HPD Blog

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


My name’s Stephan Papadakis, and I race a Honda Ridgeline.

I race the Ridgeline – actually, it’s a tube-frame chassis with a Honda K24 engine and a fiberglass Ridgeline body – in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series Pro Lite Unlimited class. It’s short-course, off-road racing, which is kind of like Supercross dirt bike racing, only with four wheels.

It has tight turns and huge jumps – doubles, tabletops, even whoops and moguls. Unlike desert off-road racing, in which vehicles leave the starting line in 30-second or one-minute intervals, this is much more like road racing, with 15 to 20 trucks in wheel-to-wheel action.

I got into short course, off-road last year after competing and doing well in drag racing, drifting and road racing. Short course has some interesting engineering challenges. You need to build a powerful engine and drive train and gearing that will hold up to the pounding. You’ve got to have reliability, because the engines are pretty highly strung to make the necessary power. They also take a huge beating every time you land from a jump – sometimes we’re flying 100 feet. And the cooling system is packed away to protect it from dirt and rocks, so the engines don’t get a lot of cooling. There are a lot of difficult factors to overcome in order to have a good package.

From a driving perspective, it’s like road racing, because you’ve got multiple left and right turns – although they change every lap. Then, you’ve got obstacles in the form of jumps, and competitors that have no problem with sticking their bumpers into your doors. It’s wheel-to-wheel and very competitive. You’re drifting through the turns and sliding around, while still trying to stay quick.

I do all of this in a truck that has a 106-inch wheelbase, weighs 2,800 pounds and has 12 inches of suspension travel at the front and 14 inches at the rear. The rules are pretty restrictive, and all the trucks must fit in the same box. It’s practically spec with respect to the chassis, which is purpose-built from the ground up, from round and square tubing.

The engine sits just about where the passenger would sit. Because we’re flying these trucks over big jumps, they need to be well-balanced, so they don’t land hard on the front or rear. The engine is based on a 2.4-liter K24 such as you would find in an Accord or Element – including a carburetor per the rules – and it drives the rear wheels.

Mine is the only Honda in the field. Although some of the buggies – which are kind of like off-road Formula cars – run Honda power, I’m driving the only Honda-powered truck. The reason is that our race team has always been about doing more innovative stuff. The motor that has been the competitive engine package is quite old, quite developed, and it’s not how we like to go racing. So, we looked around and decided the K24 engine has parts availability, it’s a current platform and it has tons of potential.

At the same time, it’s something to talk about. It’s a Honda Ridgeline out on the track. We wanted to do something different and we want to go out there and compete with a different combination.

I also have a long history with Honda. I started professional import drag racing in my early twenties in a Civic. In my drag career I won three championships, set numerous ET records and held the titles of World’s Quickest Honda, World’s Fastest front-wheel drive – among others – and set numerous firsts, such as first Honda to break 200 mph.

In 2005, I went drifting with a Honda S2000 and was named Formula D Rookie of the Year. I’ve also road-raced Hondas in the National Autosport Association’s Honda Challenge.

The Honda Ridgeline Pro Lite truck in short course, off-road is just the next step in my motorsports career driving Hondas. I look forward to hopefully claiming Honda’s first championship in the sport.

Look for Stephan Papadakis and the Honda Ridgeline when the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series goes to Glen Helen Raceway in San Bernardino Calif., in August; Las Vegas Motor Speedway in November, or visits the Phoenix area in September and December. You can also catch the series on CBS, SPEED Channel or Versus.

And if you’re a racer in a Honda or with Honda power, don’t forget to register for the Honda Racing Line program at www.hondaracingline.com.

Honda Racing Line is proud to offer original equipment replacement parts, performance parts and crate engines to Honda and Acura grassroots racers in the entry-level through professional ranks.

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