The First Track Day

Find out how I fulfilled another life-long dream at Atlanta Motorsports Park!

Classic Honda's on the Dragon 2016

The first classic Honda get-together at the Tail of the Dragon!

Head In The Clouds

Wil's incredible journey to Pikes Peak

Prefection Attained - Serge's Mugen GT-4 CRX Replica Build: Part 3

The final chapter of the amazing Mugen Replica build!

Living the Dream - 3G Civic Track Car: Chapter 1

Introducing my other Classic Honda build!

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Family Racer



On more than one occasion I've been told by folks who race their first generation CRX's, that the number one reason why they chose to race the car, was reliability.  Racing, in any form, is not cheap, and for those of us who are just doing it for fun and are not independently wealthy, the need to save money, where possible, is imperative to maintain consistency of participation.  That is where the first generation CRX makes perfect sense.  It's very affordable to purchase, maintain and modify.  Honda engines are some of the most reliable on the road today and they hold up extremely well to the rigors of competition.

Just ask Stacy Chapman, the President of the New Brunswick Sporting Car Club who purchased his first generation CRX back in 1988 with that idea in mind.  He had been an auto enthusiast for as long as he could remember, and when it came time for him to take the next step and begin competing, he turned to Honda.  Since his racing career was in its infancy, the stock DX model that he found, with only 41,000 miles on the clock, was the perfect choice for him.  It was affordable, lightweight, reliable, and easy to prep for the newly formed Improved Touring class for which he built the car for.

"Get in it any time and it always starts and stays running."

He competed in Auto Slalom and wheel to wheel racing in the Improved Touring class through the early 90's and had numerous successes including many Club and Regional victories, FTDs (Fastest Time of the Day), and even a National Class Championship.  As the 90's came to a close, Stacy took a break from competition until about 5 years ago when he started racing his GT-1 prepped Porsche 914/6.  During his break from racing he had amassed a large collection of cars, most of them Porsche's, specifically from the 70's and 80's.  Since reentering competition, he was won the GT-1 class several times, and is currently prepping one of the Porsche's in his collection to compete in the vintage class.

With all that success and his own collection of rare Porsche's (among other performance cars), you might think that he must have moved on from the CRX.  But you'd be wrong in thinking that because he still owns the little CRX and while he himself focuses on his efforts to get into vintage racing, the other members of his family such as his son-in-law, his two daughters, and their boyfriends, race it on the weekends.  Stacy will still compete in it on occasion when the other cars in his 'fleet' aren't running properly.  It has become the family toy, and remains the go-to car in his collection.

 "It's always my go-to car when the others act up.  Turn the key and it starts every time and nothing ever breaks on it even when co-driven by three different (sometimes not so smooth drivers) people at Solo II events."

It really says a lot that Stacy, a racing veteran with his choice of automotive toy, still keeps his first generation CRX around for good, reliable and competitive fun.  The performance may not stack up against its fellow garage mates, but when duty calls, it's always there, ready to provide the smiles.

Photo's provided by Stacy Chapman










Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Trans-Canadian Adventure

Most of us, at one point in our lives, have taken risks and done crazy things in order to obtain the things we really want.  For example, less than a year ago, I flew to Kansas City, rented a truck and trailer and drove over a thousand miles back to my house with a newly purchased 3G Civic track car in tow; all within 26 hours (That story you've probably heard about.  If you haven't, you can read it here: Chasing Dreams).  If that sounds crazy, wait till you hear about Troy's big adventure.

Earlier this year, Troy, on a whim, purchased a 1986 Honda Civic 1500s, sight unseen, from a woman in Vancouver, British Columbia.  Yeah, sight-unseen purchases are risky for sure, but that's not what makes this story crazy.  The massive caveat to this purchase was the fact that Troy lived 6000km ( that's roughly 3700 miles for us Americans ) away in Nova Scotia.  His hastily prepared, last minute plan was to take a week off of work to fly out to Vancouver and drive the Civic back along the Trans-Canada Highway.  His trip would have him traverse almost the entire length of the highway.


The Trans-Canada Highway is the longest highway in the world stretching from Victoria, British Columbia to St. John's in Newfoundland and Labrador, 7821km in total ( 4860mi ).  It was opened in the summer of 1962 by the Prime Minister at the time, John Diefenbaker, even though there were still sections of the highway that had not been paved.  When the highway was officially finished in 1970, it had cost Canada 1 billion dollars to create, but what a road it was.  Crossing every province from the Canadian Rockies to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, it is quite a feat of engineering.  This engineering marvel, was Troy's path home.

Some might argue ( his friends and family included ), that a 1986 Honda Civic 1500s wasn't worth that kind of risk, but you have to get to know the man to really understand why this wasn't such a difficult decision.  Troy has a history with Honda's.  As a young teenager, he purchased his first Honda brand new, an 1988 CRX.  A car he very much enjoyed, but he admits, it could've gotten him into trouble.

"This car almost killed me a few times and I'm quite seriously thankful that I never hurt anyone, including myself".

Only four years later, he was already neck deep into his first serious Honda project.  He had purchased two 1978 Civics, one a manual and the other a Hondamatic, with the hopes of coming out on the other side with one really nice car.  After swapping drive trains and restoring the body himself, he not only ended up with a beautiful car, but more importantly, he had acquired a vast amount of automotive knowledge and a passion for Honda's (if he didn't have that already).



Fast forward 24 years, and it was time for him to find a car that could take him back to his youth where he fell in love with Honda's.  In his eyes, the little Civic that he found online was the perfect tool for this task.  He quickly made a deal with the owner of 25 years, and hopped on a plane headed for the other side of the continent.

When he arrived, the car was as described by the owner.  It only had 100,000 miles on the odometer, and was completely stock.  Overall the car was in good condition, thanks to the fact that it spent much of its life in an airplane hanger where the owner's late husband had kept his airplane.  The timing belt and tensioner had been replaced in recent years, however the owner suggested that the battery, on occasion, needed a 'boost'.  Troy would experience this first hand, shortly after departing.







After having breakfast with the owner, where she shared some of the history of the car, Troy hit the road and headed toward the Ferry station.  The brief 30 mile trip along the winding roads of Vancouver Island was all it took to have him smitten with the car.  The small yet roomy interior had him wondering why new cars have so much wasted space in them, filling the over sized interiors with enormous interior paneling.  The environment of simplicity was a breath of fresh air.


As the ferry pulled up to the mainland and he got in the Civic to leave, that's when all the songs from the 80's ringing in his head and the memories of his youth when he was wizzing around in his CRX were abruptly silenced as the turn of his ignition lead to even more silence.  The battery bug had bitten, and in his frustration and desperation to get the car going again, he flooded the carb.  What made the situation even worse still was the long line of roughly 100 cars behind him, all with irritated owners glaring at him.  With the situation looking dire he sprung into action and flagged down a couple boatmen and explained his predicament.  Thankfully they had equipment for such matters and they quickly brought a charger over to his car.  Sadly though, the first member of the crew to attempt the charge was either mechanically inept, or simply blind, because he proceeded to attach the charger leads to the wrong battery terminals.  Troy watched in horror as sparks and smoke billowed into the air as he turned the key.  With the thought that lightening rarely strikes the same place twice (pun intended), he instructed a different crew member to assist.  Unfortunately, this crew member was stricken with the same case of blindness and lack of wit, for he promptly repeated the same mistake the first crew member made.  More sparks and smoke ensued.  At the point of panic, Troy started checking the rest of the electrical system for additional damaged that could've been caused by the confused boatmen.  He popped the cover off of the fuse box that houses the three main fuses.  The bottom fuse had melted in half.  Thankfully he had brought a bag of tools with him which included a handy 12mm socket.  With all his fingers and toes crossed, he wedged the socket into the fuse box to bridge the fuse, attached the charger leads to the battery correctly, and turned the ignition.  Success!  The car fired right up, and he was out of there faster than you could say Saskatchewan.

The next stop on the journey was a parts store, and in true red-neck style, he changed his battery in the parts store parking lot.  In addition to the battery, Troy replaced the 12mm socket with a short length of wire to minimize the risk of losing power while on the road.  Even though these repairs would get him back on the road, he was concerned with the potential unseen damage that could've occurred to the electrical system during the ferry fiasco.  He finished up his repairs and hit the road with an sense of unease.

Every celebrated, ten mile segment of the journey with no issues turned into every fifty, and then into every one hundred miles.  Things were going well as the he wound his way through the Canadian Rockies.  At the five hour mark, while plodding through a Rocky Mountain rain storm, Troy noticed that the accelerator pedal was getting progressively harder to press down.  It wasn't long before it was almost impossible to press down, and when it was pressed down, it wouldn't come back up.  It was time to investigate the issue.  He pulled over and removed the throttle cable with the assumption that it was finally ceasing up from old age.  Since he had failed to include any sort of lubricant in his tool bag, he was limited to a simple massaging of the cable to get it moving again.  This repair helped enough to get back on the road, but it slowly returned to its unusable state only two hours later.  Troy ended up repeating this step over a dozen times until he reached a town in Saskatchewan that had a Honda dealer.  Unfortunately and understandably, they did not have a replacement cable in stock, but a surprising thing did happen while he was there.  While he and the parts manager were discussing replacement cables, the owner over heard their conversation and came to investigate.  It turned out that he was a big fan of old Honda's as well as wrenching on them.  He insisted on taking a look at the car.  He removed the seized cable completely and injected it with fresh lubricant.  It was exactly what it needed and the car was back full functioning order.  The kind dealer owner sent him on his way refusing any kind of payment for the repair.  However, just before he left, Troy slipped the receptionist a 50 as a gesture of thanks.

The encouragement and good vibes left over from the visit to the dealer were soon squashed when he noticed the tachometer needle starting to jump a little.  The jumping then turned into a dance, and then the engine started to follow suit, matching the dancing tach's tempo.  Thoughts of the disaster on the ferry came flooding in to his head as he pondered the worst possible scenarios.  He didn't have any tools to diagnose or repair the electrical system.  At this point, he could only hope that his current streak of good luck with simple repairs would continue... and it did.  As he poured over car's electrical system, he noticed that the distributor was very loose.  He gave it a closure look and discovered that there was only one bolt left holding the distributor in place, and it was about to make its exit.  He quickly replaced the missing 10mm bolt with one he borrowed from elsewhere in the engine bay, and went on his way.

The rest of his journey went very well and the car performed flawlessly.  As he passed through Ontario and into the Great Lakes region, his earlier struggles and anxiety about future issues started to fade away.  The area's with civilization were prevalent now and in some cases, very dense.  There would be no issues finding parts or even a Honda dealer if he were have a problem now.  With three provinces down and only Quebec standing between him and home, he was feeling confident.

As he left Quebec City behind him and crossed over into Nova Scotia, he was met by a group of friends and fellow Honda enthusiasts who traveled with him the rest of the way; a mobile Honda escort of sorts.  With familiar scenery in sight, being surrounded by friends, and filled with confidence, Troy decided that some exuberant driving was in order.  The group spent the last leg of the journey having as much fun on the road as they could.  After returning home and getting some much needed rest, he cleaned up his newly purchased Civic and proudly parked it in front of his lovely home for a personal photo shoot.  A well deserved treat.

It's difficult to grasp the vastness of a country this size and the extent of an undertaking such as this trip of Troy's.  Crossing two mountain ranges, a 1000 miles of bare plains in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and through the vast wilderness of Ontario, the Trans-Canada highway is not to be taken lightly.  Much of the journey is spent on roads that are hundreds of miles from anything, let alone an auto parts store.  To successfully complete a journey of this magnitude it would typically require lengthy planning and a very reliable vehicle.  For Troy to, on a whim, embark on this trip in a sight-unseen, 30 year old Honda, it would seem like pure bravery.  In many respects it is, however he understood from his past that if there was going to be a 30 year old car out there that could complete the journey, it would be a Honda.

"It goes without saying that 6600 kilometers of non-stop driving is a test for any car - my admiration for early Honda engineering is bolstered even more with what I just experienced in this 30 year old Civic."

Photos by Troy Wood







Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The First Track Day


As  I pulled up behind a silver Porsche Cayman at the end of pit lane, "Can you hear me?" blasted into my ear from a com that moments before I had squeezed between my cheek and the helmet I was wearing.  Judging by the flinch I made and the expression on my face, he didn't have to ask me again.

"Is it too loud?"

"Yeah, I'll just move it away from my ear a little."

"That'll work!", said my instructor as he tightened the strap on his own helmet.  He continued to verbally prep me as the rest of the cars in our novice group pull up behind us.  The late morning sun beat into the cabin while the track marshal poked his head in to do a visual check of our equipment.  "I'm going to need you to tighten that up a bit." he said and pointed at my helmet strap.

"Got it! Thanks."

He continued down the line of cars behind us making sure everyone was ready to go.  This was my fourth session, and while I anxiously awaited the green light at the end of pit lane to light up, I tried to recall everything I had learned in the previous three sessions.  Let the car go a little wider right in the Carousel...  Make sure you're done braking before you turn toward the apex in turn 6...  As you approach turn 10, turn in a little earlier...  Make sure you're lined up to enter 11 as you're coming out of 10...  Let the car do what it wants as you come out of turn 14 and enter 15... Hit the apex in 16 a little earlier.  Just then my train of thought was derailed as the Porsche in front of me started to pull away.  This was it, time to let it all hang out.


The first lap of each session is considered a pace lap, which requires everyone to run at a slower pace.  However the Porsche in front of me didn't seem to get the memo.  He took off, and I tried to keep up.  As the Porsche pulled away it left a nice gap between him and I, giving me the opportunity to have a traffic free run.  By the time I clipped the apex in 16 and glided out onto the front straight, I was going full speed.  Turn one is one of the hardest turns on the track.  It's a tight, downhill, almost 180 degree turn at the end of the front straight.  There are five numbered signs on the right side of the front straight leading into turn 1. These signs indicate braking points, with 5 being the earliest.  I stood on the brakes as I passed the '4' sign, almost coming to a complete stop.  As I lifted off the brakes, I swung the car wide from right to left, clipping the late apex on exit.  Since the exit of turn 1 is still downhill, the car felt fast as I came out of the turn and mashed the gas pedal.  I kept my foot firmly planted on the floor until I was half way through 2 and diving into the short, left to right turn 3.  I tried to use as little brake as possible to maintain momentum as I coasted into the entrance of turn 4, which is up hill.  Turn 4, also known as The Carousel, is an important turn because it is a long, sweeping, double-apex turn where, if driven properly, you can shave a significant amount of time off your lap.  As I let the car run wide, ever so slightly between the apexes, I made sure my foot was still in the gas.  The tires began to protest as I clipped the 2nd apex and quickly turned the car to the right, shifting the suspension load from right to left.  Turn 5 passes quickly if you carry enough speed through 4, and I was flying down the hill into 6.  At least it felt fast to me as I pointed the nose of the car at the far left side of the track where turn 6 begins its sharp turn right.  My brain kept shouting 'Brake brake brake!', but I knew I could wait just a couple feet more.  Proper braking is critical in this corner.  If you brake too early, your timing will be off as you try to negotiate a good angle on the late apex.  Brake too late, and you'll end up going wide on exit, forcing you to get off the throttle and lose all your momentum.  You need as much momentum as you can get out of 6 because it is uphill through the gradual left-hander that is turn 7.  This area was also a passing zone for the novice group that I was in.  Thankfully no one was nearby on this lap, so I could really focus on my turning point going into 10, one of the harder turns on the track.  If you carry enough speed through 9 (a slight kink in the approach to 10) and turn early enough, you can carry a lot of speed through 10.  I went full tilt through 8, just clipping the rumble strips, and pointed the car at the turning point for 10.  "Now!" the voice in my head shouted as I cranked the wheel to the left and clipped 10's apex with my left front wheel.  "There we go!" I verbalized to which my instructor responded, "That was good!"  It was the first time I had gone through 9 and 10 correctly, and I really felt the speed difference.  It was a great feeling.


But, there was no time to celebrate because 11, a sharp, down-hill, right hander, comes up quickly, especially with all the added speed you've just gained through 10.  As with 10, I managed to hit my braking points and continue my good line.  Carrying speed through 11 is critical for lower power cars, because the approach to 12 is a steep up-hill section.  Once you reach 12, your view is sea of blue sky, with barely enough visible track to see where you're going.  As you roll through 12 (which in my mind was the safest approach, considering I couldn't see where I was going) and start to crest the top of the hill, you suddenly realize that you're already into 13.  Similar to 12, 13 starts out as a blind corner, but as you gradually turn left and down the other side of the hill, the track comes back into view.


I feel like I say every corner is important, but 13 is important in a different way.  Turns 13, 14 and 15 make up one very long, high speed, left hand turn.  Since the down hill 13 is at the beginning, if done correctly, it will drastically effect your speed through 14 and 15, and ultimately, your entrance to the front straight.  I wish I could say that every turn on this lap was done correctly, but I would be lying if I did.  Admittedly, 13 could have gone better, but I was able to make up some of the time through 14 as I kept my foot on the floor all the way through to the entrance of 15.  The need to lift prior to entering 15 depends largely on the car your driving.  Since my light, little CRX, with it's whopping 100hp, was only hitting 70 at that point, I probably could've kept my foot in it through 15.  Something I will correct on my next outing to AMP.  Anyway, as I careened through 15, trying to hug the left side of the track near the last flag station, I took a deep breath.


Turn 16 is a turn to test your metal, and the size of your plums.  It's a blind, off-camber, crested, high speed, right hander that has caused many an impromptu structural integrity test against both walls of the front stretch.  Don't believe me?  Hop on YouTube and do a search for Atlanta MotorSports Park Crash, and note which turn causes the most issues.  Yes, there were shudders and mumblings when the turn was mentioned in the drivers meeting, but I had an advantage.  I was in a light-weight, low-power, front-engined car.  When I turned right into 16, and the weight was quickly transferred from the right to left, the car wasn't unsettled at all.  My stiff suspension setup was largely to credit for this feat, but having so little weight to transfer pre-turn, allows the car to settle down before hitting the crest.  Since the majority of the cars weight is in the front and over the drive wheels, after the car hits the crest, the front comes down first allowing the drive wheels to regain control quicker.  These advantages that the CRX provided allowed me to hit turn 16 flat out, never taking my foot off the gas pedal.  The felling was electrifying.  I even hit 96 mph as I crossed the finish line, putting in a lap time of 1:51.


I was very satisfied with what I had accomplished during my first track event.  It wasn't the 1:51 lap time, it was the progress that I made in a short period of time.  Over four 20 minutes sessions on the track with my instructor, I was able to shave 15 seconds off my laps times.  Not only did I improve my driving (or 'racing') line, braking, cornering, and general driving technique, I made it over 'The Hump'.

I've never heard anyone refer to this 'Hump' before, so don't be surprised if you haven't heard of it before.  After the first two sessions, I didn't really know what to think.  I had been dreaming of driving a car on a race track my entire life, so naturally my expectations were high.  However, my mind was so inundated with emotions, physical inputs, and masses of information given to me at a high rate of speed, that I had not had even a moment to realize what was going on, or what I was actually doing.

The info dump started in the first drivers meeting.  You are asked to absorb track procedures (during multiple scenarios), passing procedures, track etiquette, and general safety instructions in a short amount of time.  You are then dismissed to your car with all the info whirring around your head in a tornado of anxiety, excitement, and anticipation.  In no time you find yourself on the track with your instructor barking orders at you, cars all around you, track marshals waving flags at you, all while your are trying to drive your car to its limits.  After your first session, you step out of your car in a daze trying to get your head around what just happened, when you realize your next drivers meeting is in 5 minutes... and so on and so on.  Prior to that fourth session that I described in such detail before, I was struggling to find the enjoyment in it all.  I was focusing so hard on trying to remember all the information I had been given, on and off the track, that I had not been able to really enjoy myself.  This is the 'Hump' I mentioned earlier.  Its the hill you have to climb as a first time 'tracker'.  Once you've absorbed the mountain information and have put it into practice on the track enough times, you stop thinking about it as much and begin to really experience the thrills of driving fast.  At that point, you've gotten over the Hump.

As I sat in the chair next to my car, waiting for my last session to begin, I began to reflect on all that had happen thus far.  Aside from the sheer ecstasy that comes from driving on a track, what really stood out to me was the car.  This 31 year old, daily driven, economy car, that I had received for free only a couple years before, hit 96 mph on the front straight at Atlanta Motorsports Park.  I typically baby my cars in comparison to how others drive, but this time, I thrashed it.  I was amazed at how well it handled the abuse, and how reliable it was, especially considering it has over 210,000 miles on it.  There was a stock Ford Fiesta ST that had to come off the track mid-session, in a cloud of smoke, because it had cooked it's brakes.  You could barely smell mine after my sessions.  Honda built a true gem in the first generation CRX, something I was only able to truly understand, after driving it on a track.  Don't pass up on these torsion bar Hondas, they are really something special.

Huge shout-out to my instructor, Eric Olsen, who spent the day giving me excellent and patient instruction.  He even took me out in his personal track/daily driver, a k20 swapped MR2 Spyder, with which he competes in HDPE, Time Attack and Drift competitions.  Much respect!

Track Day Organization:
Jzilla Track Days

Photos by:
Stephen Dettman
Devin Hultgren (on track photos)