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1998 Honda Civic - Ratty Day

Dec 1, 2011
Photographer: Khai Pham

We had worked so hard to prep a car for one event and when the day arrived, we couldn’t help but wonder why? In retrospect, we had allowed this project to capture us into slavery for a full month, with no promise of gold at the end. Perhaps it was just part of being car guys and fulfilling an inner calling to continually build something new. Whatever it was that drove us here, we were just hours away from our destination and preparing to put on a show.

Ssts 110048 04+1998 honda civic ratty day+front angle Photo 6/17   |   On the shakedown pass, the Rat Wad ran a 12.969 @ 114.61 MPH.

The plan was to meet at the shop at 7:00 a.m., load the car on the trailer and get to the Auto Club Dragway in Fontana by 9:00 a.m. Well, for starters, this crew is not exactly what we’d call “punctual”, throw a few mishaps our way and “grossly tardy” might be a better description. In terms of mishaps, Old man Gary dragged himself out of bed, got ready and rolled out the door with just enough time to be at the shop his usual ten minutes late. But as he pulled out the driveway, he heard a funny noise coming from the left rear of his car. Looking down at the dash, the TPMS light was flashing. Of all the days to have a flat tire, this was not a good one. Being an old time car guy, his first thought was to fill it with air and deal with it later. Upon closer inspection, the two-inch gash across the tread told him that the tire was not going to hold air. His next thought was to use the spare. After digging it out of the hatch, he ran into the garage to grab the floorjack. As he gazed at an empty spot, he realized that he had brought it to the shop to take to the track for the event; the same went for the cordless impact gun. This was only a minor setback for OMG, after all, he could use the factory lug wrench and scissor jack. But as he went to loosen the lug nuts, he remembered that the dealership installed a set of wheel locks. Problem was that the key wasn’t anywhere to be found. If you’ve ever purchased a new car from the dealer, you might know how annoying it is when they pre-install locks on your wheels and then make you pay for them—to add insult to injury, these were protecting steel wheels and hubcaps. After unloading all his gear from the hatch, Gary finally found the key hidden deep inside the spare well. By 7:35 a.m., the old man reached the shop, already annoyed, only to find the Rat Wad on the lift and Robbie frantically working on it.

Ssts 110048 01+1998 honda civic ratty day+front angle Photo 3/17   |   1998 Honda Civic - Ratty Day

Apparently, there was a small oil leak from under the car that had to be dealt with. But there was an even bigger problem. The guy who was supposed to bring the driver’s fire jacket and helmet just called, saying that he wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t make it. Knowing that we wouldn’t be able to pass tech without these safety items, Khai had just taken off to pick up the gear from the guy’s house. The guy lived 20 minutes away, and it seemed like Khai had it under control. After a few minor tweaks, we got the leak on the Rat Wad resolved and loaded it on the trailer. By 8:20 a.m., the truck and trailer were loaded, but Khai still had not returned. After calling him, we found out that the freeway had been shut down for construction and Khai had just arrived at his destination. But beyond the traffic delay, Khai had worse news for us. He got the fire jacket but the helmet was not there. Another guy had it and was driving over to drop it off. To save valuable time, Robbie and Gary decided to gas up the tow vehicle. On the way back to the shop, Khai called again to say that he was still waiting for the helmet. By 8:55 a.m., the risk of not making the event became real and Gary made the decision to send Robbie off to the track with the truck and trailer. While the logical thing to do would have been to have Khai drive out on his own, the old man stayed behind to wait for him. As luck would have it, Khai happened to be driving Project Bad EF’r and didn’t want to leave it unattended at the track’s parking lot. Silly as it may sound, this is SoCal where modified Civics in large parking lots tend to drive off on their own. Gary still had another little problem to deal with: the temporary spare. Trying to drive out to Fontana, which is over an hour away from the west side, on a temporary donut is possible but not recommended—especially when you’re in a hurry. But since we work on a lot of Hondas, he was lucky enough to find a full-sized wheel/tire in a 4x100 bolt pattern at the shop. And this time around, the old man had air tools and a floor jack to make the job easier. In just five minutes, he had it done. Shortly after 9:20 a.m., Khai called to say that he was finally heading back. The poor guy delivering the helmet was rushing and got pulled over in his haste. Unfortunately, he got cited for multiple equipment violations along with speeding. Seriously, we are not making any of this stuff up. When things go wrong around here, they really go wrong.

Ssts 110048 02+1998 honda civic ratty day+spare tire Photo 4/17   |   Gary’s day started out with a flat tire. “Oh rats!”

By 9:45 a.m., Khai and Gary had finally jumped on the freeway. Robbie had been trucking along and finally reached the track shortly after 10:00 a.m. It was a good thing that he left when he did, because he barely made it for the driver’s meeting. The team was finally reunited as Khai and Gary reached the venue at nearly 11:00 a.m. With a stroke of luck and Robbie’s fast talking, we managed to get a last minute tech inspection done. To everyone’s disbelief, the Rat Wad passed with flying colors. In fact, it was almost disappointing not to get a chance to argue the legality of our top-exit exhaust system.

Ssts 110048 03+1998 honda civic ratty day+racing suit Photo 5/17   |   Gary and Khai arrived at the track with the driver’s helmet and fire jacket nearly two hours late.

With the morning starting out so wrong, we couldn’t help but wonder what was in store for the rest of the day. Not only did we show up with an untested car, but we also had an untested driver. Yes, even after blowing up the first motor, Robbie was insistent on piloting the new rocket. Even though the kid had two recent strikes against him, Gary made the call to let Robbie drive. While everyone was pushing for a pro driver, the old man said "This is Project Car and we have to keep it real. This is Robbie’s build and if he wants to drive it, he should drive it."

Ssts 110048 04+1998 honda civic ratty day+front angle Photo 6/17   |   On the shakedown pass, the Rat Wad ran a 12.969 @ 114.61 MPH.

With tech out of the way, our luck seemed to be taking a turn for the better. Our event, which was scheduled to start at 11:00 a.m., got pushed back to 2:00 p.m. Even better, they informed us that we could use the extra time to make a few test passes if we’d like. Weighing the risk of breaking the car against the benefits of making a test pass, we decided to roll the car out the gates, as opposed to launching it off the two-step, to see what it could do. More importantly, we wanted to see how Robbie would handle the low-boost setting of nearly 600 ponies. Lined up against a nasty little Nova, Robbie got excited and did a bit more than roll the car out of the hole. Spinning tires through the top of second gear, he clicked third and the car finally hooked. With all 600 ponies to the ground, the Rat Wad regained its ground and blew by the Nova down the stretch. While the 12.969 time on the board was unimpressive, the trap speed of 114.61 showed hope. Knowing that this was only a test pass and that the car had more in it, we were content with the results. More importantly, our novice driver now had one under his belt.

Ssts 110048 05+1998 honda civic ratty day+side view Photo 7/17   |   Robbie wanted to feel like a pro driver so he made Khai and Yamz push the car down the staging lane.

If you’ve read through this entire novel, you might recall that we had to run in the True Street class. What we haven’t mentioned is the part about driving 30 miles prior to completing three back-to-back passes down the strip—all without refueling or opening the hood. Yep, so if you take our 5 gallon race tank and subtract the 1.5 gallons needed to account for any sloshing in the tank, we’re left with 3.5 gallons to run the entire event. On the plus side, we knew that our little Honda engine could run efficiently on the cruise, but only if kept out of boost. On the downside, we also knew that the 1000cc injectors would not be efficient at idle/low RPMs and if our guesstimates were off, we could destroy our freshly-built motor.

Ssts 110048 06+1998 honda civic ratty day+open hood Photo 8/17   |   Looking like a fish out of water, the Rat Wad got its share of attention.

So to discuss a strategy, Gary gathered the group for a pow-wow. After seeing how the car reacted on the test run, the question was whether or not to raise the boost. Playing on the odds that first and second gears would be a wash, raising the boost could be beneficial. The concept was to short shift out of first and second and then pump in the wazoo boost in third gear where we could get traction. At the time, having enough gas to make the third pass was not as important as posting a decent time. So that was the strategy that we went with. When 2:00 p.m. rolled around, the True Street class hit the road, or more specifically, the California Speedway Oval. Our “Ricky Robbie” cruised the Rat Wad around the NASCAR track like a granny in a Prius, fending for himself against the occasional muscle car owner pretending to be Tony Stewart. For us, it was all about conserving gas.

Ssts 110048 07+1998 honda civic ratty day+front Photo 9/17   |   Which object is not alike?

Immediately following the cruise, the group was taken straight down the return lane to line up for the first pass. Abiding by class rules, the only adjustment we could make on the car was reducing tire pressure. For the first pass, Robbie dropped the pressure on the Mickey Thompson ET Radials to 18 psi. In the water box, Robbie launched off the two-step and held a decent burn-out. At the starting line, he looked nervous, but focused. As the tree dropped to green, the late model Mustang to his side launched hard. Nearly half a second later the Rat Wad left, spinning its tires through first and second gears. As Robbie hit third, the Wad dug in deep and rocketed forward. Just as the Mustang neared the finish line, our rodent caught the pony car and walked by it. Simultaneously, the board lit up, displaying an 11.838 @130.71mph for the Rat Wad and a 12.266 @113.54 for the Stang.

Ssts 110048 08+1998 honda civic ratty day+side Photo 10/17   |   It’s quite possible that Robbie set a record for the slowest lap at Cal Speedway. It’s all about the MPG!

On the second run, Robbie dropped the tire pressure down to 15 psi. Not knowing if there’d be enough fuel for a third run, Old Man Gary instructed him to go for broke. Robbie responded well by lighting up the Mickeys in the burn-out box. At the tree, he had heads up against the same Mustang—who was now treating this as a grudge match. As the cars launched, it looked to be a repeat of the last race. But at the top-end, the Rat Wad seemed to be gaining ground faster. As the boards lit up, we saw an 11.495 @ 137.55mph for the Rat wad and a 13.199 @ 108.12 for the Mustang. What we didn’t see was the drama going on at the far end of the track. According to Robbie, he was going so fast that the shoddy brakes on the car couldn’t stop him. As he neared the end of the track, the back of the car got light and started to come around. In hopes of keeping the car out of the wall, Robbie counter-steered, which whipped the car back around resulting in a 360 degree spin. Although none of us actually saw this, Robbie returned with the front bumper hanging off of the car. When we asked him what happened, he said that he almost crashed and then got kicked out for exceeding the 135mph rating of our 5-point rollbar. Bottom line, whether we had enough fuel for a third pass or not, we were done for the day. If you look at the results of the race, had we made a third pass, we could have possibly placed within the top two of the class (note: the winner is actually listed on the second line—the fastest car shows “DQ” next to it). Considering this was our first time out with the setup, and that our first two gears were pretty much worthless, I think we did pretty well. The car obviously has potential but could use some track time to get dialed in. Trading the DOT radials for full slicks should instantly gain us membership into the ten second club (assuming the transmission doesn’t break) but it might be more interesting to do it on the street tires.

Ssts 110048 09+1998 honda civic ratty day+tire pressure check Photo 11/17   |   By class rules, the hood could not be opened and refueling was not permitted. All Robbie could do was lower the tire pressure. Why he brought such a large tool bag remains a mystery.

Racer’s Against Street Racing (RASR) is a great organization offering safe and legal alternatives to street racing. The Racers Against Street Racing True Street Challenge that we raced in is a perfect example of one of their events. If given the opportunity to participate again, we’ll be happy to sign up. By then, hopefully our car will be better sorted and with a slighter larger capacity gas tank. For now, the Rat Wad will return to its cozy nest; we’ll be sure to update you when we pull it back out for that attempt at a ten-second run.

Ssts 110048 10+1998 honda civic ratty day+crow harness Photo 12/17   |   Looks like Robbie got the jitters.

After nearly putting the car into the wall, Robbie returned with the bumper hanging off the front of the car. We’re still trying to figure out why he pushed it all the way back. Perhaps he just wanted to add drama to the show.

Ssts 110048 13+1998 honda civic ratty day+bumper Photo 15/17   |   1998 Honda Civic - Ratty Day

On paper, you can see a difference of over .5 seconds in the reaction times of the drivers. But with enough power to trap 30 MPH faster than the steed, The Rat Wad had no problem catching him down the stretch.

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