If your first reaction was to open up a tab and key in “Tawau” in Google, then don’t fret – you weren’t the only one.
When Alie, founder of Retro Havoc, told me we would be spending a few days in a small town called Tawau located on the picturesque island of Sabah, to take part in the Tawau Raretro Day event, I also confess to opening up another tab to hunt for more information.
From Kuala Lumpur, it takes roughly a three hour flight to arrive at the small airport in Tawau. With the ability to accommodate eight aircraft at a time, Tawau Airport is the second largest in Sabah. With most of the arrivals coming from mainland Malaysia or Indonesia, I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised when immigration couldn’t believe I was visiting Tawau for a car event. Apparently, American passports passing through immigration here is a rarity.
After I somehow convinced the immigration officer that I wasn’t there for any mischievous reasons, I was able to finally take in some of the beautiful sights before preparing for the event next day.
The lush, tropical climate is home to roughly 400,000 residents which is made up of a diverse mix thanks to its geographical location, and rich history.
Like its rich history, the food in Tawau is simply mouth watering. The food was so ridiculously good that if you go to Tawau and don’t try any of the local cuisines, you’re an idiot.The Power of Youth
But of course, you didn’t click this article to hear me rant about the tropical nature and delicious cuisines that Tawau has. Like me at the time, you are probably keen on learning what the car culture is like there.
Seeing that Alie has strong ties with cars that are considered ‘retro’, and the name of the event was Tawau Raretro Day, I was assuming that, similar to main land Malaysia, older Japanese cars would be flavor of the day.
Shortly after arriving at the venue on the morning of the event, the participants began to flood into the disused Tawau Airport. With the vast majority of attendees and participants easily being in their 20’s and possibly 30’s, you could feel the youthful energy around the area.
I know I mentioned it before in an earlier post, but this kind of contagious and abundance of energy is seriously lacking at events in Japan nowadays.
With the ease of working on, and the ability to find or create parts, older Japanese car were indeed a popular choice for enthusiasts, Toyota in particular.
I can’t recall the last time I saw so many Corollas, Sprinters, and Celicas of all generations located in one place.Let the Fun Begin
The event was to be broken into three main segments: drag, drift, and show. All of which were basically occurring simultaneously – which made going back and forth in the 30 degree celsius plus heat (86F) with no trees for shades (remember this used to be the main airport for the area at one point), and near 100% humidity rather interesting, to say the least.
Participants would line up on the old runway, which had been transformed into a makeshift quarter mile drag strip, to get their pictures taken before making an unofficial pass down the strip.
Once all the participants had their pictures taken, the opening ceremony began with Ringo Chung making a pass down the strip in his 1060hp rotary-powered Mazda Savanna RX-7.
With the ability to complete the quarter-mile on a properly prepped track in 8.22 seconds, the main concern was the less than stellar condition of the track, caused by the inconsistency of material and elevation changes.
Undaunted by the task at hand, Chung donned his racing gear (which happened to only be a helmet) strapped in and made a pass.
He definitely had the biggest set of kahunas that day, as this was without a doubt one of the craziest passes I have ever seen. The RX-7 slithered about as it struggled to get the power down across the changing surfaces. Nevertheless, Chung was still able to put down a respectable 10.1 second run.
With the Mazda coming back to the tented area in one piece, the drag competition began with battles continuing throughout the entire event.The Drift and Show
Similar to the difficult tarmac conditions of the drag strip, the drifting arena was more of a dusty, jagged piece of asphalt in front of the old air traffic control tower, that only help to speed up the rate at which the rear tires would expire.
Of course this didn’t deter anyone, as participants entered the figure eight arena and made passes until the tires were decimated.
To try and help increase the lifespan of the tires on the rough surface, a tanker full of water would continually wet the track. This would create a new problem as instead of dust flying everywhere, mud was now sent in all directions instead.
Unfazed by the new hazards, the crowd eagerly cheered the participants on, and even jumped in the cars to experience going sideways while trying to take the ultimate selfie.
No one takes selfies like they do in Tawau.
The car and bike show was the third act for Tawau Raretro Day. Owners lined up their prized possessions, and made final detailing adjustments before being judged.
A lot of the cars on display were what most would consider far from perfect. Plenty of dents and dings, some rust here and there (just one of the curses of living close to salt water), and overall not what many of us would considered “show worthy”.
However none of that really mattered in Tawau.
Yes – there were some builds that truly stood out which I plan to highlight in a second segment, but the idea above all, was for everyone to come out (attempt not to die in sweltering high temperatures) and have a blast.
The entire time I was wishing someone would hand me the keys to a car to try and make a pass down the drag strip even though the condition of the strip was far from ideal – or kick up dirt and mud while doing donuts and figure eights in the drift box.
Events should be fun, and really make you want to participate in the day’s festivities. In the case of Tawau, they absolutely got it right. I’ll let the pictures do the remainder of the talking. Until next year…