Honda's impact on the import world is undeniable. In the early '90s, as the Civic and early Integra boom began to blanket Southern California, these two vehicles garnered the majority of the attention. From custom one-off upgrades to almost impossible to source Japanese offerings, both chassis were hailed as the ultimate starting point for any front wheel drive street or drag race enthusiast.
But before off-the-shelf one-piece front ends. Before pre-cut lexan window kits and carbon fiber hatches. Before wheelie/traction bars. Before ultra deep pockets and unlimited resources afforded by power player manufacturers, there was good ol' backyard ingenuity. Civic and Integra owners, whose cars were already very lightweight from the factory, were hell bent on shaving off every possible millisecond from their quarter mile times, and often took drastic measures to reduce weight and fight aerodynamic deficiencies. Stripping an interior down to nothing more than a driver's seat and dashboard was commonplace, even for street racers at that time. Deleted bumper supports, smaller batteries, removing spare tires in the rear; all attempts to drop weight and decrease drag as much as possible. No one can really pinpoint exactly when the "trash bag hatchback" phenomenon struck, but strike it did. Like wildfire, the Battle of the Import's pit lane saw numerous cars missing their rear bumper, while a trash bag, or suitable plastic substitute, took the place of the factory rear window and hatch. As ghetto as it looked, most hardcore competitors swore by it.
Most relied on heavy duty tape keep the makeshift hatches from flying away during a run. But it didn't stop there. The push for faster times continued and racers looked for a way to fight aerodynamic drag as their car sped down the quarter-mile blacktop. A simple, low cost solution seemed to come from utilizing tape to cover the gaps that separated the front bumper from the hood and fenders. The school of thought revolved around closing every surface crevice to deny air from getting trapped between the separations produced by factory body lines. The look was less than flattering and no one had the ability to prove whether or not it actually worked.
During this era, while Hondas battled for supremacy not only amongst their peers, but amongst the V8 crowd, a new mortal enemy was soon discovered. This group didn't carry a blue oval or five-liter motivation at all. This new force had a distinct advantage with factory boosted power-plants and all-wheel-drive grip. The DSM (Eclipse and Talon) crowd proved to be a worthy adversary right from the beginning, and with the Honda camp looking as if they'd just rolled out of the local junkyard, sporting duct taped front ends, missing rear bumpers, and homemade plastic rear hatches, the opposition had more artillery than they knew what to do with. You can be sure that when the DSM owners wanted to push some buttons, they had no problem mocking the Honda drag race community. DSM guru Dave Buschur, during The Diamond Star Shootout event that brought together some of the fastest DSMs in the nation, set up a table with rolls of duct tape, dubbed "Honda race tape," for sale. A photo of the display ran in Turbo Magazine and shortly after, many Honda racers put a halt to their tape ritual. The DSM camp's attention to detail was light years ahead of Honda's at that particular time, and the term "Go fast with class," borrowed from the Grand National group, was quickly adopted by their loyal members. Though this may seem like a low point for Honda drag racing, it was actually a positive turning point, as many of the leaders in the Honda community began concentrating more on the details, while still striving for better times. The result: Honda drag racers were more focused than ever, and they continued to engineer new ways to lower their times, increase their trap speeds, and look good doing it. Race Hondas today can turn incredible times while maintaining a show car quality appearance. Something that seems so common now would never have been possible without the pioneers who took chances and pushed the envelope every chance they got. Remember your roots.