On July 29 I headed out to California Speedway. One of our cover cars was there competing and it only seemed right to photograph it out on the dragstrip. It had been some time since I'd been out to any drag races, but as I got closer it all started coming back.
I stopped by the local ampm to load up on water and corn nuts. A Civic Coupe with white shoe polish on the windows was sitting in the parking lot. There was a kid struggling to dial in his tire pressures using the gage from a quarter fed air pump. It was miserably hot but that didn't seem to deter him. Closer inspection showed that the passenger side headlight and seat had been removed. It was the classic scenario and eased my apprehensions about going back to the Battle of the Imports.
I remember when Battle was an almost mythical event. We'd roll up to Palmdale and sit on a dirt road next to a motocross course for hours waiting to get in. Once it passed tech, the car was stripped of everything not welded on. Forget about spare tires, rear hatches were replaced with trash bags. As the bracket three and four staging lanes grew to hundreds of cars deep, more and more masking tape would cover every seam on the front end. Having that 15.95 dial in time over the guy behind you with the 16.10 meant everything. Those were good times.
After being away for a long time I really didn't want go back. I'd heard rumors of dwindling attendance numbers and didn't care to see what Battle had been reduced to. However, what I saw that day was not what I expected at all.
First of all, the pits were packed. The walk from the spectator parking to the media center took a good hour. This was mostly due to the second thing that really stood out to me. The cars were dope! Trash bags and masking tape appear to be lost arts. They've been replaced with Dzus fasteners and composite panels. Not that these things are anything new but overall the fit and finish of everything was just "So Krispy" as Kinfolk Kia Shine would say. There was too much clean fabrication and attention to detail to just walk by.
Standing at the 1/8 mile mark offered the clearest statement that things are still going on strong at Battle. The cars were fast! Not freakshow factory funded fast, but there were dozens of privateer Civics and CRXs cracking off 10s and 11s. Seriously, at least half of the cars there ran 12s or quicker.
Eventually I made it to the grandstands for the elimination rounds. Being unfamiliar with most of the drivers, I mostly just cheered for the CRXs. There was a pair of striking red ones running in the Pro Street class. The one driven by Jack Sacchette was dumped with a Pro Stock scoop on the hood. It was just sick. The other was prepared by After Hours Automotive and driven by Mike Michelson. Michelson made it to the finals but had nothing for Nalani Whatley who laid down a personal best, 10.448, in her all-motor Rex.
The most impressive race went down in the Pro Import semifinals. Eric Delrosario's '00 Integra just nosed out Steven Tan's CRX running a 9.798 to a 9.881. Delrosario would need to go even quicker to beat Tony Garcia's CRX in the final. Garcia ran a 9.629 at 161.69 mph. Delrosario gave it everything he had on the tree but tripped the lights 0.09 of a second too soon, handing the win to Garcia.
Looking back on the paddock from the top of the grandstands revealed something I should have picked up on much sooner. The place was jam-packed with Hondas. Honda Factory Performance's title sponsorship of the event and the healthy cash contingencies that came with it no doubt made the Honda representation even stronger. A lot of things have changed at Battle, but one thing remains the same: The Hondas are still holding it down at the dragstrip.