All Hail the King

By Sarah Young
Jan 6, 2009 | Honda | Posted in Shop Work | From the April 2008 issue | Never miss an article

Fire! Fire!”

Beavis chanted these words in a now-banned episode of “Beavis and Butt-Head” as he watched a building go up in flames. His clenched fists, pronounced underbite and erratic eyebrows all underscored his intense desire for burning destruction.

It’s safe to imagine a miniature version of the animated character perched on the shoulder of each member of the Hong Norr team, influencing their actions. That would explain the cartoonish looks and poop-joke name of Hong Norr’s $2007 Challenge entry, the s00p3rturd. That would also explain the—ahem—incident during the $2006 Challenge involving a Chrysler 600 convertible, a set of fire-breathing bull horns, and the Gainesville fire department.

The next morning, after the sirens and flames of the incident had died down, Hong Norr team member Mike White received a call on his cell phone from his father, who had caught wind of the happenings.

Dad: “Well, apparently you’re not in jail.”

Mike: “Nope.”

Dad: “Did you spend the night in jail?”

Mike: “Nope.”

Dad: “It might have done you some good.”

After this conversation, Mike says he immediately relived those “I’m not mad at you, I’m just really disappointed” conversations from high school. But it turns out guilt can be inspirational. Out of the ashes of this incident came an idea for the theme of the team’s next Challenge car.

Mike and teammate Wayne Cusson decided to make a Richard Petty Superbird-inspired Challenge entry for 2007 to once again make Dad proud. “Dad has always been a huge Richard Petty fan, and we were actually at the FireCracker 400 in 1984 when he scored his 200th win,” Mike recalls. “In no time, talk of Petty Blue paint, a monstrous wing and a big 43 on the roof ensued.”

In short, thanks to Hong Norr’s collective love of cyberspace, Richard Petty, poop jokes and dear old Dad, they quickly christened their entry for the Kumho Tires Grassroots Motorsports $2007 Challenge Presented by eBay Motors and CDOC as the s00p3rturd.

Petty in Blue

The car cleaned up nicely at the Challenge autocross; coming in second to a sucker car ain’t so bad.

Richard Petty’s Superbird is an iconic piece of automotive machinery. The famed bullet-nosed racer started as a 1970 Plymouth Road Runner that received an absurdly large rear wing. This piece performed a key aerodynamic function: keeping the tires glued to the ground at high speeds. Other aerodynamic enhancements included a wedge nose, retractable headlights as well as a flush, convex rear window.

The King and his Superbird took 18 NASCAR wins in 1970. Fellow Mopar driver Bobby Isaac claimed that year’s NASCAR Grand National title in a similar aero-body car, while Petty protégé Pete Hamilton won the season-opening Daytona 500 in another. The formula was a success.

After that year, however, horsepower restrictions were placed on the Superbird and its aero-bodied cousins, including the Ford Torino Talladega and Dodge Charger Daytona. The new rules rendered the cars uncompetitive.

Like “Beavis and Butt-Head,” the cars were still legal, but the good stuff had been removed. Where’s the fun in that? Still, the winged wonders—Petty’s blue one in particular—have been stuck in the race fan’s consciousness ever since their debut.

Pretty on the Inside

continues in the cockpit, as Petty blue paint was applied inside and out of the sOOp3rturd.

While there’s really nothing turdlike about the Hong Norr s00p3rturd, the car did have some humble beginnings. Wayne adopted the orphaned 1994 Civic EX after a friend decided to no longer pursue it as an autocross project. At the time, the car had the rough looks of an automotive Oliver Twist.

Fast-forward to today, and the car cleaned up nicely. “There was a new set of rules this year,” Mike explains. “If George was going to step up and paint this thing, we needed to make it look right. Nothing could be half-assed.”

While the engine and transmission were out of the car, Wayne pressure washed and painted everything: transmission, block, throttle body, intake manifold and so on. Mike also did a good deal of pressure washing, Scotch-Briting and scuffing as he tackled the engine bay and the interior. Tom Shuman stripped the car so they could access the hard-to-reach spots.

This was a big change from past efforts. “Hell, we had never even gone so far as to use a can of Engine Brite on any of our previous Challenge entries,” Mike admits.

Petty on the Outside

The Civic now wears a hue that would make The King proud. Its body gleams in a high-gloss Petty Blue, a special color whipped up by a local supplier. Hong Norr was able to color their entire car for about $150 using inexpensive paints from Wanda, a new manufacturer.

Applying the paint wasn’t as simple as acquiring it, however. Tom had to strip the body, removing anything and everything that wasn’t to be painted blue, while fellow Hong Norrer George Garcia painstakingly sprayed the car inside and out. George’s paint job took the better part of two weeks.

“Understandably, George now hates this car more than anyone has ever hated a car in the history of hating cars,” Mike says. “He spent a solid 16 hours on the roof alone.”

Most of George’s work was the result of one simple fact: The car originally had a sunroof. Another Civic donated the roof material that formed the plug. For the torch work, they recruited friend and experienced welder Dave Hardy.

After the transplant was said and done, there was good news and bad news. “The good news was that the sunroof was welded in place, and was guaranteed never to leak,” Mike explains. “The bad news was that while Dave had welded turbo manifolds, roll cages and the like, he had never done any sort of body welding. The roof wasn’t just wavy, it was borderline destroyed.”

George’s work on the roof began with hammering the panel flat. To shrink the the pounded metal back to size, it was alternately heated and then quickly cooled with a wet rag. George bonded two aluminum braces to the panel to hold it in place during blocking. He then attacked the roof with 40-grit sandpaper and filled in the low spots with filler.

Before the filler dried, he armed himself with an old-school shaping tool: a cheese grater. This was followed by more filler, more 40-grit paper and an airfile—with a few beers mixed in, he says.

Some more long hours with primer, filler and gradually finer sandpaper completed the job, but not without some frustration on George’s part. “I blocked once again with 320 while telling myself, ‘I’m gonna kill Dave Hardy. Ass clown!’ But once it was painted nice and shiny, it was great,” George admits.

More effort was given to making the car’s exterior look smooth and stylized. “I thought it would be nice to paint the headlights and wheels white, especially because the used 13-inch Diamonds that we’ve used for the last four years were looking really rugged,” Mike explains. “Plus, I figured anything that made the car look more cartoonish or toy-like would generate more laughs and interest from our fellow competitors.”

But we can’t talk about the s00p3rturd’s looks without drooling over its pièce de résistance—the goal-sized wing adorning its trunk. While the wing blends in seamlessly with the rest of the car, it only looks metallic. In reality it’s made out of half-inch Gatorfoam, an ultra-rigid extruded polystyrene foam board sandwiched between two layers of wood-fiber veneer.

Mike, who co-owns a framing shop with his wife, used the skills of his trade to shape the pieces using a hand mat-cutter at work. The whole contraption is held together with four deck screws. Understandably, the wing is mostly for appearances and doesn’t stay on the car while it’s in motion.

It’s attached to the easily removable trunk lid, which the team sets aside before the car hits the track. The license plate is actually positioned inside the trunk so that it’s visible when the lid is removed.

Hong Norr Enterprises

g Hong Norr in spirit, as a miniature version of his iconic machine was on hand between runs.

Living next-door to a Pull-A-Part came in handy for Wayne. During one of his weekly visits to the boneyard he rounded up a couple pounds of brass replacement bolts that were used to make the engine bay look classy. Plus, he scored them for free. He also amassed a pile of equipment over the years, meaning he had a good supply of inexpensive, used aftermarket suspension bits, turbos, superchargers, intercoolers and the like.

Wayne also scored the Civic’s tires during one of his monthly searches through Hoosier’s discontinued Web listings. He picked up pair of A3S05 autocross tires for the front, while the rears came from a friend. “Our fellow E Prepared competitor Marko Horn provided us with a crusty pair of Hoosiers at no charge that he had removed when he upgraded to slicks,” Mike says.

Wayne and fellow Hong Norrer Kevin Boswell gathered various turbo bits from the Internet. A trial run alerted them to the fact that they needed improved fuel management, and eBay pulled through. They found a cheap chip that promised to retard the ignition timing one degree per psi of boost while eliminating the VTEC. The team decided to take the chip’s word for it. “We’re not big fans of $20 electronic black voodoo magic, but the chip seems to work okay,” Mike says.

No Restrictor Plates Here

As a change of pace from past Challenge efforts, Hong Norr decided to put some elbow grease—and a lot of Scotch-Brite—into shining up the engine bay.

The only thing the s00p3rturd seems to have in common with fecal matter is that is goes like stink. After eventually discovering that a loose intercooler pipe was limiting boost to only 4 psi, Wayne took the car out for a gut-wrenching test drive.

“Once he got back to the house, he immediately called me,” Mike says. “He was yelling, ‘Dude, the gauge showed 14 psi, and it scared the living poop out of me! I finally understand the meaning behind rowing through the gears!’”

Hong Norr recruited Bill Bounds, a friend and fellow autocrosser, to dodge the cones during the $2007 Challenge. He had agreed to wheel the car several months earlier, but the Civic wasn’t ready for a test drive until the night before the team left for the Challenge.

Bill took the car to a nearby parking lot for a couple of last-minute laps and quickly found it was powerful enough to set off several car alarms. Mike recounts Bill’s reaction: “He pulled beside me, obviously shaking, and said, ‘Man, it feels really good!’”

Despite Bill’s late start with the car, he and the s00p3rturd managed to earn second place in the autocross portion of the Challenge. At the end of the weekend, the team finished second overall, just barely beaten by a team of professional engineers.

Continuing a Legacy

Next time out, Hong Norr would like to solve some of the problems they had with the car. Their turbo manifold cracked during the autocross after only a mile and a half’s worth of use, and they encountered some traction issues.

“We really wanted to do more ‘Hong-norious’ stuff this year, but there simply wasn’t time,” Mike tells us, referring to the team’s usually offbeat antics and mechanics. They’re sure to make up for this at the $2008 Challenge. Just keep it clean, guys.

1994 Honda Civic$75.00
paint and supplies$155.64
used tranny$33.83
eBay ECU$21.00
vinyl graphics$58.32
wheels and tires$375.00
eBay turbo and related parts$591.62
misc. parts$183.26

Painter George’s Tips and Tricks

It’s hard not to double take when you first see the s00p3rturd’s paint job, and a lot of that is thanks to some intensive work by Hong Norr team member George Garcia. Paint runs through his veins, and he has a few tips to share on how to pull off a great paint job.

  1. If you don’t know how to use an air tool, don’t learn on your project. You could ruin days worth of work. Hand tools work great for starting. Blocking by hand will always give you better results than an air sander.
  2. When spraying paint, slow is better. Try to use slow reducers and hardeners as they’ll limit the possibility of zebra stripes. Also, metallics lay better, while clear flows better and leaves fewer dry spots. Remember, a run is easier to fix than a dry spot.
  3. Before buffing, spend plenty of time sanding. Start with 1200-grit sandpaper and a semirigid foam block. Follow with 1500, then finish with 3000. This will reduce buff time by more than half and make the finish look like glass.
  4. Buffing is a step with a lot of potential for impact. For a painter, a buffer is like an eraser on a pencil—don’t be afraid to use it. If you buff within a week of sanding, use a foam (waffle) pad to eliminate swirls. The end results will be worth jaw drops.
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4/28/11 11:14 a.m.

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