During import drag racing’s “golden era,” turbo performance unconditionally dominated the landscape. That is, until a portion of the spotlight was stolen by a brightly colored, naturally aspirated CRX owned by one Jeremy Lookofsky, piloted by Shawn Hillier. Dubbed L’Natural, the car relied on an H22 powerplant and began making waves immediately. Not long after shaking up the drag world, a small company by the name of Skunkworks unveiled what was essentially a well-built road race car that they’d brought to a drag event to see what it could muster. Sporting all motor B16A power and Tony Shagday behind the wheel, the Integra made a name for itself almost overnight, and helped catapult the company that would eventually become Skunk2 Racing.
Back and forth, the pair battled for the top spot leaving spectators and competitors alike in awe as the duo blazed a trail toward an entirely new Honda drag race phenomenon. Along the way, fans picked their side, verbal jabs were thrown, but when it came down to it, both teams helped forge a foundation of performance that unquestionably revolutionized the import industry. We caught up with Tony and Jeremy to talk about the grudge match that pitted these two teams against each other over a decade ago, and get their take on the history-making achievements both teams experienced.
Pioneer: Tony Shagday
Team: Skunk2 Racing
Car: Project Beta Integra
Current daily grind: Group A Autosports/Skunk2
Claim to fame: First All Motor Honda to reach the 10-second club
Pioneer: Jeremy Lookofsky
Team: Cyber Racing
Car: L’Natural CRX
Current daily grind: Drag Cartel Industries
Claim to fame: First All Motor Honda to reach the 10-second club, back to back, in competition
Rodrez: Thanks for joining me fellas. Give the readers a little rundown of what these cars had under the hood at that time.
Tony: In its original form, we had a straight B16A that was set up for road racing. It had bigger cams, really lightweight pistons with compression around 12:1, and a straight-cut gearbox. The chassis was intended for Laguna Seca turns rather than Palmdale quarter-mile racing. We eventually switched over to a B18C that ended up at about 2,150cc with 13:1 compression, one-off Skunk2 VTEC killer cams, and TWM ITBs. In its final form, Project Beta was K24 powered, close to 2,600cc with a 15.5:1 compression, custom Skunk2 cams, five-stage dry sump, and 62mm Kinsler ITBs.
Jeremy: L’Natural was powered by an H22 that was built by JG Engine Dynamics. We used TWM 50mm ITBs, an ACT clutch, Hot Shot custom-built header, and DFI ECU.
Rodrez: During all of the grudge-match madness, how well did you know each other? Were you just names and faces, or did you actually communicate, hang out, joke around, etc.? How about these days?
Jeremy: Tony and I didn’t really communicate too much since Skunk2 had a short leash on them, only allowing them so far out of their own pit and realm. Dave has always been the smarter business man when it came to making shit happen for the better of the industry and of course his company. Back then, being the young punk that I was, I couldn’t see it, but as I grew older and wiser, I realized what it was all about. I respect Dave and the crew at Skunk 2. Tony was just along for the ride then, but now he has a major role at the company doing big things…so he says—ha-ha!
Tony: I’d say we were “frienemies” throughout the whole time—ha-ha. In the early years the competition was probably a bit more tense and serious between us, but after time I think it eased up a bit. We’d chat and joke around and stuff in between rounds at the track, and when we were out on the road traveling to races, there were some good times. Even when we were lining up against each other, though, it wasn’t as bad as some of the rivalries we had with some other racers/teams. We still keep in touch here and there even today.
Rodrez: Like any great competitive rivalry, people always pick sides, and are often very vocal about how much faster their chosen car was or would be. Did any of that ever get into your heads, or were you able to shut everything out and just concentrate on the task at hand?
Tony: Nah, it never really got to us at all. If we were beat, we knew we just had to focus and work harder. If we beat them, we knew we still had to stay on our toes and keep pushing forward to stay ahead.
Jeremy: Rivalry and teams, I think we both had our fair share of fans since we both used different powerplants. We had what we like to call followers. I want to say L’Natural had a bigger fan base as we were in the mainstream with a big sponsorship from skateboarding empire DVS Shoes.
Rodrez: Give us your favorite moment on the track during that era and why it stands out to you the most.
Tony: The one that is probably the most memorable is when we lined up in Palmdale at Battle in like ’98, I believe. This was when Beta was still silver, and the car was new to the scene. We were an Integra with a smaller B motor, while L’Natural was a CRX with an H motor, and in the early years this made the rivalry really interesting. We lined up against them and ran a 12.27 to Jeremy’s 12.24, and even though we lost, it was a great race. It was probably the closest side-by-side race in All Motor at that time, and I think it helped elevate the class a little during its infancy.
Jeremy: Well, my favorite moment actually has nothing to do with Skunk2. It was definitely 2006, when Drag Cartel Industries was born. Skunk2 had already retired from drag racing by then.
Rodez: At a time when turbo performance was everything, you both pushed the naturally aspirated envelope further than anyone could have possibly imagined. Why did you choose that route? Was it to be different, or perhaps the challenge? Or did you feel like you knew something nobody else did, and you wanted to display it.
Jeremy: Performance turbo error didn’t grab my attention. Every time I saw turbo cars on the dyno, they would break. N/A was an addiction and a challenge to extract as much horsepower as possible with internal mods. I just liked the challenge, and I still do to this day. I’ve been taking the sport to the next level year in and year out.
Tony: The owner of Skunk2 had built the car as a road race car with a naturally aspirated B16A, and he always had a passion for N/A performance. We never planned to convert Beta into a drag car, but even in its road race form, it did pretty well at the drags, and since the All Motor class was something new, we figured it would be a great opportunity for us to explore further.
Rodez: Both of you were at the forefront of the import drag race phenomenon during its golden era. At the time, did you think in those terms? That is, did you take the time to look around and say to yourself, “I’m part of something pretty great here, people are going to be talking about this in 10 years.”
Tony: Yeah, there was definitely a special feeling back then with all the participation, hype, media coverage, and everything. It was a great period in import drag racing for sure. For the most part, you would just stay focused and not let anything get to your head. There were some times, though, where you’d look around and know you were making history. I think breaking into the 10s was that moment for us. The size of the scene was still really healthy, and there was a lot of built-up anticipation for that record.
Jeremy: Being a part of the evolution of Sport Compact is amazing. I think you have to really believe in it, and yourself, to make something of it today. There’s a ton of OGs that were the king of the block back then who are nowhere to be found today within the industry. So, yes, I’m honored to be a key part of this industry.
Rodrez: There’s talk of a potential “old-school” matchup brewing with Rado, Bergenholtz, and a few others. Would you two ever consider piecing something together and jumping back in the driver’s seat against one another?
Jeremy: Drag Cartel has never stopped racing. We pulled back from the crazy East Coast trips every other weekend, but for the most part, we did our best to attend at least three events a season. I encourage Skunk2 to get their car out and run again. I’m not calling them out, but it would be fun, and great for the industry!
Tony: I personally would love to. Regardless of who won, I think a lot of people would enjoy just seeing those two cars line up against each other again.
Rodrez: Do you think that’s something that could help push the drag community back into the spotlight? The Palo/Miller rivalry has garnered a ton of attention, and it’s helping to bring people back to the world of import drag racing. Perhaps an old-school, All Motor grudge-match shootout would help as well?
Tony: I think it would be great, and I would like to think that someday it could happen, and would still generate a lot of interest and buzz. I know we’ve joked around about it before (as well as some others who have pushed for it). Obviously Jeremy has still been out there racing and doing a great job at pushing the records, but I’m fully confident that Skunk2 has the resources to bring Beta back out and be competitive if they wanted to.
Rodrez: Regularly facing each other, did the competition from the other guy help push you faster and faster? Or was it more of a distraction?
Jeremy: Of course it helped to push each other, as well as helping other teams out there push the envelope 100 percent.
Tony: There were times where it didn’t really matter when we were far enough ahead, and then there were times it definitely pushed us. I remember chasing the record once when we were racing in Sacramento, and Jeremy had been a little quicker all weekend. It was like 114 degrees that day, and in the final round we borrowed some fiberglass doors to try and knock some more weight off to go quicker. The doors didn’t have a closing latch, though, so the guys taped the doors up and sealed me into what was basically a tin oven on a hot ass day! We didn’t manage to beat L’Natural’s time that day, but it was a great example of being pushed to do something, anything you could in search of that next win.
There you have it; a classic rivalry between two teams during a time when All Motor competitive drag racing was still a brand-new concept. Jeremy continues to push the boundaries of naturally aspirated performance with his Drag Cartel beast, and Skunk2 has established itself as a heavy hitter in the import performance aftermarket. Will these two ever face off again for top honors? Only time will tell…
There were some times, though, where you’d look around and know you were making history. I think breaking into the 10s was that moment for us. The size of the scene was still really healthy, and there was a lot of built-up anticipation for that record.