Edward de Bono once said: Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns. Honda builders all across America have this quote in the back of their heads whether they know it or not. Engine swaps, brake swaps, shaved and sprayed bays, aftermarket parts galore, and all the internal and external mods blend into an impressive creative collage when done correctly. However, we are forever looking for new ways to express our creativity, passion for motoring, and ability to make something from nothing when the challenge presents itself. The boys down at the Lincoln, Alabama, Honda plant were faced with this same scenario sort of.
Limited resources and aftermarket support for a build can either bring about mind-blowing levels of ingenuity or complete dejection and failure. Like it or not, when you take on a build that no one has done before, those are the only two outcomes. The boys at the plant in ’Bama knew this well in advance; back when they started thinking outside the box many years ago. But instead of giving up when everyone else insisted they were crazy, these gentlemen pushed ahead, making custom parts and performing their own ECU retunes when there was no one else to turn to for helptrue ingenuity at its best. So for those of you who are tired of the same old fare, here is something you never saw coming: Odyssey Racing!
Love it or hate it, these guys are kicking ass and taking names in your mom’s favorite grocery getter. So to better understand the method behind their madness, we recently caught up with Paul Street, who spearheads this project.
HT: Tell us a bit about your race team and what you guys do for a living.
Paul: We work at a Honda plant in Lincoln, Alabama, which makes the Odyssey and the Pilot. Our team consists of four key players, all from different areas of the plant.
Chris Hatley, AF repair.
Steve Manley, Maintenance associate in engine assembly.
Dan Burgess, Senior technical specialist of new models.
Paul Street, Maintenance supervisor in the paint shop
HT: How did you come to actually race Honda Odysseys of all things?
Paul: A few years ago we approached our superiors with the notion that we wanted to race the cars we were building at the plant every day. All of the other plants were doing it, so why not us? The only problem was that the main product we build here in Alabama is the Honda Odyssey minivan. At first they thought we were joking, but after a while, they realized we were dead serious and 100 percent committed to making this project happen. Eventually we got our first donor car and we started the long process of making it track worthy.
HT: Tell us a bit about the trials and tribulations you guys have gone through with building track-worthy Odysseys.
Paul: Racing a minivan is tough enough; it’s just a good thing that we’re not a riding lawn mower factory, because that really would be an uphill battle! (laughs) I would probably have to say that the two toughest things we’ve encountered are people not taking us seriously and having to make our own custom parts because there are very few off-the-shelf goods available for these cars.
HT: Have you found any aftermarket support out there for the Odyssey?
Paul: There really isn’t any aftermarket support for the Odyssey. But if you look around, there are some really good companies that make products that cross over, or are willing to build products for it. H&R has done the suspension for all of our cars, Momo provides us with seats and safety equipment, Midwest Converters does our torque converters, RV6 provides great exhaust products, Unorthodox Racing supplies our underdrive pulleys, Enkei gives us the best wheels made, and Yokohama provides really sticky tires. We have also found a fair deal of support in our local communities and we’ve gotten some really nice parts out of it. U.A.B. (University of Alabama in Birmingham) has built carbon-fiber panels for us and Q down at E.P.M. (Evo Power Mods) does most of the fabrication work on our cars, including rollcages that are 100 percent custom-built for each van. We do all of our own tuning in-house.
HT: When the economy took a crap back in 2008, what did you do to keep the program alive?
Paul: When we lost our budget we were just doing the One Lap of America each year and nothing else. We would work on the car all year long and get little to no track time. And when we went to the One Lap of America we were just not up to speed, literally. So we concentrated on driver training and overall car setup, two things that cost very little. While driver training came about rather easily, modding our vans with new parts proved to be quite difficult at first. Most people would have given up at this point because all race cars need sponsorship to survive, and since these vans are still property of Honda we are not allowed to dump any of our own finances into them. So here we were with two heavily modified vans that needed new parts, and no money to buy them with. But necessity is the mother of invention, and we had already come so far. So we started with the basics: brakes. Funding from Brembo for our BBK (big-brake kit) was nil, so this meant we had to find an alternative. We were about to swap our stock Odyssey brakes back on, when a thought suddenly occurred to us. Why not slap on some Pilot brakes? They’re bigger, similar in most aspects (brackets, etc), and most importantly, they’re free! Sure enough, they fit perfectly and we were back in business with a poor man’s BBK on our vans. This set off a chain-reaction, and before long we were searching every parts bin in the place trying to see what matched up. For the last few years we’ve been able to keep the program alive thanks to all of the free parts sitting in our warehouse, and our team’s tireless determination to succeed. Now that sponsors are starting to open their wallets again, I’ve realized that the financial crisis was one of the best things to happen to this program. We’ve emerged stronger and more knowledgeable than ever before.
HT: How were you training your drivers while all of this modding was going on in the factory?
Paul: We started out taking our drivers to SCCA auto-x, and moved from there to open track days at a local track. We read the rules and called the SCCA, and basically told them that we wanted to get a logbook to do Time Trials with our Odyssey. At first, they were a little hesitant because it was a minivan, and no one had ever heard of such a thing. But we stayed persistent, and finally we got the inspection done. Everything went well and we now have the only minivan in the country with an SCCA logbook! We competed in our first SCCA L3 TT event in April of 2010 and set the track record for the SP class.
HT: Was there ever an Odyssey that really inspired you to take your racing to the next level?
Paul: No, we just do our own thing. Forget the naysayers.
HT: Hybrid racing has gotten a lot of attention recently. Do you think that it’s just a matter of time before more people start racing minivans?
Paul: We wish! Here is the deal, if you’re in a minivan and a Corvette passes you by, you have an excuse. But if you pass a Corvette in a minivan, you’re the man!
HT: What are your future aspirations for the Odyssey race team?
Paul: At present, we just want to get back to where we were three years ago with our budget. We would also like to return to the One Lap of America.
So here is our plan if funding returns:
2011- Conduct driver training, do One Lap of America, SCCA TT events, and do one or two NASA events.
2012- NASA 2-6 hr endurance races, SCCA club race, One Lap of America, and maybe more.
2013- Continental Tire Challenge (ST class) along-side the HART team from the plants in Ohio. (We have already talked to Rolex about it and they are willing to talk to us. So we will see.)
HT: Do you have any advice for our readers out there who get inspired by this article and want to try and build their own track-worthy Odyssey?
Paul: I’m not too sure reading this will inspire anyone to want to go out and build a race-ready Odyssey. But if you are the kind of person that does your own thing, the kind of person that thinks outside of the box, then I think you would find the Odyssey a great attention getting vehicle. And it has the potential to be a really good track car with just a little work.
Remember, necessity is the mother of invention. But its father is creativity and knowledge is the midwife. Stay tuned.