A silver S2000 blips its exhaust as it slowly maneuvers through the Mid-Valley Auto Repair parking lot, its passengers naively unaware of the proprietor-technician who’s just briefly taken his eyes off of his valve adjustment to welcome his visitors. They know him as Tony Fuchs, longtime mechanic who, in 2000, took ownership of the general repair shop he’d first found employment at just 15 years prior. You know him as Tony Fuchs, import drag racing legend who, throughout the 1990s, helped shape Honda performance as we know it. Fuchs began modifying cars at age 16, later purchasing a ’91 Integra LS that would prove to be one of import drag racing’s most significant cars ever. His San Fernando Valley street-racing exploits, pioneering engine technology, and record-setting drag racing has secured his place within the annals of Honda history. Here is our conversation. Here is his story.
HT: How did you begin racing Hondas?
Tony: I started here at Underground Ford [now Mid-Valley Auto Repair] in ’85 as a full-time mechanic. My first vehicle was a Toyota pickup truck with Mikuni sidedrafts. Later, I met the guys from Cyber [Racing] who were all into Hondas. I put the truck aside once I leased the Acura, and began doing little things to it, which made it faster. When I first got it, we went to Sylmar [a Los Angeles suburb popular for street racing]. I got a nitrous kit for it and hid it. I used to go up to all these Mustangs and Camaros. We’d give them the spiel, saying we’re slow, and go out there and start beating everybody. Everybody said I was cheating. I said, “Hey, I’ll give you $1,000 if you can find nitrous on my car.” Everybody would sit there and just tear apart my car but could not find it. We used to hide it in the best spots in the world.
HT: Your record-breaking Integra was once your daily driver?
Tony: Yeah, I leased it brand-new, drove it on the street, and raced it. I used to go to Terminal Island and street races with Archie [Madrazo], Myles [Bautista], and everybody—all the race crews. I used to drive it everywhere. If we’d go to Battle [of the Imports], I would drive it. When I’d go to Sylmar, everybody would hear it ’cause the carburetors made a different sound. They wouldn’t want to race me after maybe five, six weeks of us making $10,000 a weekend. Nobody knew us. We were nobodies back then. That was before Battle started happening. Finally, I got three tickets, and after the third one the judge said I was going to jail for six months. That’s when I said, “No more street racing.” Never again did I drive that car on the street.
HT: Who were some of the other notable racing crews?
Tony: Back in the very beginning it was Redline [Racing], [Team] Precision, and Cyber [Racing]. Everybody would say, “Junior [Asprer] this, Junior that. You don’t want to race him.” Once, I was racing somebody and all of a sudden Junior wanted to show off. He got out there and raced somebody else, right next to us, so now there were four of us going down Sylmar. I was out of nitrous and Junior barely pulled on me. It was funny after that ’cause everybody thought he was faster than me. But the thing was, I didn’t have the nitrous on.
HT: So your and Cyber’s racing exploits predate almost everyone?
Tony: Oh, yeah. I’ll tell you a story of how I met Wicked when they first came out and my head was getting big. We were at a street race, and I thought I was the fastest car out there. I started going up to everybody, saying, “Who the hell’s this Wicked?” I didn’t know they were who they were. If you knew anything about ’em, they were mostly alleged gang members. All I remember was hearing “click, click, click, click” and all these MAC-10 guns around my head. I was like, “Oh, my God. I’m dead.” Dr. Charles, who was in Wicked, ran up, yelling, “No, he’s cool! Don’t mess with him!” That was the first time I’d ever seen anything like that. Dr. Charles basically saved my life. That’s when we all became friends.
HT: What sort of Honda racing technology can be traced back to you?
Tony: We had an exhaust pipe made that went from the throttle body down as a cold-air intake. No matter what anybody says, we were the first ones to do that. This was back in ’91 when no one had cold-air intakes. We ran that thing without a filter, underneath, and hid it behind the bumper. That’s where the nitrous was. Nobody could find it.
HT: That had to have been at least five years before AEM released its cold-air intake.
Tony: Oh, this was way before that. Not really five years before AEM was around, but five years before they made those.
HT: Did AEM get the idea to mass-produce its cold-air intake from you?
Tony: I don’t think so because by that time I didn’t have it on the car. Once I got the carburetors, then I started going to AEM. They’re the ones who made the carburetors and the nitrous work. AEM was a tiny, little shop way back in their first location when John [Concialdi] was the only owner. He would help tune the car. He still is, to this day, the nicest guy in the world.
HT: Any other firsts?
Tony: We were one of the first ones using slicks. Before that I would take Yokohama A008s and file the logos off, so when I’d go to the track nobody would know I had those tires. We were also the first to use VHT and hold the car down during burnouts. And then there were the wheelie bars. I give him [Ed Bergenholtz] the props as being the first guy to do them—and he mastered them; I’m not taking anything away from him—but I had that vision in my head years before he was even racing.
HT: You were the fastest Honda for a while. There was also that controversial 10.24-second pass that was a good half-second quicker than everybody else. Tell us about that.
Tony: Well, before that I was fast but I couldn’t break into the 10-second club. It was always 11s with just nitrous and carburetors. Once we put the turbo on the car and AEM tuned it, we ran the 10.24. The car felt fast, but who knew if it was legit or not? I just couldn’t do anything to back it up. Later, once we got the car into the 10s, that’s all we ran.
HT: Where did you rank compared to the first 10-second Honda, David Shih’s CRX?
Tony: David’s Silver Bullet was the first official car in the 10s, but I was the first one to do it back to back to back. I was the first one who, at Battle when I won the event, ran a 10 in every pass I made.
HT: Back then, the racing was close, and records were made in the morning and broken in the afternoon. Tell us about that.
Tony: Stephen [Papadakis] was always right there with me. I got a 10.78, he got a 10.79. Then I got the 10.61—the fastest time—and he got a 10.63 or 10.64. Every time I was going just a step faster. We held that title for almost two years, and nobody could go out there and run faster than that. I don’t know, I got lucky. I had the title for the longest. After I lost it back when I had sponsor problems and I stopped racing, every week someone new was crowned champion.
HT: You were among the first import drivers to ever be invited to a sanctioned NHRA event.
Tony: It was me, Stephen, Abel [Ibarra], and Adam Saruwatari who were invited to that Winternationals in 1998—the only four [import] cars. I’ll never forget everybody’s faces. They called us “rice rockets.” They yelled, “Get these pieces of shit outta here!” This one guy—a big skinhead with no shirt on—was flipping me off, throwing things. This was before we ran. Well, when they heard the car do the burnout, everybody was quiet. Once I made my first pass, that’s when I broke my record with a 10.70. Once I made that pass, everybody was clapping, and even that white supremacist guy was smiling, giving me a thumbs-up.
HT: That was the first time NHRA fans were exposed to import drag racing, right?
Tony: Yeah. When I had my car in line, Don Prudhomme looked at it and said, “You know, your slicks are in the front, right? They’re supposed to be in the back.” He was laughing. I just went back, put my helmet on, and got strapped in. Once I made that pass, the big muscle cars came out—all with big slicks. They made all this noise but all they ran were 11s. We were out there doing 10s, and everybody just went crazy.
HT: Tell us more about your racing program and how it was so successful.
Tony: I was different. Nobody besides me would touch my car except for tuning. Saturday I’d do my greatest number, either get first or second, and then come back and change the motor, trans, clutch, and axles. I was always the first one at the track at 5:30 in the morning ’cause I wanted the best spot. Frank [Choi] used to make jokes and say he was gonna give me the keys to the gates. We were the first ones to bring a motor home to the track. We were the first ones to pull a car back with a tow vehicle. Everybody thought I was rich, but I just rented all that stuff.
HT: How serious were the rivalries?
Tony: The three of us [Redline Racing, Team Precision, and Cyber Racing] always wanted to race each other. Then, Split Second—Archie—started coming around. We had these two CRXs that I built specifically to take out Archie, Junior, or anybody else. We raced and Archie could not beat ’em. Junior could not beat ’em. These cars were just really, really fast. I didn’t cheat. I just built the motors and did all of these weird things. This is back when Gude Performance built me these crazy camshafts and, for some reason, those cars were just fast. Once we got to Battle, it was mainly Wicked. We almost always got into fights with them because of the stuff I had on my car. My car had “JG: Just Garbage” on it. Wicked was with JG [Engine Dynamics]. We were young back then. We didn’t know you couldn’t do stuff like that without people getting mad at you. JG was their shop back then, and AEM was mine. Later, I did my turbo, and I went and talked to Javier [Gutierrez] himself and said, “Hey, I apologize. I was a kid. Can you help me?” When I switched to JG I started doing 10s all day long.
HT: What did you think about NHRA’s later involvement with import drag racing?
Tony: NHRA brought me and a few others to a big meeting they were having. I told them then that “if big corporate ever gets involved in this—NHRA or anybody—I think it’s gonna change this whole thing.” Once NHRA got on board, nothing was the same. Those guys were into muscle cars. They thought we were stupid, so they didn’t run the events the way Frank did. Frank ran it best. He was the guy who started it all.
HT: Tell us how your engine progressed from a street setup to a 10-second drag engine.
Tony: The first thing I ever did was get a Mugen header and exhaust system. Then I did that cold-air intake with the nitrous and the car would not lose. It was funny—we didn’t have slicks. When we first raced, we just ran regular tires, spinning the whole way down the track, yet we’d beat these Mustangs. Later, AEM talked me into doing sidedrafts. Then the horsepower went up. The only problem was I’d tune it here, go to Palmdale, and everything changed. The car ran decent, but I could never get it out of the 11s. We used to even drill our own nitrous jets. We used to get in there with micrometers, measure, and drill our own.
HT: How simple were your engines back then?
Tony: They were all stock. We didn’t have anything like pistons or rods early on. All we had were stock engines. I went through a lot of engines. Back then, you could get them for nothing. That was before JG started helping out. Later, we were the first ones to start getting head studs from ARP. Then we progressed into sleeved blocks. I don’t really remember, but I think my first JG engine had those little pins in the cylinders with an aluminum guard.
HT: Did pinning the block work?
Tony: It did and it didn’t because, as we added pressure, the engine still cracked in certain spots. They only had four pins for each cylinder. Once JG did the sleeves, that’s when we started making a lot of power. We used to boost 25 psi with nitrous. Back then, we didn’t have anything fancy. If you ever watched us at the track, we’d hold a nitrous bottle upside down and squirt the intercooler then douse it with water before a pass. I never thought that worked until Javier showed me on the dyno.
HT: Why the non-VTEC setup for so long?
Tony: It wasn’t a budget decision because I was sponsored on anything I wanted. Turbonetics gave me any turbo. JG sponsored me on my motor. The computer was free…[Accel] DFI, I think it was. This was before AEM, MoTeC or any of that stuff came out. I had the non-VTEC because I knew the motor. I could rev it up to 10,000 rpm. We made 568hp to the wheels. We tried doing the LS-VTEC conversion and it made 685hp, but the car went slower. The fastest pass I made with that car [excluding the controversial 10.24] was the 10.61 with the full LS motor.
HT: How did your learning curve differ from that for enthusiasts today?
Tony: We didn’t have the Internet. There were no turbos, there were no pistons, there was nothing for our cars. The V-8 shops were all we had to go off of. No one knew about nitrous. We went through a crapload of motors. Everybody thought we were joking when we asked about rods or pistons for a four-cylinder. I worked here at the shop, so I would try lots of different things. I would take my stock cam gear and move it off a tooth and make it run differently.
HT: You’d purposefully run with your cam timing off a tooth?
Tony: Yeah. I ran my car like that for a little while. We’d also run the belt as tight as you could make it to where the cams wouldn’t move. We’d go through a lot of timing belts doing that. The car was faster, though. This was way before [adjustable] cam gears came out. Finally, HKS came out with the first ones, and I was able to fine-tune them at AEM. AEM was so nice. They’d sit there for hours tuning those things. We’d make 12–15hp with stock cams. Today, people will go on the Internet and ask where to set their cam gears. We used to have to figure out all that stuff. Same thing with the nitrous and the turbos. Archie, Junior, and Myles were the first with turbos. I was like the fourth or fifth guy. That was when we were all just learning.
HT: What else has changed?
Tony: I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years, and I know my cars. I get these kids who call me on the phone saying, “I heard this on the Internet,” trying to correct me. Ninety-nine percent of the time Internet people are wrong. Most of the time you just need to rely on real people and them knowing what they’re doing. I got to learn everything and how to be so meticulous working on cars when there were 50,000 fans over my shoulder asking me all these questions while I was trying to work on my car. I learned to block things out, answer certain questions, and still be able to adjust my valves or change an axle.
HT: You were buying a lot of the now-rare JDM parts brand-new back then. Did you know what you were getting?
Tony: Back then, we’d work all week, and each paycheck we’d go to Car Mate in Glendale [California] where everybody would hang out. They would always have the latest and greatest stuff from Japan. Mugen was the hottest thing, so that’s what we’d buy. New HKS stuff would come out, so we’d buy that. Mugen came out with this one set of wheels—the MR5s. There were only two people who had them first—a guy from Redline got his, and I got mine like five hours later. Then I got RnRs. It’s funny, I didn’t even like those wheels back then. The day I got them, I took them off. If I had all those, they’d be worth millions right now (laughs).
HT: What do you think of Honda’s current direction?
Tony: The motors now are more high-tech, more of a factory race motor. They’ve come out with the CR-Z, but those still don’t have the sex appeal the cars had back in the late ’80s and early ’90s. They were totally different.
HT: How different was the street-racing scene back then?
Tony: We didn’t have cops poppin’ our hoods, checking to see what we had. I’ll never forget this one time at Sylmar… I was sitting there, getting ready to race, and a cop car came up next to us. I thought to myself, “I’m getting busted.” Instead, the cop started doing a burnout. They used to let us race up until the gangs got involved. Everybody got along, but then other groups came along. Like the riots at that one hotel at Palmdale during Battle—that had nothing to do with anybody who used to race; those were friends of friends of friends who came, just looking for trouble. At another race, a guy came up to me and, as I turned around, I heard “click, click.” The guy said, “Where you from?” I turned ghost white and said, “I’m from nowhere.” I just remember getting in my car and taking off. That was the turning point for us and why we decided to start racing at Battle instead. I saw a lot of accidents, a lot of people getting killed. Think about it: Racing with thousands of people lined up down the street when you’re going by at over 100 mph.
HT: Why did you stop racing the Integra?
Tony: Scott, one of the owners of a big company, which I won’t name, came to me with the best proposal. I still have the list of everything he was supposed to do for me. He said, “I want you do be my man—nobody else.” He gave me such a good proposal, such good money flow, that I agreed. The first thing I told him was that I didn’t want him to cut my car apart. Four months goes by and I didn’t get my car back. I go there and the floor’s cut out—one of millions of mistakes this guy made. Scott kept prolonging the car coming out. He said, “You’re my only racer. You’ll have to burn your bridges with everyone else.” So I burned my bridges with JG, everybody. He kept telling me, “We’re gonna buy you all this stuff. We bought a truck. We bought a trailer.” He started showing me all this stuff, all these carrots. A year goes by and I still didn’t have my car. Finally, I pulled my car out. Meanwhile, he was already sponsoring Jojo Callos. He had Jojo in a car and Jojo was racing. To this day, I don’t know if somebody was involved with him, trying to get back at me for something. I didn’t have a contract, nothing signed. It was all word-of-mouth. Not one thing he said came true.
HT: So you never even raced for him?
Tony: Scott hired me to race another guy’s car. He was gonna pay me $5,000 to come out to Texas and race the car. My first time in the car it ran nines. All of a sudden I got all the way to the finals and I was racing [Chris] Rado. Once we took off, I blew the motor right out of the hole. I blew the motor so bad that it destroyed everything—the intercooler, the turbo, everything. They were all mad at me, saying I did it on purpose, which I didn’t. They made me pay for everything. I never got the money to drive the car, and I had to pay for everything that blew. Then, the guy hires the owners of the car, who were gang members, to beat me up on my way home. Well, those guys liked me so much that they didn’t do anything. Scott just ruined everything. I just stopped racing.
HT: What happened after that?
Tony: In 2001, Myles hired me to race his Integra. Myles drove his car to a 10.20. I go out to Bakersfield and I go 9.80, 9.70, 9.60. I was gonna start racing for him but then the budget fell through. After that, Lisa Kubo got me involved with her Saturn team. I was supposed to race her other car. Well, it never panned out. Their budget went and I never got to race.
HT: Will you ever build another race car?
Tony: If I had the funds or a sponsor. I still have the shifting down. If it’s in your blood, it’s in your blood.
HT: If you could build any Honda for the track, what would it be?
Tony: I still like my Integra. I like front-wheel drive. I still think there’s nothing better than going down that quarter-mile and having that torque steer and that power in your hands.
HT: What about for the street?
Tony: I still like the NSX. I like the S2000, too. I wish they would’ve designed one that had a factory hardtop that you couldn’t remove—a solid chassis. I’ve got about 20 of those I wrench on all the time. I build them for all the racers from Speed Ventures and Redline Time Attack events. They’re amazing cars, basically, factory race cars.
HT: Any parting thoughts?
Tony: I wish we could have it back the way it was. I wish somebody would throw an event where all the old-school guys could get together and teach different lessons to different people and show ’em what we came up with. Until then, you can find me at my shop, Mid-Valley Auto Repair, in Winnetka, California, servicing and modifying just about any Honda or Acura. If you’re reading this and you need some work done, hit me up. I’ll give you a 20 percent discount and we can talk about the old days.