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Shaun Carlson - Road Rage

Where Are The Icons?

Aaron Bonk
Mar 3, 2010
Photographer: Jay Canter

Stephen Papadakis' first nine-second pass was groundbreaking. Outsiders said it couldn't be done. Insiders didn't believe it could be done yet. Naysayers aside, it was indeed one of the most poignant moments of Honda history. But Papadakis didn't do it alone.

Htup_1003_01_o+shaun_carlson_formula_d+aaron_bonk_shot Photo 2/3   |   Shaun Carlson - Road Rage

Earlier this year, Shaun Carlson-Papadakis' chassis builder and the man who was just as much responsible for that infamous pass as Papadakis himself-passed away at 35. Although Carlson is today most noted for his involvement with Formula D (he owned Team Mopar and two-time champion Samuel Hubinette's infamous Viper, and later Charger and Challenger), his Honda roots predate all of this. Significantly. Prior to conceptualizing and building the world's first FWD, tube-frame Civic (or import for that matter), Carlson partnered with other industry notables, like Jason Whitfield, who at the time held the title for the world's fastest single-cam-equipped Honda. The attention to detail and craftsmanship found within Whitfield's CRX was enough to rival even the best of today's builds....in part, thanks to Carlson. You might say he was ahead of his time. He was. You might say what he did was revolutionary. It was.

Of course, it's difficult to recite the list of Carlson's bonafides without mentioning NuFormz Engineering, a company founded and owned by Carlson, which savvy enthusiasts will note as the originator of the Honda block guard. A clever idea the block guard was. Carlson's block-strengthening device that reduced potential cylinder wall movement on open-deck Honda engines quickly gained popularity among enthusiasts as an affordable alternative to more expensive, ductile-iron sleeves. It was innovative ideas like this-which has since been copied by numerous manufacturers-that occupied the mind of Carlson.

Carlson also shared a passion for the editorial world, his journalistic origins dating back to MiniTruckin' magazine and later during Turbo and High-Tech Performance magazine's heyday. His legacy transcends to a time when such publications existed for the enthusiast. Carlson was a rare breed of automotive magazine personnel. At least by today's standards. In short, he knew his stuff. His technical prowess and comprehension level went without saying. His photographic skills were unmatched-no need for Photoshop or any digital manipulation here; his stuff was that good. And his ability to put complex subject matter into simple terms for the average enthusiast was superb. Today's editors, writers, and photographers would do well to sift through the archives, duly noting all that was Shaun Carlson. But I'll spare the details of all things Shaun Carlson, for there are far more suitable sources who knew the man better than I, and who are far more qualified to recount his days setting sport compact racing records, as well as his time spent behind the wheel of a Don Schumacher Racing NHRA Pro Stock Stratus.

Htup_1003_02_o+shaun_carlson_formula_d+main_view Photo 3/3   |   Shaun Carlson - Road Rage

So Where Are The Icons? Our industry needs icons. They are, after all, what drive us forward. Icons are innovative. They need not copy camshafts, intake manifolds, or coilovers only to change their color, texture, or minutiae and attempt to pass them off as something unique. Icons are imaginative. They need not look to others for inspiration, for they have the wherewithal to accomplish great things themselves. Imagine, for a moment, an industry full of icons. Such an industry would be free of those companies whose only claims to fame have more to do with how well they're able to mimic the leading company's most popular wheel and less to do with details like research, engineering, and testing. It would be a better place.

Shaun Carlson was an icon. We could use a few more of him.

By Aaron Bonk
405 Articles

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