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LA Street Racing to Drag Pioneer: Archie Madrazo Interview

The story of a Honda drag racing trendsetter and a career cut short.

Aaron Bonk
Aug 29, 2014
Photographer: Myles Bautista

Additional Photos courtesy of Archie Madrazo

If you found yourself among the greater Los Angeles street racing scene of the early 1990s, then there's no doubt you're familiar with Archie Madrazo—or at least the guy with the red CRX and the yellow front bumper. Madrazo's turbocharged CRX proved to be a force both on the streets and at the dragstrip, helping advance front-wheel-drive drag racing, and paving the way for performance modifications that are often taken for granted today. Using a combination of factory Mitsubishi components and an engine management system designed for a V-8, Madrazo cooked up one of the country's quickest Hondas of its day. His CRX also served as a testbed for prominent '90s tuners and machinists, AEM and JG Engine Dynamics, who helped usher in an era of forged bottom ends, tunable ECUs, and big boost. His success was arguably cut short, though, when the angst of divorce led to the CRX ultimately being sold off. Nearly two decades later, though, and Madrazo is back, most recently partnering with fellow Honda racing veteran Myles Bautista in what will most assuredly prove to be something worthwhile. Madrazo is primed, he's eager, and in his own words, he's ready to go once he catches up with another era.

HT: Let's start from the beginning. Why Honda? How did it all begin for you?

AM: I had no interest in cars whatsoever, like none. I was the guy who was the son of a mechanic and who cleaned [my dad's] tools, put them away, and got them when he asked for them. Growing up, though, I loved to drive. The racing didn't come [about] until I got broke off by an '87 Integra LS in my CRX. I was sitting at a light bumping—I had the rims, I had the sound, but I had nothing done to the motor—and this guy was revving. I was like, please [laughs]. Anyway, the light turns green and this guy leaves me like I was still parked. At the next light I did it again, this time really getting on it, and he still broke me off. The very next day I took the [entire] sound system out. I wanted to work on the motor so I went to Honda and bought the [service] manual for $120, went to Sears and opened up a charge account, bought me $2,800 worth of tools, and I went at it. The rest is history.

HT: Your CRX became pretty infamous at Southern California street races. When did you get it?

AM: It was March of 1988. It was a brand-new Si. I had to special order it because they only had yellow. They didn't have red. I think it was $14,200 that I paid.

HT: Was that your first car?

AM: No, my first car was a '68 Firebird [laughs]. I also wanted a Bug; that was my second car.

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HT: You bought the CRX with no intention of making it any faster, though, right?

AM: Yeah. I was more into just driving, like the cool guy with the sound system and wheels [laughs].

HT: What sort of modifications did you first make once you'd decided to start racing?

AM: Well, after I got broke off, I started inquiring about stuff. I started reading to see if there were any upgraded parts for the CRX and I found [out about] King Motorsports. I read more and found out that Mugen was pretty much the top-of-the-line stuff back then. I ordered my exhaust, which ended up being about $1,000, got it, put it on, and didn't really feel a difference ... I was like, dang, it sounds different, but it doesn't really feel any faster. I kept reading and inquiring, and then somebody introduced me to RC Engineering. I went there, talked to Russ [Collins], and he was like, "Well, we can port and polish your head." I had no clue what the heck a port and polish was, but I said, "OK, is it going to give me more power?" [He said,] "Yes." I dropped off the head, picked it up a few days later, put it back on, and I still didn't really feel anything. I kept thinking, man, I'm wasting all this money, so I did more research, and that's when I found AEM.

HT: Back when AEM was a small shop and not a manufacturer, right?

AM: Yeah. I was at AEM every single day, spending, spending, spending. The last time I looked at my receipts, it was like $25,000 that I'd spent. My friend, James West, he has a cousin who worked at Isky, so I got a reground cam from him, but that didn't work too well with the fuel injection so I went carbureted, and we actually made 174 whp. I [remember] talking to Steve and John [Concialdi], and they convinced me after a few visits to go carbureted, so I took the fuel injection out [laughs]. We went through I don't know how many headers [and] exhaust systems. I got rid of the Mugen one. It was a waste of money. I even put an '85 [Civic] distributor on there because the stock distributor wasn't able to read enough advance. AEM made an adapter plate for it. After a while, I [looked] at the head that Russ did since that motor had blown up, and I was like, I could do this, so I went and bought me a Dremel and started porting heads.

HT: What happened next?

AM: Well, after all of that, John was like, "Do you really want to go fast?" Because the fastest I'd gone was 14.2 carbureted at Carlsbad on street tires. I was like, "Yes, I really want to go fast. Hello? I'm spending all this money" [laughs]. Anyway, he took me for a ride in his [Merkur] XR4Ti and I was like, "What the hell is this?" He opened his hood and said, "That's a turbo." I said, "How much is this gonna cost? I want to do it." By that time, I had already been street racing, battling against everybody. The car was OK on the streets, but it was really close to everybody else. I remember hearing around the same time that Junior [Asprer] from Redline Racing was trying some different stuff and [he also] went carbureted. Oh, by the way, I did beat him when he was carbureted, before he busted out with slicks [laughs]. I had the title, Junior! Eventually, everyone started going turbocharged.

HT: How did you do your research back then and learn about King Motorsports, Mugen, and AEM, for example?

AM: At the street races, and just from people I'd talked to. It was basically a lot of phone calls.

HT: Let's talk about your single-cam turbo setup. What did it consist of?

AM: I built the first motor and it lasted for about three miles [laughs]. It was making all kinds of noise and just didn't sound right. [After that,] everything was done at AEM. I talked to John, and he was like, "Oh, you've got to do this and you've got to do that." I was like, "Oh, I didn't see that in the manual" [laughs]. I had completely wasted a fresh motor with rods, pistons, and everything. I kept getting used motors before actually building another one. When I built [the next] one, we tried to sleeve it. John told me what to get, I dropped off the block, and he did it. Well, that didn't work. To make a long story short, I ended up with another stock motor [that was] turbocharged. John and I got the bugs worked out and it ended up making about 350 hp at 20 psi. [Later], I did more R&D with Javier [Gutierrez] at JG Engine Dynamics.

HT: That must have been one of the first sleeved Honda blocks. What happened?

AM: Oh, yeah. John was the one who introduced me to sleeved blocks. He was using the pins that would go in between the cylinders to hold them steady, but then he [learned] he could press in ductile-iron [sleeves]. The sleeves that were in [there] didn't work out well and ended up moving up and down.

HT: So you hooked up with JG Engine Dynamics. Tell us about that.

AM: Yeah, that's when we started doing more stuff. Javier really got me more into it. I [started] porting heads for [him] at the shop. When I was with John, that was basically the Terminal Island [Raceway period]. When I got together with Javier, that's when Battle [of the Imports had started] and things got a little more serious.

HT: Do you think John was upset when you started going to JG?

AM: No, because John's a cool guy and he was busy going through a transition with his company.

HT: Back to the engine, what did you use for engine management?

AM: I went straight to Accel DFI when I went turbo because John said I could make the most power with that unit.

HT: There were very few guys using stand-alone computers back then, right?

AM: Yeah. Myles [Bautista] was using TEC-II, and I'm pretty sure Tony [Fuchs] was, [too].

HT: What was the Los Angeles street racing scene like back then?

AM: It was pretty crazy. The first car I ever raced after that Integra that broke me off was a [first-generation] Mazda RX-7. I actually beat him. I remember, I saw it run, chirping every gear, and I was like, "I wonder if I could beat this thing?" This was before the carburetors or anything. [Until then,] I'd never gotten into racing, but after that, after beating [someone], it just started it off.

HT: What were the main street racing spots in the early '90s?

AM: Back then, the best ones were Ana and Maria streets out there in Long Beach. We'd go there at 9 o'clock and finish racing when the sun came up. Back then, everybody was cool. You didn't have all these wannabe gangsters. You didn't have all these guys who'd show up in their station wagons or their vans. If they were there, they had a car to race or they were with somebody who had a car that they were going to race.

HT: Your car was defined by its red paint and yellow front bumper. Why the yellow bumper?

AM: The yellow bumper came about when I had to modify it to fit the [Mitsubishi] Starion intercooler when I went turbocharged. I primered it yellow and I thought, "You know what, it looks pretty sick like this so I'll just leave it" [laughs]. It was the original bumper, just cut and primered. Everybody had a CRX, but how many people had a red CRX with a yellow bumper?

HT: The car's reputation certainly preceded itself at the street races. How'd that come about?

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AM: Not really sure, but when someone asked if they'd seen or heard of a CRX that was racing everywhere, the question would more likely be: "Are you talking about the one with the yellow bumper?" [laughs] I guess I was the only one who was crazy enough to drive two-tone back in the days. I just made a name for myself and never got around to painting it.

HT: It wasn't all about street racing, though. Tell us about Terminal Island.

AM: Terminal Island was pretty sick. I think that was the best thing that happened back then for street racers. The people were cool, Willie [Robinson] was doing a really good thing, and that's where everybody was able to get together, race, and have a good time. There were little controversies between the front-wheel-drive guys and the rear-wheel-drive guys but, you know, you're gonna get that from the OGs. We just had to prove ourselves. Honestly, I think I was the only one back then who was there every week [running] mid-to-low 12s. Back then, in '93, that was pretty fast to me.

HT: What ultimately led to you getting rid of the CRX? It happened right around the time Honda drag racing began to take off.

AM: Well, that's true, and it sucked because I was putting in a lot of time and a lot of [money toward] my car. Toward the highlight of my racing days, I ended up with a divorce. Mentally, that messed me up, and that's kind of [why] I got out of it. I had to get rid of the car and divide everything. There's a whole lot of stuff that I really don't care to get into; it really jacked me up pretty bad.

HT: Did you ever feel like you missed an opportunity or have any animosity toward some of the younger guys who were starting to make names for themselves and capitalize off of drag racing?

AM: No. I was just kind of bummed out that I wasn't able to follow up with it. I'm happy with whoever came up. They deserved it ... except for a few [laughs].

HT: After selling the CRX, how closely did you follow what was going on?

AM: I didn't. I left everything for a good three or four years. Toward 1999 I kind of got back into it.

HT: Coming back in 1999 and seeing how import drag racing had expanded and commercialized, what did you think?

AM: The first thing I thought was: "These aren't even street cars. You can't drive these on the street." In my mind, I didn't even want to compare it to what I had or what I knew. They were full track cars. It was just a different league and I cared less. It was more fun [before]. It's fun when you can drive it to [the track] and drive home.

HT: Who were some of your biggest rivals when you had the CRX?

AM: At the street races, the biggest rivals we had were with Eightball Racing and Redline Racing. That was all up at Sylmar. We were good with Cyber and [Team] Precision. In a way, we got together to go against everybody else. Me, Tony, and Myles always compared our cars, but the rivals were mostly from Redline because Eightball, they weren't that fast [laughs]. You can't compare those street racing days to nowadays, though.

HT: Do you think that era of street racing helped shape today's Honda scene?

AM: Absolutely! I'm telling you right now, back then, it was basically Toyotas, Mazdas, Nissans, and V-8s. There weren't a lot of Hondas at first.

HT: So do you think that cars like yours at the street races helped persuade some people toward the brand?

AM: Oh, I don't know, but [later on] everybody started to get one.

HT: Tell us about SplitSecond Racing.

AM: I started the crew when I was working in the same complex in Torrance as James West. We got together and it was me and him. We [had] a different name at first, which I don't care to say because it was kind of stupid [laughs], but we decided that it didn't sound right. Back then, there was a movie out called Split Second, and I was like, "Oh, that's a pretty good name." That's when I changed it to SplitSecond. It started out with me, James West, Paul Bacica, Brandon Oshiro, Jerome Pineda, and a few friends. I think we had 17 cars if I'm not mistaken—all Hondas. We had a lot of CRXs, three or four [Civics], and a few [Integras].

HT: If you modified your Honda in the early to mid '90s, you probably raced it. Today, shows, meets, and aesthetic modifications seem to be more popular. What do you think about that?

AM: It's cool. The difference between back then and now is that, back then, everything was new. If you saw steel-braided lines underneath the hood, you'd be like, "What the hell?" Now you see stuff like that on everything. There's still new stuff that's being done, but it doesn't stay new for long. It's new for a week and then everybody has it. I started off with a lot of American [parts] going in my car. I had Auto Meter, I had MSD; they didn't make anything for a Honda. I don't know anybody besides me that had a 5-inch tach on the dash when I did. Nobody had that back then and then later you'd see it all the time.

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HT: Were you forced to use an aftermarket tach because of the DFI?

AM: No, I just thought it was racy [laughs]. Back then, whatever looked fast, especially gauges in the car, I wanted it. Plus, it was a lot better than the stock tach.

HT: Do you pay attention to any of the trends nowadays where performance is often sacrificed for aesthetics? Do you even care?

AM: Yeah, it seems like it's all about looks. I think [some] don't know the difference between performance and show. [A lot of people] just want to show and just want the oohs and the ahhs. It's kind of sad, man.

HT: The fascination with JDM didn't exist yet when you were racing. What did you think about all of that when you returned in 1999?

AM: We just called that stuff Japanese and knew that we couldn't get it out here. I don't see the difference. I could really care less about all that stuff. Back then, it was suspension and motor; that's it. I didn't care about lights or wheels. It was more about going fast. Now, it's a big deal if you have the JDM headlights or you have the JDM lip or this special center console. It's like, I could care less, dude, seriously. Are you cool if you spend $2,000 per wheel on a car? I think that's pretty stupid. I guess that stuff means something to somebody else so to each his own.

HT: Tell us about a street racing experience that stands out for you.

AM: When I lost $2,700 [laughs]. It was against these guys who used to go to Terminal Island. They had a Mustang 5.0. They were hustlers. They hustled me mentally, pissing me off doing some shady sh*t at the line. I lost because I bogged at the line and he jumped out by five cars. He only beat me by about a bumper. I wanted to do a double-or-nothing but he didn't want to have anything to do with it because he knew. That was the worst. There was never a dull moment at Ana and Maria streets. In 1994 when all the thugs started coming out, though, that's when it started getting stupid.

HT: Your CRX is arguably one of the most underrated of its day in terms of exposure beyond the street races. It was supposed to appear in Turbo magazine long before Hondas were regularly featured. Why wasn't it?

AM: When I was working at JG I was doing pretty good, going to all the races and winning. Turbo magazine wanted to do an article on [the CRX] and put it on the cover, but they wanted me to paint the bumper. I guess it wasn't pretty enough. I basically told them it wasn't gonna happen. The CRX was known for its yellow bumper. Nobody would ask at the street races about a red CRX. They'd ask about the red CRX with the yellow bumper. Everybody knew that car back then. That was a pretty sad moment, but they wanted me to paint the bumper [so] I didn't do the article.

HT: That would've been one of the first Hondas to be on the cover of Turbo magazine, wouldn't it?

AM: Not really sure, but the yellow bumper was my trademark, and even if they didn't know me, everyone knew the car, so if Turbo magazine couldn't understand that, then oh well ...

HT: Almost two decades later, do you have any regrets about that?

AM: If they asked me to do that today, I'd say the same thing. It's all about keeping it real, and if you want to do an article on someone or something, why the heck would you change its originality?

HT: What was your thought process like back then for choosing parts?

AM: I never bought cheap sh*t [laughs]. Back then, we had to make things work. We were the MacGyvers of the Honda scene. I had a lot of American parts on that Japanese car, man.

HT: Like the Accel DFI that was never designed for a four-cylinder Japanese engine?

AM: Right, and John was the one who figured that out. I went through eight motors before we actually figured it out. I grenaded so many motors. I spent a lot of money back then. I was one of the ones to have that first.

HT: How hard was it to perform modifications back then versus now?

AM: Back in the day, it was a challenge because it was a hit or miss with parts and we had to figure out what worked or didn't work. Nowadays, people have forums, YouTube, more parts for their cars, and the R&D has been done for them. There's not as much to learn versus back in the day. It's all about Cali ol' school [laughs].

HT: Do you think the racers from your era get the proper respect nowadays for some of the things they've helped figure out?

AM: It's really hard to say because there are guys who are still putting it down now who I'm sure are getting much respect.

HT: What do you think about some of Honda's newer engines, like the latest 2.4L K Series?

AM: I respect them. You can't deny their horsepower.

HT:: Do they interest you, though, perhaps for a future project?

AM: It depends if that's the motor that the car originally came with. I'm not a real big fan of swaps.

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HT: What do you think it is about '80s and '90s Hondas that make them so appealing?

AM: They were so inexpensive back then and so simple. They had their own original look and were very easy to work on. That's why you still see a lot of them on the track and on the streets to this day.

HT: Who would you say you've learned the most from?

AM: John taught me a lot. Javier taught me a lot. We talked a lot. I'm one of those guys who if I'm interested in something, I'll ask a gang of questions. They were able to answer a lot of them. The only way I was going to learn was if I asked the questions and tried things myself. I couldn't just read this on a forum. John and Javier gave me the base and then I was able to figure things out with their help.

HT: Who else was working at JG while you were there?

AM: Steph [Papadakis] was there, Myles came down, and then some of the other guys who were already there when I came over.

HT: A couple of decades later, is there anything performance-wise that you'd like to take credit for?

AM: Well, this is what I will say about that. There are a lot of things that we MacGyvered that we see have been improved [upon] today that I wonder if anybody would've ever thought of. It's hard, though, man. We did a lot of R&D, and regardless of how much R&D we did, I don't think we'll ever get credit for it. I was one of the first ones, but somebody else would've figured it out [laughs]. All of that stuff was out already, I'm sure. There just wasn't a whole lot out there for the Hondas.

HT: If you could own any modern Honda, what would it be?

AM: That's hard, bro. Maybe an S2000. I don't really even think about that too much, I guess.

HT: What's kept you from building another CRX?

AM: Money. I'm broke [laughs]. I can't do it now. That's why I'm living [vicariously] through my son. It won't be a CRX but an EG that we're still gonna have the original single-cam in. It's still gonna be a street car like how I've always done it; drive it to the track and drive it home. My son, Ryan, is die-hard and excited.

HT: Does it bother you that some of the younger enthusiasts might not have heard of you or know what you've accomplished?

AM: No, not really. I don't expect anyone to really know of me or if I did race in the early '90s. It really doesn't bother me either if people don't know what I've done. The only thing I can say is that if I were to converse with someone, somewhere in the conversation they probably will, though [laughs].

HT: You've been hanging out with Myles Bautista at Mak-Speed lately. What are you guys cooking up?

AM: Look out because we're gonna be coming out with some cars that are mixed with old-school and new school flavor. We're in cahoots together; we're working on something. Once I start finishing my homework and catching up with this era we'll be coming out with something pretty bananas. Hopefully [laughs].

HT: Any closing thoughts as we wrap this up?

AM: First, I want to shout out to the people who stuck with me through the wins and the losses and who shared their knowledge back when everything was a secret, and to those who still remember and respect SplitSecond Racing! If I didn't mention your name, I didn't have to because you already know who you are. It's been a freakin' roller coaster ride, though. It was really enjoyable when this first started up in the early '90s. I try not to think too much about where I'd be or what would've happened if I would've stayed into it. I see a lot of people [from back then] who are in a better place and some [who] are struggling. I don't know where things are going, but I'm back for now.

By Aaron Bonk
405 Articles

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