The momentum built from the end of 2007 had everyones confidence running high and looking forward to the start of the 2008 season. Then what seemed as a promising possibility at the end of 2007 turned into frustration for all of 2008.
Todd Getting Dialed In
For the 2008 season Todd struggled to find the right combination due to some of the new rule changes. Midway through the season Gary Scelzi made a tough decision to step out of the cockpit at the end of the 2008 season and return home to concentrate on his families business. Then things went from bad to worst. Todd was now struggling with an inner ear infection. The infection was so severe he could not even get out of bed much less go to the shop or racetrack.
At the end of the 2008 season there were so many changes at DSR it seemed like a soap opera. Fellow DSR teammate Tony Schumacher's long time crew chief Alan Johnson who set, reset and broke every record in the record book on their way to winning their 6th World Title in 2008 was leaving to start his own team for 2009. Funny car teammate Jerry Tolliver was leaving as well. While all the musical chairs were playing itself out everyone was wondering what the newly revamped DSR teams would look like for the upcoming 2009 season.
Todd watches his car at Phoenix Test.
Just before the start of spring training 2009 the announcements from DSR came out. Todd along with Phil Schuller ( Phil was the 2008 Crew Chief on teammate Jack Backman's Funny Car ) would end up taking over Co-Crew Chief duties on fellow DSR teammate Cory Mac's Top Fuel dragster. It was a shock for everyone who follows the sport. Todd has not worked on a dragster since 1995 when he was a crew member on 2 time Top Fuel World Champion Larry Dixon's team. Todd described the new situation as," A bunch of Funny Car guys who never worked on a Dragster before."
The "3" Amigos
And for the first time in 3 years Scott is reunited with big brother Todd once again on the same team. Todd has not only done well in his new role in Top Fuel but the Team FRAM Top Fuel Dragster is in the hunt for the World Championship title.
Unleashing 8000 Horsepower
The teams 2009 stats are quite impressive. They are currently No. 5 in the 2009 Top Fuel World Championship standings with two runner-up spots, one semifinal, seven quarterfinal and two first-round finishes at the halfway point of the season, 12 of 24 national events.
Team FRAM 2009
Todd is one of the best in the world at what he does and he doesn't hit a stick with a ball or tries to catch one either. He has a quiet exterior which hides a very competitive flame that burns within. Before these two brothers finish their careers they would really like to win a world championship. And when they do get that first World Championship Title they will also be "THE FIRST" from Hawaii to win a WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP in a major motorsport. The Okuhara brothers will definitely make Hawaii "VERY" Proud indeed.
To hear and see this exclusive interview with Todd Okuhara log onto our website at http://punishum.com.
It is now official and I am proud to announce that PunishUM Motorsports will be a part of the OC16's family off television programming lineup.
PunishUM will be producing several specials addressing concerns that affect our motorsports community as well as all of the motorsports news and highlights from Lihue to Kona and from Oahu to Maui and every place in between. If it Rolls, Floats, Flies or Crashes you will only see it on PunishUM Motorsports.
Our first OC16 show will air November 2009.
Executive Producer Tracy Arakaki would like to thank Mitzi Lehano and Lonnie Pepper-Shupp for their support. And a BIG Mahalo to Allan Pollock for all of his support and guidance.
PunishUM looks forward to continue to provide quality motorsports programming no matter where in the world Hawaii's sons and daughters compete as we have continually done so for nearly 10 years.
Award winning PunishUM Motorsports is Hawaii's first, oldest and longest running motorsport show in Hawaii television history.
On PUNISHUM.Com we have "Part 2" of the Okuhara's from Vegas. From the Blaisdell Moto Extreme riders Tommy Clowers and the "Flyin Hawaiian" Clifford Adopante take flight in the arena as well as cameos from Weman and the "REAL" Steve "O" from Jackass. And in our "Remember This" segment I don't want to say,"I told YOU so." But "I Told You So". We told all you viewers and racers back in 2001 that Hawaii Raceway would be closing. We will show you "Why" and "WHO" is responsible for the closing of our beloved track. So check it out at http://punishum.com.
This months Giveaway we have some car care products for you.
So until next month, keep it of the street and on a track and "Speed Safely".
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Some very sad Late Breaking News.
At the annual 4th of July drag race on Kauai a driver was hurt last night Friday July 03, 2009 in a bad crash.
According to my sources the driver seemed fine but was Medivac to Honolulu. He passed away early this morning July 4th, 2009.
Our prayers go out to the family and friends and I will have more information as it comes available.
The race car driver killed at Kauai Raceway Park is Rudy Ramos of Lihue Kauai.
He was driving an early year Corvette and in his 60's
He is also the business owner of Rudy Ramos Excavation & Garden Isle Portable Toilets.
Great article! Sorry about Rudy...
Friday 7/10/09 Latest Press Release: Cory Mac ( Todd's Team ) Grabs Provisional Pole at Bandimere in Denver Colorado. . . . Cory McClenathan drove the FRAM Tough Guard Top Fuel dragster to the provisional pole position on Friday for the Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway, recording a 3.882-second lap at 317.05 mph in the second session, completed after midnight. If he holds on as low qualifier, he'll have scored his second No. 1 of the season, the 34th of his career, and his second consecutive at Denver.
"You always wonder how you're going to run on the hill when you come up here to Denver," said McClenathan. "They do such a great job preparing this race track, and with the cooling system (under the first 120 feet of the track) we know we can get after the car early, but you have to be a little careful as you make that transition. And one of those things that (crew chiefs) Phil (Shuler) and Todd (Okuhara) both said, 'We're going to get after this. We know we have a late session tomorrow too so we're going to try to go for No. 1 spot.'
"I can't say I'm totally surprised because I think that we've been kind of creeping up on that area for a long time. We're trying some new stuff on the race car . It's definitely coming around and it's showing that when we make a change it does change the car and its mannerisms.
"Fantastic. Half -track speed 276 (mph) on the hill. I never would have thought that. That was incredible, but to run 317 (mph) here (at the finish), that's pretty darned stout."
Thanks for this well written article Tracy Arakaki. It is always good for the soul to read about someone from Hawaii that has done good for themselves, it just makes me so proud to know that we still have what it takes to make Hawaii proud, a fine representation of our local-ppl. Mahalo Tracy
I forgot to rate this article the first time around, but now i have!Mahalo!