Back when my older brother was shacked up with some hippies in Northern California, the family often made the trek from the L.A. area to feed him and to verify a basic level of hygiene. The common practice was for my old man to drive scenic Route 1 through Big Sur to ogle the vistas, listen to tango, and get our lunch swirled in our bellies by his distracted driving.
On one such journey, Dad, tired of the scenic but time-consuming return route (and in what he perceived to be a shrewd bit of navigation), plotted a course on old Highway G-18, which connected to the far less circuitous Highway 101. Busy patting himself on the back, he tried to tell us hed been this way before, saying that the same path is boring, that variety is the spice of life, and a few other tired clichés to justify his decision to haul himself and his family onto an unknown farm road. Given the crooked nature of Highway G-18, this isolated single-lane, fire road of a highway was really only frequented by motorcycles and the odd farmers pickup. At the zenith of my fathers whistle-happy celebration of his genius and MacGyver-like resourcefulness, he was toppled from the role of master of his surroundings by a flat tire. In a classic display of masterful planning, the spare was already mountedthe result of a blowout earlier in the year. For five hours, we pondered our isolation as buzzards circled nearby and Dad made the lonely and humiliating trek for help; tail between his legs, his moments of bravado long past. Such are the pitfalls of the road less traveled.
Regarding import drag racing, Honda-powered race cars would represent the beaten path. It seems the staging lanes are overflowing with true believers on the pilgrimage to the grail of H, and that precious few other models get to make guest appearances. Given the depth of the aftermarket support available for Hondas, its natural that the ease of modification and part availability for Honda products make the selection of race hardware an easy one.
So, what happens when someone is dead set on wrenching together the fastest quarter-mile Neon in creation? The Neon you see before you is the result of just such a quest. Darrell Coxs familiarity with Pro stock motorcycle motors, gained from working with Gann Custom Speed, prompted him to apply some of the same high-rpm motorcycle engine tricks to the four-banger in his Neon. The goal for the car was simpleto be able to compete on even terms with the Hondas in the Pro front-wheel-drive classes of racing.
The 98 Neon chassis received a great deal of attention in order to bring its weight down to a race-ready 1,900 pounds (including driver and fuel). The rear suspension was replaced with lighter components and an aluminum Afco coilover drag shock setup. In addition, fiberglass versions of the hood and decklid help reduce weight in conjunction with Lexan versions of the factory safety glass. Inside, a lightweight, six-point chrome-moly rollcage stiffens the unibody and provides safety. A single lightweight aluminum race seat stands on the gutted floorpan with a massive NOS keg parked next to it.
The quest for the nines really begins in the engine compartment. The stock 2.0Ls cast-iron block gets its water jackets filled and cylinders bored almost .060 over. The crank has been lightened and balanced while the forged JE pistons are attached to Crower rods. Up top, the stock cams are replaced with special grinds from Web Cam. Titanium retainers and springs do their part to reduce valvetrain weight and allow this engine combination to reach its 10,500 rpm redline.
A Schnitz Racing ignition system consumes the mixture and releases the spent gases through a PaceSetter header. The factory automatic transmission is retained and appropriately reinforced for quarter-mile duty by Forward Motion which incorporated an 8-inch converter that doesnt achieve full lock until 5,500 rpm. The transmissions valvebody is prepared by Turbo Action, and puts power down through a 3.73 gearset.
The Neon motor achieves its stout power figures (575 hp), thanks to a rather unique induction system that utilizes heaping doses of nitrous oxide and fuel metering courtesy of four modified 48mm Lectron carburetors pirated from a race motorcycle. The management of the nitrous doses is key for maintaining traction and quarter-mile consistency. With the nitrous dialed-in at 20 percent off the line, Darrells Neon manages 60 foot times in the 1.40 range. The Schnitz Racing nitrous management brings the nitrous up to maximum levels at about three seconds after departure from the starting line. The best quarter-mile managed by the Neon thus far is 10.38@138 mph. The team hopes that with additional chassis tuning and improved traction, nines will be a reality in the near future. Hondas beware.