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Recipe For Success

Sure, money can buy a winning combination. But so can dedication and surrounding yourself with the right people.

Aaron Bonk
Jan 1, 2006
Photographer: Andy Bui

The underpinnings of modern import drag machines differ little from one to the next. Commonplace parts, shared technology and tried-and-true tuning techniques pit multiple cars within tenths of a second of one another. For the winners, advancement lays either in unlimited access to sacks of cash or crews consisting of the right people with lots of heart and innate attentions to detail. At least that's what naturally aspirated drag racing champion Norris Prayoonto tells us.

Arguing against Prayoonto's recipe for success is a waste of time. As of this writing, the Clutch Masters-sponsored 2004 Honda Insight holds records in sanctioning bodies including IDRC, NHRA and NOPI. The Insight has posted a best e.t. of 9.74 at 137 mph, despite the fact that Prayoonto and crew possess no such sacks of cash.

2019 Honda Insight
$22,830 Base Model (MSRP) 55/49 MPG Fuel Economy

The Springfield, Va., resident jumped aboard the import drag racing scene during its burgeoning enlistment period of the mid-1990s. Prayoonto began competing in East Coast street class events and later built a third-gen Integra to run alongside the big boys. While the Integra bode well for Prayoonto, it was his first attempt at a competitive drag car and, in turn, brought with it its share of problems.

Prayoonto and crew decided in 2003 that a new chassis was in order, one that would put to use those lessons learned from the Acura and improve upon it in every way. Choosing the econobox Insight hybrid required little brainwork. He knew its aluminum construction meant it was light and that its tear drop shape would ensure an optimal drag coefficient. But aside from the Insight's physical traits, Prayoonto had other reasons for selecting Honda's gasoline electric hybrid.

"It's a unique car from Honda and not like the Civics or CRXs that everyone else has out there," he says.

After 18 months of deliberation, Prayoonto rounded up an Insight of his own from a local salvage yard, then turned to coworker Mike Gerber of Ultimate Performance Company for the chassis buildup. Prayoonto says the most challenging aspect of the build was mating the chrome-moly roll cage to the aluminum chassis. Gerber fabricated a series of plates that bolt the cage to the chassis since welding the two dissimilar metals was not feasible. From there, parts were ordered and the car was put together in less than five months.

Powering the Insight down the 1320 is a K20A2 borrowed from the RSX Type-S-one of nearly a dozen to grace itself between the frame rails of Prayoonto's Insight. During the Insight's first year on the track, the team went through engines like water as they sought the perfect compromise between power and reliability. Prayoonto said they'd often make only a single pass at some events, qualifying and blowing up on the same run. On more than one occasion, the team found itself reenlisting the Integra, otherwise referred to as "old faithful," to finish up the season with a respectable placing.

Despite the mishaps, Prayoonto says the Insight buildup couldn't have gone much smoother. He credits Gerber (who also fabricated the Integra), his crew, past lessons and his sponsors for the car's success.

"The other teams have tons of money and equipment. We focus on being careful and having the right people."

By Aaron Bonk
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