The Honda is almost finis...
The Honda is almost finished.
The first question most of you will ask is, Why a Honda? There are several answers. Typically, new circle track racers are young people whose first cars have front-wheel drive (FWD) and four cylinders. A survey of aftermarket performance manufacturers indicates 80 percent of the market is for Honda.
This journey will be to uncharted territory. Little has been written about FWD cars involved in dirt track racing. This takes me back in time to when little was known about the physics of making a '55 Chevy go around the track. Now, as then, there is only a small pool of knowledge from which to draw. We will try a number of different techniques with this car, and, to help build the knowledge base, we'll let you know what works and what doesn't.
When building a car, you need...
When building a car, you need to put it on jackstands. These reliable stands fit the Honda shipping attachment points. A bolt through the hole assures the light-weight car will stay put when you are under it.
Our selection of Honda may or may not be the best choice for a FWD racer-we'll find out. It may or may not fit the rules at your track-you have to find that out. But we'll make construction points about our project that, while specific to a Honda, can be generically applied to many types of FWD cars.
Our car is built to the rules of East Bay Raceway in Tampa, Florida, the only dirt track near our office in Lakeland. We will be racing against mostly 2300cc Fords that look like mini-Late Models and have a tube frame. There is a strong aftermarket for that engine. A front-running car of this type would cost $10,000-12,000 if put together new. Our goal for this project is to build a Mini Stock race car that will cost about $2500. This includes out-of-pocket expense and the retail pricing of manufacturer-donated parts.
Rule limitations for the chassis are stock suspension pickup points and some stock suspension parts. Engine rules are somewhat open, with headers and head milling allowed and the use of a Holley two-barrel required. Rules require the engine to have only a single camshaft (which rules out Honda's tough twin overhead cam engines). Internals call for flat-top pistons and no porting. Weight rules currently are set at 1 pound per cubic centimetr of displacement.
After the front fenders were...
After the front fenders were removed, the doors were next. The expedient way is to torch off the door hinges, but don't drop the door on your foot. We saved our doors for later, when we'll remove and keep the skins.
Many tracks have separate classes for FWD Mini Stocks and rear-wheel-drive (RWD) racers. Some allow almost no modifications, where others allow a lot. Some tracks disallow certain brands of cars. These differences exist because there is no nationwide consensus of what constitutes a Mini Stock as in, say, the Street Stock classes.
Before selecting a car to build, check the rules at the track you intend to run. Use this series of articles as a guide to some methods of construction and setup. Our intention with this project is to keep a tight rein on the budget, sometimes at the expense of time and labor. We also hope to pass along some of the fabrication skills in a manner that you can use. Remember what may seem specific to the Honda may apply to your project.
The car type is important to the success of any project, so for best results, don't get emotionally involved in a less than suitable car. Some cars can be fast, but their parts might be expensive.
Stripping out the interior...
Stripping out the interior revealed a problem. On these sheetmetal unibody cars, a bent rear fender can be more than a bent fender. With everything in sight, it was obvious the bent fender had wrinkled the floorpan as well as sheetmetal all over the car. This meant the suspension geometry might now be located somewhere south of its original location.
Choosing a Honda for this class was a challenge (we've worked on V-8 racers almost all our lives), so we'll use this as a learning exercise. Once we decided on the Honda, the rules dictated which models we could use. With no dual-cam engines allowed, our choices ranged from late-'80s to early-'90s Civics with either 16-valve or 12-valve engines. We chose a 16-valve since it has about 7 hp more in stock form than the 12-valve engine.
Several wrecking yards were searched. After finding the car type we wanted, we were not careful enough selecting a specific car. First, we didn't notice the valve cover was loose and the spark plugs had been removed. Someone had been kind enough to leave the hood open for us. When we took the engine apart, we determined it had been rained on, as 2 inches of water sat in several cylin-ders. Secondly, not considering the weaknesses of unibody cars, we thought the bent rear fender was just that. But after stripping out the interior, we found the sheetmetal unibody was wrinkled across the floorboard and into the opposite suspension mounts. This meant the car would not be square and straight.
On the other hand, the car was complete, which is always a plus. Our friend Dwight Bush at Lakeland Auto Salvage took pity on our stupidity. There was another Honda without an engine lying in the same mud as the first. He let us have it for a meager sum. Then we had spare suspension parts as well as a straight shell.
After our adventures, I suggest you get a ragged looking, yet running and complete car from the start. Had we done so, we would have saved time, effort, and money. Finding it cheaper in the wrecking yard proved more expensive in the long run.
The bent car on its way back...
The bent car on its way back to where it came from. We made a deal with the salvage yard to return any parts they could sell. In return, we were able to bring home a red straight car.
No, it isn't being punished....
No, it isn't being punished. This is the way we had to unload the red car. With no wheels, the salvage yard put it on the trailer with a forklift. We hung it from a tree and drove out from under it. I won't bore you with the old joke about how many racers it takes to carry a Honda inside the shop. This car was straight and is the basis of our finished car.
Soon the front of the Honda...
Soon the front of the Honda was exposed. For our project, everything was removed either to check its condition or lighten the car. It is not difficult to understand the logic behind Honda's construction. You will need metric wrenches. Because our rules allow, we will make serious modifications to the sheetmetal.