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.

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.

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.

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.

Stripping the car is the hardest job during the construction process. It is often dirty and ugly, yet it still has to be done with care. If poorly done, the car will be heavier than it should. It could also have snag points, bits of glass, and tar-type body sealer, which will soon migrate to your new fire suit.

Start by putting the car on jackstands and removing the wheels. Next remove the engine and transmission unit. This will be necessary where rules allow locking of the rear...er, front differential.

At this point, you can inspect everything. If you have not worked on a FWD car before, now is the time to think through what will be done. You should obtain, read, and memorize the rule book for the track you will race. If the rules allow it, then do it. For example, if there is no weight rule, lighten the car to the greatest degree possible.

Removing glass is often one of the more difficult and messy parts of this project, therefore protect your hands with gloves (I cannot recommend using a hammer). At the rear, many of these cars have a hatchback. If this is the case, remove the whole unit. We were able to remove the windshield in about three pieces. Several glass-removal tools are available, but none worked well in our inexperienced hands. Nonetheless, we did the best we could. Once the glass is out, use a scraping tool, possibly tapping it gently with a small hammer, to peel out the tar and sealer. The area can then be washed with paint thinner (naphtha) to remove the residue.

In order to get a better price, we made a deal with the wrecking yard to return some of the items we wouldn't use. As a result, some things, air conditioning parts for example, couldn't be hacked out of the car. This made parts removal more time consuming, but it saved cash.

Stripping out doors is easy if you like grinding. Doors are made with all the window mechanicals and weight and hinges in one unit. The skin of the door is wrapped around the inner part. Grinding at a right angle around the edge will separate this seam. The hood works the same way except it will have glue dots spaced across the middle. Peel the backing off gently so as not to dimple the hood.

I tried not to throw away any parts (with the exception of fabric and plastic) until the car was finished. It is amazing how often a discarded part can do a job. Be careful with the wiring and the electronic boxes. If you are allowed to run fuel injection, it will be regulated by one of these little magic boxes, as will the ignition.

Because we haven't worked on many cars with metric bolts and nuts, and our miscellaneous bolt bin has mostly inch sizes, a cardboard box caught every fastener from both cars. This might be a good time to remind you to shop for a metric tool set. Many domestic cars as well as imports are filled with metric fasteners. Our toolbox even includes a metric crescent wrench-believe it.

This part of the project is a good place to find young helpers who want to work on race cars. Kids seem to revel in tearing up things.

Next month we will begin sawing out extra weight (sheetmetal) and putting parts back together. They won't go back in the way they came out. The chassis/cage in a unibody, sheetmetal car is quite different from a frame car. We will guide you through the process of building a safe, stiff chassis and share some interesting tidbits we discovered along the way.

Below are some parts and pieces we will use when building our racer.

Chassis:
* AFCO springs
* Speedway Motors Safety Racing seat
* M&R seatbelts, window net, and head net
* Stewart Warner gauges and shift light (this in lieu of a tach)
* A&A Manufacturing chassis and cage brackets
* JAZ 8-gallon fuel cell
* Paulsen Wheels

Engine:
* Holley two-barrel carb
* Colt Cams custom grind
* Clevite bearings
* Perfect Circle moly rings
* Victor-Rienz gaskets
* Airmass Header
* Perfect Circle pistons
* Performance Distributors HEI distributor
* Bosch spark plugs
* Howe radiator

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