Its 8 am somewhere just outside of Oklahoma City, the track is 30 minutes away and I'm standing next to the car on the side of the road. The twisted remains of the fuel tank straps poke out from under the car; the tank they used to support is resting heavily on the asphalt. I try to reassure myself and think, "Don't panic," but who am I kidding? We're in trouble.
To explain, I have to start at the beginning. My good friend, Will, and I are die-hard car enthusiasts (both of us have degrees in engineering), spending every spare minute and dollar we have on grassroots racing. Starting with autocross and moving up to lapping days, time attack and even a 24-hour Lemons race, we're officially hooked on motorsport competition. So when we heard that Brock Yates was taking his One Lap of America close to our home, we couldn't resist the opportunity. It sounded great: eight days of driving some of America's greatest racetracks with the fastest road-legal cars in North America. Sign us up!
The rules are simple. One Lap cars must be road registered, driven to and from the track (no trailer queens allowed) and wear tires with no less than a 140 treadwear rating. Tire changes during competition are prohibited, but all other modifications are allowed. Since the classes are based on the car's original price, our old school EG Honda Civic fit squarely in the Economy Car class. It seems like a lot of us who grew up modifying EGs have moved on to bigger and "better" cars, but not us. Will's '93 Si hatch has been our track toy for the past couple of years, and he's owned it for 10 years (it's been supercharged for nine of those years).
Will had always dreamt of going turbo and making big power, so last fall we figured One Lap was as good an excuse as any to do just that. But since the original D16 engine was handling 10 psi from the Jackson Racing supercharger so well, we thought we'd keep it around. Out came the textbooks - thermodynamics, fluid dynamics and heat transfer. The result has a Garrett GT3076R turbocharger feeding into the M45 supercharger. Between the turbo compressor and the supercharger is a custom air-to-water intercooler, which is fed from an icebox in the cabin. Aaron Weir at Weirtech.ca made us a fantastic custom exhaust manifold that uses all mandrel-bent stainless steel and connects to the custom Tial housings and Vibrant Performance components with V-bands all the way to the side-exit exhaust tip. Doug at Hondata helped us out with an S300 ECU, allowing us to carefully dial in peak boost of 22 psi (13 from the turbo, 9 from the super), resulting in just over 300 whp on pump gas. Not too shabby for a 2,250-lb Economy Class entry.
Day 1: South Bend, Indiana
We arrive at the Tire Rack facility amongst myriad Porsches, Corvettes and BMWs. I get the feeling that maybe we've brought a knife to a gun fight. Our class is small - only three other cars, all Civics - and one of them is Andy Hollis', a multiple SCCA national Solo champion. He's brought a rather modest-looking EF hatch, but underneath the hood there's a JDM K20 Type-R motor. We eye his 225 wide tires and wonder if our 205s are too narrow. But the weather is cold and miserable, and today is the wet-skidpad event. We line up in order by number. We're number 54, the returning champion R35 Nissan GT-R is number 1. Amazingly, they break their previous record and average 0.96 g in the wet. Will drives a clean, fast session and our Dunlop Star Specs work great - we average 0.88 g and take third place overall! But there's no time to celebrate, because the next event starts at 8 am tomorrow morning, 300 miles away.
Day 2: Elkhart, Wisconsin
At the front gate of Road America, we're greeted with gifts of mixed nuts. The container's label explains: "We're nuts about racing!" The 4-mile road course stretching through the beautiful treed Wisconsin countryside is our first One Lap track challenge. The format for today begins with a single recon lap that ends at the start/finish. From there, a standing start begins the clock, and the cumulative time of three laps is used for scoring. This means that there's very little time to learn a new track, another challenge for us, since all but two of the tracks we'll be racing on during One Lap are new to us. We're "lap pups" to the experienced and older "lap dogs" in One Lap-speak, and we're about to find out that we have a lot to learn.
Winged GT-Rs fly up the front straight as Will stages the Civic on pit lane. As he waits, the sun beats down and the temperature rises. Finally, he's released on the track and completes his three laps; at nearly 3 minutes each, the entire session takes more than 9 minutes. Back in the pits, there's trouble. The engine bay is hot, so hot that it's overheating our air-to-water intercooler. What started as 10 lbs of ice 15 minutes ago is now water hot enough to brew our morning coffee. Intake air temps were climbing out of control, and to top it off, the ECU's lean protection feature was triggering from small lean spots in our fuel map. The result was poor acceleration performance and a disappointing 44th overall in the morning session.
In the afternoon, we remove the right front headlight to let some fresh air into the engine bay and disable the lean protection fuel cut. Road America's tight, short track configuration is used in for the day's second session, and we use our short wheelbase to grab 11th place. As we clean up in the paddock, we meet a lot of fans who have come to see the assortment of hardware being put to the test this year. Luckily for us, one of them offers us the use of his custom motorcycle fabrication shop just an hour south of the track. We gladly accept and soon afterward arrive at Keene Cycles and Kustoms, which is equipped with tools, metalworking equipment and a TIG welder - hood vented, utility trailer repaired and intercooler reservoir upgraded to a 48-quart Coleman cooler.
Day 3: Pacific Junction, Iowa
This brings us to the fuel tank straps failing in the middle of the night, somewhere outside Oklahoma City on our way to Mid America Motorplex in Iowa. Fortunately, the little utility trailer we're towing behind the EG is loaded with spare parts and enough tie-down straps to secure the fuel tank. Our late-night roadside repair has cost us a lot of time, though, so by the time we arrive at Mid America, I've missed my chance to walk the track. I study the track map as best I can, but my first session is a bit slow, some corners catching me out completely. Still, my lap times aren't so bad, and we place 17th overall in the morning.
I study the track map again with four laps of experience under my belt, while interested fans crowd around the Civic. After a magazine interview and some video footage, I get my second chance. This session works out better and I go faster than expected. The Civic eats up a 400hp turbocharged Porsche Cayman S ahead of us and we grab a 12th overall finish. As we hit the road for Oklahoma, Will and I are in good spirits again, the One Lap standings show us in 13th overall and first in Econo class. We push on, hoping to arrive before midnight and get to sleep in a bed for a few hours before the next round.
Day 4: Jennings, Oklahoma
We managed to show up early at Hallett Motor Racing Circuit, and Will pedals two laps on his bicycle. That recon, in addition to the hours of YouTube in-car video he watched the night before, gives him the confidence needed to break into the top 10.
The Civic captures seventh overall in both sessions, with some wheel-to-wheel action with the same Cayman and a turbo Mazda5. The Cayman driver recognized us from Mid America and quickly let Will pass, but the Mazda blocked for a lap and even slammed the door shut on our poor little Civic entering a high-speed corner. Keeping his cool, Will stayed out of harm's way and eventually made the pass.
Since today is a double-header, instead of packing up and making another long commute, we cross town to Tulsa Raceway and the drag race challenge. In the paddock, everyone seems to agree that it's not worth breaking a driveshaft on the drag launch when we're only halfway through this eight-day motorsports marathon. Will suits up for the e.t. run, and we discuss launch strategy. At the line, we launch from 4000 rpm and the motor bogs on the sticky VHT-treated surface. The quarter-mile goes by in 13.7 seconds at 111 mph. Next is the bracket race, and we decide to dial in a 14.0. I take the wheel and line up for my first drag race ever. Somehow I run a 14.2, followed by another two 14.2s. The consistency pays off, and we're in the quarterfinals, where I red light by a mere 0.05 seconds.
Day 5: Madison, Illinois
We arrive early at Gateway International Raceway. It's 6 am and I'm eating a breakfast sandwich that I suspect was prepared entirely in a microwave. Will is passed out on the table, his triple dose of caffeine pills having finally worn off. While inspecting the trailer at one of our fuel stops last night, we noticed that we were missing one of the large Tupperware containers that we pack equipment inside. To be more specific, it was our jack that was inside, and now its somewhere on Interstate 44.
Borrowing a jack, we double-checked the straps holding the fuel tank before I prepared to attack the "roval" (what they call a road course that uses part of an oval track). The morning session is smooth, and I work up my speed on the banked portion of the track to finish 12th overall. The afternoon is shaping up to be fast, and I want to use the aerodynamic advantage we have from our big front splitter and rear wing on the high-speed turns. Unfortunately, due to an ECU reset, the lean-cut protection is re-enabled and I bog the engine hard on the launch. Instantly knowing what had caused it, I try to keep the revs high to avoid lean spots. Although not ideal, the session is fast, and we beat a Porsche GT3 to land eighth overall in the afternoon. For the first time, we slide into 10th overall in the One Lap standings.
Day 6: Lexington, Ohio
We're into the second half of our 3,480-mile journey, and we're running low on energy. Carelessly, we sleep through both our alarm clocks and are late to arrive at the legendary Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Luckily, we're able to get out in our run group and don't lose any points. Will chats with a track veteran and is able to improve on his morning performance, moving up from 17th to 7th during the afternoon session. This proved to be a strong enough performance to move us up one more spot in the standings to ninth overall and a solid first in Econo class. People are starting to notice our little hatchback gridding with the top dogs, and there are always fans stopping by our paddock.
Day 7: Millville, New Jersey
We cruised through 846 miles of beautiful scenery to arrive at our hotel for a 3.5-hour power nap. Feeling refreshed, we quickly run through the routine that has become second nature this week: unhitch trailer and empty car; check tire pressures, oil level and coolant level; add ice to intercooler reservoir, prime reservoir pump; remove headlight, tape hood shut; and change into race suit.
I have a weekend of Redline Time Attack under my belt at the Lightning circuit at New Jersey Motorsports Park, so I'm eager to capitalize on my experience. It only takes one lap to fall into a good rhythm as I slide the Civic over the familiar asphalt. At the end of the long front straight, I'm so deep into fifth gear that the shift lights are flashing. I'm definitely over 125 mph. As I get on the brakes and the nose dives, I hear a loud bang, followed by heavy scraping. It's the splitter scraping, one of the mounts having failed. It bottoms every braking zone, and as the speeds rise it oscillates so hard that the steering wheel is nearly jumping out of my hands. Knowing that my cumulative time is scored, I check up a little and carry on to complete the full session. Still, I grab seventh overall, which is bittersweet because I wonder how much faster it would have been without the broken splitter. The afternoon competition heats up, and although I end up catching and lapping a C6 Z06, I'm not able to improve my position and finish eighth. But all these top 10s are adding up, and we move into eighth overall in the standings.
Day 8: Garrettsville, Ohio
Although we've been warned about increased police patrol during One Lap transits, we didn't think we'd have anything to worry about. To stay out of boost and reduce wear on the 188-hp/liter motor, we transit at a slow and steady 55-60 mph. Turns out our offense wasn't speed related, all we did was exit the entry lane of a gas station and we were caught in the act. The officer let us off with a warning and was friendly enough to let us photograph the "crime scene."
We know we've arrived at Nelson Ledges when we begin to see tires. This track is supposedly the first to use nothing but tire walls, and if you ever see it, you'll believe it. The track itself is quite old and bumpy, the surface being older than either of us. Will's track walk is leisurely as each corner is intimately familiar from a Lemons race last fall. Our twin-charged D pulls strong down the back straight, flirting with the rev limiter in fifth. Down the front straight, the bumps are so bad that Will is bouncing out of the driver seat and has to brace himself with the steering wheel. But three consistent laps later, we finish sixth overall in the session. The Econo class championship is now mathematically secured, so Will could have backed off in the afternoon, but that's not our style. Will picks up speed, finishing in fifth place, better than all but a GT-R, Porsche GT2 and a couple Corvettes. For the first time, we've beaten the 450hp BMW 325 and a veteran in a WRX STI.
Day 9: South Bend, Indiana
It's an odd feeling returning to the same location after 3,480 miles, especially when barely more than a week has passed. We reminisce about our anxious arrival in this very parking lot full of stickered racing machines. No longer are they unfamiliar objects but the personification of the very drivers who have traveled (and sometimes lived) in them. We left as eager lap pups, and now we return as weary but smiling lap dogs.
Having completed the dry skidpad without incident, the official final standings are announced. We are honored to receive our Economy Car class and eighth overall trophies from the legend himself, Brock Yates Sr. After the ceremony, when we're asked if we enjoyed ourselves and have we thought about next year, the big question isn't, "Will we return?" but "What will we drive?"