Honda is well known for its commitment to American manufacturing, with several domestic auto plants and a legacy as the first Japanese manufacturer to establish a U.S. operation. Less well known are the semi-professional racing programs run by...
Honda is well known for its commitment to American manufacturing, with several domestic auto plants and a legacy as the first Japanese manufacturer to establish a U.S. operation. Less well known are the semi-professional racing programs run by and for Honda of America employees, all under the Honda of America Racing Team banner. That lack of publicity is just fine with Honda of America; these efforts reflect a commitment to invest in employees and product rather than a marketing goal.
Largest of the HART programs is the Marysville, Ohio based Grand-Am cup team. Currently campaigning a pair of electric blue Acura RSX coupes, the team began back in 1990 with a Civic SI competing in the SCCA. After several years of SCCA competition, HART took a major step forward in 1996 by purchasing a pair of ex-British Touring Car Accords to compete in the short lived North American Touring Car Championship.
These exotic racing cars generated more than 300 hp from stock based 2 liter motors, enough to power HART to 8 wins in 16 events over the series' two year existence.
According to team leader Kurt Baker, "these cars were a big change. All of a sudden we were dealing with Data Acquisition and computer modeling. One of our team members developed a modeling program to predict lap times, so we could select the right gearing."
The team progressed through World Challenge in 1998 and 1999 before settling into Grand-Am Cup for the 2000 season. Moving into Grand-Am Cup was a wise decision, rewarded with the team championship at season's end. The team is comfortable in the Grand-Am cup environment and plans to continue developing their pair of RSX. At least one past team member, though, found HART's level of competition too low. The team member who wrote the team's first modeling software back in 1996 now spends his time in Brackley, England with BAR Honda Formula One.
The Anna, Ohio Honda engine plant has its own HART program, competing in the disparate areas of autocross and drag racing. The autocross program was established back in 1995 and currently runs three cars: a 1998 Civic, a 2001 RSX, and a 2002 s2000. Their state of tune ranges from the nearly stock s2000 to the supercharged and engine swapped Civic. The team has finished as high as 2nd at the SCCA nationals and aims for victory at this year's upcoming event.
The drag racing effort is relatively new, initially focused on an Ohio built Acura CL. The team is currently constructing a tube-framed Civic dragster, turbocharged to more than 800 hp. The team will be using such tricks as a liquid-nitrogen charged intercooler in the pursuit of NHRA sport compact class victories.
The third HART program was founded by a group of Honda R & D engineers. These engineers deal with both automotive and motorcycle Honda products, so it's not surprising they compete in championships as varied as SCCA ProRally and WERA endurance motorcycle racing. The ProRally efforts have utilized the two wheel drive Acura Integra and RSX in a competition typically dominated by four wheel drive automobiles. The motorcycle program has been building towards the WERA championship; the team currently lays a close second.
The direct link between Honda of America employees and HART make these programs unique. Team members have full time Honda jobs in addition to their team obligations. This arrangement reflects Honda's belief that racing "tests our employees limits and improves our product."
All HART endeavors share one thing in common: a full staff of volunteer Honda employees. While the team members are reimbursed for their expenses, they are not compensated for any time spent on racing programs. Their efforts reflect a passion for racing.
As Tim Garrett, a Honda of America VP, explains, "Honda has a racing spirit." Honda believes that racing competition brings out the best in employees by improving their focus on preparation, ability to think quickly, and team building skills. According to Garrett, racing teaches that "no obstacle is too high to overcome."
Honda won't be bothered if HART's racing garners little public attention because HART's results will have a positive impact on the hundreds of thousands of Honda automobiles manufactured in America.