How to turn a wrecked Honda S2000 into an autocross monster

By Scott Lear
Feb 11, 2023 | Honda, Autocross, S2000 | Posted in Features | From the Nov. 2018 issue | Never miss an article

Photography by Perry Bennett unless otherwise credited; Lead by Rupert Berrington

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Grassroots Motorsports.]

Jesse Waymire was raised on two wheels. From age 10 onward, he rode dirt bikes, restored motorcycles, and later tracked his Honda Super Hawk. Although his dad drag races a tube-framed Camaro, Jesse spent his younger years exploring the limit on just two contact patches.

I was out on the road doing a lot of really stupid, really fast stuff,” Jesse now admits. He found that time spent tracking a motorcycle tempered the more reckless parts of his brain, and altered the way he rode on the street. “You start thinking, Hey, that’s a tree there,” he says. “A car could pull out.” 

After the tragic losses of a couple of friends in motorcycle accidents, he decided that having a crash structure might not be the worst idea. So in 2009, at the age of 23, Jesse made the switch to four wheels via a used Ford Mustang. He was addicted to the favorable power-to-weight ratio of motorcycles, so to make up for the Mustang’s added mass he found one that had already been supercharged. 

Jesse still craved competition, so when a friend’s brother suggested autocross, Jesse was intrigued: Cone dodging sounded fun, and he could afford to do it twice a month without straining his budget. In 2010 Jesse debuted his supercharged Mustang in the popular Street Modified class.

My first event I spun four or five times,” he laughs. “One of the locals nicknamed me Vaughn Gittin Jr.” 

His torque-amplified pony car was desperate to liquefy its aging rear rubber, but Jesse had a blast. Still, he was eager to do more than just slide around, so he saved some money and chose his first upgrade carefully: “I bought a set of old Hankook R-S3s. Suddenly I was in the top three in raw times.”

Unfortunately, the Mustang was never going to run against the top cars on the national level, where it faced more nimble machines like the Nissan 240SX, BMW M3 and Nissan GT-R. “At the time I was running the Mustang–this was right before the CAM class came out–I was trying to be competitive,” he continues. “I spent a lot of money.” The desire to compete in the big leagues had him browsing craigslist for a new angle.

High-Revving Rollover Resurrection

“Several other guys locally were fast in Street Touring R Honda S2000s, so I was looking for those,” Jesse explains. In early 2014 he found one that was wrecked, but had a clean title. Maybe he could build something radical from that wreck?

The S2000 had clearly been rolled, but the majority of the damage was on the driver’s side, including a badly deranged rear wheel and the crunched top. “I immediately dragged out the rulebook to look at Prepared classing and thought, ‘It might work’” Jesse says.

When Jesse found it, this S2000 was a sad sight covered in bumps and bruises. Photography Credit: Courtesy Jesse Waymire

Jesse contacted the S2000’s owner. “I told him I couldn’t pay more than two grand for the car because I was gonna chop it up into a race car anyway,” Jesse explains. “He was trying to get me to put it back to stock; he said it’d be worth about $8000. I said if you get it closer to $2000, I’ll be more interested. He called back 30 minutes later; his wife said $2300 and you can have it.”

Jesse pitched his plan for the S2000 to his boss, a fellow enthusiast, in the hopes of enlisting a co-owner to help break up the cost. “He said yeah before I even told him the price,” Jesse remembers. The duo checked out the car in person, and while it wouldn’t start, they were able to turn the engine over by hand. They loaded the Honda onto a trailer and brought it back to Jesse’s place.

A quick eBay scan turned up the axles, control arms and knuckles required to rebuild the smashed suspension, and within a week of purchase they had a rolling chassis. The battery was still alive, and every time Jesse turned the key in order to free the steering wheel, the car would beep incessantly. “I got mad at it and hit that start button like 50 times,” he remembers, “and it finally turned over. Then it started. I was pretty happy with that.”

The Mustang’s days were numbered at that point. “The last thing I bought for the Mustang was a set of struts that cost more than I ended up paying for the S2000,” says Jesse. 

He set an early-April target for the Honda’s first event, so the early months of 2014 were spent patching up the broken bits and chopping off anything that wasn’t going to help the car go faster. The sacrifice list included the folding top, air conditioning, and the interior. Jesse tried to save money by employing used components wherever practical, although he splurged on new pieces for wear-critical items like the spherical bushings and fuel system. He fetched some Koni race dampers during his last autocross with the Mustang. 

The most noticeable visual change was the removal of the A-pillars and windshield, a modification that gives the S2000 a distinct streamliner profile. “Honda had a horribly ingenious window roll bar,” Jesse says. “Three tubes pressed into each other, each about a quarter-inch thick, so three-quarters at the bottom. I went through like four Sawzall blades. A 5-incher did the trick.”

He cut the fenders to accommodate wider rubber. Fender flares were added to the to-do list, but the chopped windscreen, dented panels, rough-cut edges and faded-black paint gave the Honda a decidedly rough aesthetic. “An angle grinder is the song of my people,” Jesse grins.


Trial by Throttle

At this point Jesse had all the necessary components to pass tech and run his lightweight F Prepared autocross creation. Just four months after its purchase, he debuted the car at a local Wiregrass Region SCCA event. The engine “smoked like hell” for the first few runs, he recalls, but the issue resolved itself before the end of the day. Despite subpar braking performance on mystery pads, the Honda finished sixth out of 60 cars in raw time. 

“It was such a different feel,” Jesse recalls. “It doesn’t accelerate nearly as fast as my Mustang, which is about 460 horsepower, 3600 pounds. It’s 205 horsepower and 2300 pounds for the S2000; when I got it into the corner, I had no idea where the grip limits were. We didn’t have the alignment set up right.”

Jesse upgraded to some decent brake pads for his next local event, and was rewarded with second overall behind a shifter kart. The next month, he and buddy Wes Hughson co-drove the Honda up to Atlanta for a Match Tour event, the car’s first taste of national-level competition. 

It fared okay in the dry on day one, but rain on day two spectacularly  suited the car and its pilots. “We set first and second in overall times for the day,” Jesse remembers. “The times just kept going down and down and down. It was interesting the amount of grip we had in the rain.” 

Jesse ended up winning the Club Shootout overall, although Wes had the quickest time. “I didn’t think within a month and a half of starting to compete we’d win something,” Jesse adds.

In the years following, the car has had many ups and downs, but each fault tends to bring its share of upgrades or improvements. Just two months after its first win, they killed the engine. “Somebody said, ‘Hey Jesse, your engine’s knocking.’ I checked the dipstick and there was no oil at all,” Jesse recalls. “We drained the fluid–it basically ate the No. 2 rod bearing and took a piston with it.”

A three-hour drive to Georgia yielded a $400 bottom end with low compression on one cylinder. Jesse tore down the engine to discover a slightly bent valve above the ailing cylinder. They swapped on their good head from the previous engine and everything seemed fine.

“It had great compression,” he continues. “We ran it four or five events, put the new AEM computer in it, had it dynoed, and it made great power.”

And then that new setup made its competition debut. “I took it to its first event and promptly blew it up,” he continues. “Took the valve cover off: Number one’s just dead.”

Jesse’s post-mortem quickly diagnosed the cause: “You know how the lash adjusters are on the lock nut? It was missing the nut off the lash adjuster. I didn’t tighten it down enough, it fell off, into the valve spring, cocked it over, and completely destroyed the engine.” 

Jesse’s Honda was built for the 2000 model year and, as such, came with the 2.0-liter engine. The S2000 got a 2.2-liter engine starting for its 2004 model year, and Jesse scored one of those engines from someone doing an LS swap. It was a budget hit at $2500, but fortunately that engine has been running steadily since installation.

The increased displacement yields more torque, but Honda chopped the redline by 1000 rpm. To replace some lost performance, Jesse runs the camshafts from the earlier S2000. “The only thing not stock is the AP1 cams. They have more lift, didn’t do much for horsepower, but added 5 pound-feet of torque in the midrange,” he says. “If I’m at Lincoln, I turn it up to 8900 rpm. That’s about 68 to 69 miles an hour–good for the Nationals course. Most of the others turn it to 8600.” Thanks to its 9000 rpm redline, he adds, the 2.0-liter engine can run up to about 71 mph.

Going Steady

Now that there’s a reliable engine under the hood, Jesse has been steadily optimizing and improving the car while racking up solid finishes on the national scene. After his co-owner suffered a shoulder injury, Jesse bought his share to assume full ownership of the S2000.

Some upgrades simply replaced older, worn components: Jesse removed the slop found in the stock front control arm bushings with a spherical bearing kit from Ballade Sports. 

After watching in-car video, Jesse noticed that his co-driver, who was posting faster times, was moving his hands a great deal more quickly. Jesse wasn’t sure he could up his own hand speed, so he decided to add a steering quickener to do the work instead. Initially he tried a 2:1 ratio quickener, but he found that too twitchy in the slaloms, so he settled on a 1.5:1 unit from Speedway Motors.

Many of the aesthetic improvements have actually come from his desire to clean up the airflow around the car; the simple aluminum sheet bulkhead behind the driver’s seat, for example, not only adds to the streamliner look, it also cleans up the airflow as it heads to the large rear spoiler. He installed a hood vent just forward of the front wheel centerline and a simple splitter plate below the bumper to help reduce lift and minimize understeer.

The understeer problem ended up having another culprit; Jesse never had a good baseline for the stock ride height, and since most owners measure the ride from the fender edge to the ground, such a metric was useless on his chopped-up car. He had softened the front so much the rear tires were lifting, but he finally got some genuine measurements compared to another S2000 and found his car was about an inch too high in the rear. Recalibrating the setup with a lowered tail resolved many of his issues.

At Solo Nationals a couple of years ago, Jesse grenaded the stock gear-type differential on the car. A fellow racer had a spare, so Jesse performed the swap, but a couple of weeks later he saw an OS Giken clutch-type differential for sale. He decided that the upgrade would insure against future failures.

For 2017, Jesse focused on shedding as much rotational mass as possible by addressing the stock brakes. Years before, 3R Racing had offered an ultra-lightweight wave disc setup for the S2000, but the kit was long since discontinued. A friend of Jesse’s owns one of these kits, though, and took detailed measurements. Jesse was able to piece together a near-recreation using parts found via the Wilwood website: a Mustang drag racing hat, an Ultralite 32 Vane Scalloped rotor, and DynaPro Lug Mount forged billet four-piston calipers. 

“The stock discs were 14 or 15 pounds,” Jesse says. “These were 7 pounds apiece. The calipers are 2 or 3 pounds apiece versus like 14 [pounds] stock.” 

A used set of individual throttle bodies from Urge designs set him back $1900, but that’s considerably cheaper than a new setup–and the upgrade was worth 10 horsepower and 10 lb.-ft. of torque. Tuning the car for the new setup on his now-vintage AEM computer took awhile, but once he reset the VTEC cam switchover to a much lower rpm at less throttle, the car revved happily from the midrange to its shrieking redline.

Prepared for Fun

Jesse’s creation, which he lovingly calls the POS2000, is barely recognizable from its once post-apocalyptic condition. A $300 wrap kit covers most of the visual blemishes, the flares are now in place, and Jesse’s general approach to sorting and improving despite setbacks is obvious anywhere you look on this Honda. At last year’s Tire Rack SCCA Solo National Championships, he nabbed the final trophy spot by finishing fifth out of 14 entrants. Amy Dilks drove the car to the F Prepared Ladies national title.

Jesse is proud of the fact that he’s only invested $15,000 into the car to date. “Not many autocross cars that have that little in them are in contention to win,” he notes. And he’s happy to be an active member in the SCCA community, where he serves as an officer in the Wiregrass Region and as a member of the Prepared Advisory Committee. To top it off, you’ll rarely find Jesse running his S2000 alone, as he loves inviting other drivers to give it a go. “I enjoy sharing it and getting other drivers’ perspectives of it,” he says. Just make sure you bring goggles if you have an open-faced helmet.

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livinon2wheels GRM+ Memberand New Reader
8/21/22 5:16 p.m.

I want one to run at vir

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