Updated July 2020: This is definitely not the type of update we enjoy giving, but in the grand scheme of things the situation could have been much worse. On July 8th at the Pacific Raceways' drag strip in Kent, Wash., the world renowned SpeedFactory Racing Outlaw Class 1992 Honda Civic CX hatchback and its driver, SF co-owner and car builder James Kempf, were making one final attempt at resetting their own FWD world record before retiring the car. According to SpeedFactory, the car got loose at the top end of the track and struck the wall; we learned later the car actually hit the early turnout opening barriers on the right side of the strip, an impact so forceful it initially knocked out Kempf.
After getting cut out of the car by emergency personnel, James was transported to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where the physical toll of the accident (mostly on his right side, he says) was assessed, including internal swelling/pain in the right knee, three broken ribs, minor lung puncture with a small air pocket outside the lung, broken shoulder blade, and a bruised carotid artery in his neck (this last injury is particularly concerning due to the potential for clotting). He admits to not being able to remember much of the run, which could very well change as time passes, but still has the presence of mind to issue sorrys to his "partners, teammates, family, and everyone that was affected by this accident," as well as look ahead to "the next chapter. "
As for the Civic, it does not seem salvageable. We've included in the gallery photos from SpeedFactory Racing's Facebook that illustrate graphically the extent of the damage to the hatchback; as many commenters observed, the safety equipment did its critical job, but the record-setting Honda is now only a mangled carcass. The 2.0L B-Series EH Civic hatch will be remembered for being the world's quickest and fastest FWD and the first and only stock unibody FWD car to break the 200mph barrier, which it initially accomplished on 2014. Its best elapsed time and trap speed were 7.477 seconds and 215.48 mph, respectively, and the Civic is widely accepted as one of the vehicles that pushed FWD drag cars to the next level. Indeed, SpeedFactory built its reputation on the success of the car, and it truly feels like the end of an era. The story that follows is our feature from 2013 on the Outlaw Class hatchback before it broke 200mph.
By most accounts, 179 mph is fast. And by most accounts, to do so in about 8.8 seconds is nothing short of remarkable. Those were the digits that the Pacific Northwest's SpeedFactory Racing 1992 Civic CX hatchback chalked up for itself eight years ago, and those were the numbers that compelled SpeedFactory co-owner James Kempf and crew—who've never been ones to rest on their laurels—to target uncharted territory: low 8s.
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Despite the timeslips, Kempf says that " was the year we decided it was finally time to move away from [our] street car roots and make this thing a real race car." Although a street car only by one's wildest stretch of the imagination, a "real race car" it is now indeed. And it takes a real race car to compete within the likes of import drag racing's modern-day Outlaw class. Since its 15-week transformation, SpeedFactory's Civic has gone on to post a record-setting 8.29-second quarter-mile pass at 185.21 mph, with successive trips down the strip in excess of 190 mph—that's quicker than any Outlaw car's gone to date and faster than anything in front-wheel-drive Honda history.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that SpeedFactory's hatchback was any sort of slouch prior to all of this, though. Since its debut in 2009, Kempf and company's dominated turbo street car classes, winning almost every event they've shown face at. Later it became the first Street Comp car in the Northwest to run nines and eventually the first Outlaw car on the West Coast to break into the eights. In the words of Kempf: "This is the Outlaw car that put the Northwest on the map."
Right about now you're expecting to read a story of how difficult it was for the SpeedFactory guys to gain ground so quickly within the Outlaw ranks. You won't read that story here. Cars like the SpeedFactory Civic make it easy for writers like us to not have to reach into the predictable grab bag of automotive journalistic clich?s. You know the ones: "Timmy always wanted a Honda but couldn't afford one. When Timmy finally got his, though, the engine blew/car got stolen/transmission failed." Foretelling hard times and sob stories ensue. Poor Timmy.
Unlike Timmy, the SpeedFactory guys know what they're doing, and with the help of title sponsor Competition Clutch, they now had the means to do it. Horsepower—lots more of it—was chief among items to be addressed. Transcending from high 8s to low 8s is exponentially more difficult than getting your mother's 17-second Accord sedan into the 16s. As such, the limit of SpeedFactory's original 900-plus-horsepower B series was raised to 1,300hp and 750 lb-ft of torque—roughly eight times the engine's original output. Despite the horsepower figures, the engine block, cylinder head, and crankshaft all remain factory-issue. Whoever from Honda designed its B series some 25 years ago should be proud.
Anyone who's ever participated in organized drag racing knows that in order for any sanctioning body to acknowledge a record, the car's got to be legal. And anybody who's ever participated in organized drag racing knows that in order for the court of public opinion (i.e., the interwebz) to acknowledge a record, the pass has got to be backed up. Kempf and company took care of both of these concerns. To start, an SFI-approved 25.5-spec rollcage was fabricated into place. That along with a Stroud parachute and window net as well as a Safecraft fire-suppression system (among other things) help appease track officials. To ensure repeatability and superior data acquisition, SpeedFactory swapped its Hondata engine management system for a MoTeC M800 ECU and individual, external ignition coils. Kempf will be the first to tell you that Hondata's system is no joke and that the team fared consistently with it, but none of that was without challenges. "I had to constantly chase the tune," Kempf quips about the demands of racing at numerous tracks with varying circumstances and weather conditions. "Much of the tuning [was] raw and based on gut feelings combined with what we could see via in-car and out-of-car video footage." Under the JCR three-piece front end, the crew also elected to swap out its air-to-air intercooler for a custom liquid-to-air core that's good for up to 2,000hp. Kempf comments on what originally drew fans to the car and why the upgrades weren't as straightforward as you'd imagine: "The S300 and air-to-air setup was one of the car's biggest draws, though, and a lot of people really liked it for its pure simplicity. It showed what can be accomplished without having the best of everything out there, so making the change was kind of a difficult decision for us."
It turns out that the SpeedFactory boys are getting comfortable with change. Kempf says the alterations aren't over with and that significant engine and chassis modifications are drawing near. "Some of it might be a step backward, but at this point it's all about testing different things," he says. "As she sits right now, it should be able to run 8.20s on a great track, possibly 8.10s if we get some amazing conditions. Only time will tell. Running sevens is a bit of a stretch and seems damn near impossible, but you never know. We never thought we could do what we are doing now either."
Respect Among Stiff Competition
Securing the title: In his own words
"Being the fastest is always something you set as a goal and strive for. We've worked very hard over the last few years to not only build a professional race team but also to perform like one. We are very excited and proud of our accomplishments this year, and it's a great feeling to finally be on top. But as the old saying goes, 'There's always someone else out there that's faster.' We haven't lost any drive or motivation to keep improving and trying to go faster, and have several changes we are making in the near future to hopefully set the bar even higher. The car definitely has more in it as is, and I'll go out on a limb here and say that right now, as it sits, the car is capable of running low 8.20s and possibly even in the teens, given optimal track and weather conditions. [Chris] Miller and Tony [Palo] are both guys who we look up to, and they've both been very friendly and helpful to us and our efforts. We all share a lot of information and data to help each other go faster, and that is a great thing. I know they both have some extremely fast passes up their sleeves. They just haven't laid it down yet. But they will. And in the meantime, we will do our best to make sure we stay on top!"