HPD Blog

Friday, October 21, 2011

HPD Remembers Dan Wheldon

In trying to figure out how we at HPD would honor our friend Dan Wheldon, we all began to search our archives to see if we could find images and stories that would best depict the wonderful and generous man, not just the racer, we all knew. We came across an email that Dan had sent to former HPD President Robert Clarke that Dan asked to be forwarded to HPD and Honda associates. We thought we would share Dan's email with you and allow Dan's own words to truly convey the man we all had the pleasure of working with and more importantly, the pleasure of knowing over the past decade...

(Sent 12/23/2005 at 3:50 PM)

Robert,

Please, could you pass this email on to everyone at Honda and HPD.

I wanted to take the time before this holiday to thank you and everyone at Honda and HPD for all of the effort and continued hard work that was put in to help me attain my goals and realise a dream of winning both the Indianapolis 500 and the 2005 IRL Championship. I value my relationship with Honda immensely and understand that you certainly play a huge role in this.

I am also delighted to know that I will be continuing my relationship with Honda and am excited and very motivated to attain more success in a different situation. It will be strange, I must say, knowing that there will not be the competition between us and other engine manufacturers out there, I always enjoyed that.

I would also like to say how proud I was of Matt and “clutch” who worked with me this year. They always pushed me to make sure I had fine tuned everything available to me and because of that I attribute a big part of my success to them also.

I look forward to seeing you all at the track next year and wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Best wishes and thank you once again, your driver,

Dan


Now, some stories and fond memories of Dan from current and former HPD and Honda associates who had personal relationships with Dan throughout the years...

From Erik Berkman, HPD President:
"Dan was the best ambassador for Honda we could ever hope for. Not only was he a winner, but he was very engaging, and he worked tirelessly to promote Honda.

I have fond memories of meetings with Dan in the pits or engineering trailers at the track, and at HPD. But my favorite memories are from Dan's visit to Honda Hospitality. He felt comfortable there, and made everyone feel comfortable in return. The media, and friends of Honda truly looked forward for Dan and Susie to stop by to visit and relax. They were family. They still are. We will all miss Dan so very much. I hope Susie and the boys will still visit us sometime."

From Robert Clarke, former HPD President:
"My best remembrance with Dan has to be our win at the 2004 Indy Japan event at Motegi. As you know, we had failed to win the event on the 6 previous tries. We (HPD) had tried so hard and for so long to win this very important race and it had become a monkey on our back and for many a joke within the paddock. Many were wondering if we would ever win it. Dan was still a young IRL driver and the other AGR drivers always gave him a hard time (see separate story below) and they (Dario, Tony & Bryan) wanted to be the first to win this coveted race for Honda and thereby winning an even more special relationship with Honda.

Everyone was so happy when Dan won. All at HPD, HM, HGT, AGR, TRM were so happy and it was a huge celebration. When Dan visited the HM hospitality tent after the race there was a ceremony that included champagne and a beautifully prepared cake. The other AGR drivers decided to put Dan's face in it and from there it turned into a huge food fight. I don't think the Honda Japan staff had ever seen anything like it. Their initial reaction was one of horror (that the cake could be destroyed like that), but many soon joined in on the fun. Of all our victory celebrations over the years (including Indy) I do not think any was a larger or more special one. We had finally won Motegi and we were so proud to have done so for the Japanese Honda fans."

Side bar:

2003 - Dan's first IndyJapan

"The drivers always had a dinner with Mr. Kawamoto (former president of Honda Motor Co., Ltd.) and Mr. Amemiya (former president and CEO of AHM) on the Thursday night before the race weekend. Because it was Dan's first he had no experience with what it was like. The AGR guys tricked Dan and told him that it was a very formal dinner and that he needed to wear a coat and tie. Dan didn't bring a tie and ended up buying one from the hotel gift shop for something like $100 - it was all they had. Later when they met at the Japanese restaurant adjacent to the hotel Dan found that all the other drivers, and the Japan staff, were in jeans and t-shirts and he walks in dressed in slacks, sports coat and a tie to huge laughter! It was the joke of the paddock that weekend and was reminisced about at all the remaining Motegi events."

From Jack Spurney:
"I have many colorful and wonderful memories of Dan: Years ago, flirting with my daughter at the Honda Hospitality tent at Indy, much to the amusement of my other daughter; joking about his new “un-Brit-like” (his words) teeth on a Drivers Day at HPD; and his amazing finish and victory at the 2011 Indy 500.

I have friends in the Tampa/St Petersburg area where Dan lived who have no association with racing yet talk about how he was a shining star in the community he called home who selflessly made himself available to support worthy causes, even donating a wing at the local All Children’s Hospital. “Dan Wheldon was a great champion – both in sport and in his community,” said a statement from the Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg on Monday, October 17, the day following the accident.

Anyone who knew Dan talks about his warmth, ebullience, charm and affability. He was one of the most genuine persons I have ever known; a very special person.

I had the privilege of knowing Dan for over five years watching him grow from a young, brash, and highly talented driver into a mature charismatic gentleman, loving husband and father; clearly Susie, Sebastian and Oliver became the center of his universe. Just recently, in the paddock at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway before the incident that took his life, with Susie and the kids in tow, he was talking about The Five Million Dollar Challenge; what he was focused on was not the potential for his own personal gain, but rather about how splitting the purse with some lucky fan would instantly change their life for the better. That was Dan Weldon. He was a great driver and wonderful, generous man. God only knows how much we will miss him. RIP Dan."

From Marc Sours, HPD General Manager:
"Dan was a significant contributor to the success that Honda gained with its current IndyCar engine. He was the first to test the engine in the fall of 2002; and, he demonstrated its merits with numerous race victories and Indy 500 wins. Yet it's my memories of him off track that I'll value the most. I first met Dan as an F2000 competitor. He was an amiable young man, frequently smiling; traits which he kept once he made it to the professional ranks. An engaging person who grew up, made it to the big time, and never seemed to loose track of who he was in the process."

From T.E. McHale, American Honda Manager of Motorsports PR:
My Dan Wheldon moment occurred after the Centennial Indianapolis 500 this past May. After winning the prestigious race for the second time, Dan had just concluded an exuberant celebratory victory lap at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He returned to Victory Circle to begin the Hat Dance -- that incessant procession of ballcaps and photo ops, which, for understandable reasons, lasts about five times as long at Indianapolis as at any other track on the IndyCar Series circuit.

Dan had just stepped into the cockpit, and had the first hat in hand, when he looked to his left and saw me standing along the railing that divided the race car from the rabble.

He placed the hat on the car's nose, got out, walked around to my side of the car and grabbed me. I barely remember what he said to me, but I do remember hearing a loud cheer from the grandstand above us in Victory Circle. And I remember thinking, "That's pretty cool. Some people I know are happy that I'm getting this moment."

It wasn't until we separated, and Dan resumed the headwear ritual, that I looked above me to see that I did not recognize a single face among those who had been doing the cheering. Whether or not it is true, I'm going to continue in the belief that those spectators were paying tribute to the emotion of a moment between the Indianapolis 500 winner and some guy none of them had ever met. And that blew me away.

Just before he returned to his car, Daniel and I spent time crying in each other's arms. We were crying tears of joy, feeling all the pain and all the hard work it took to get to that moment, and celebrating all the promise the future would hold for him.

After last Sunday afternoon, I am not ashamed to admit, I have cried in many other arms, as well.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dan Wheldon Remembered

“For everyone in the Honda family, this is a day of tragedy and incalculable loss. For us, Dan was more than a driver, he was a member of the Honda family. But most of all, our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, wife Susie and two young sons. Dan had a passion for motorsports and a wonderful personality that made him a friend to everyone in the racing community. His talent and dedication were an inspiration to us all. We will miss him terribly, and everyone at Honda extends our deepest sympathies to his family, friends and fans across the world.”
-Erik Berkman, President, Honda Performance Development

I RACE A HONDA: CHRIS BOVIS

I’m Chris Bovis and I’ve been competing in the Sports Car Club of America’s GT Lite category for about five years now, racing a Honda CRX.

So far, the highlight has been winning the 2007 National Championship in the GT Lite class. But my racing life goes back well before that. In fact, I go back a lot longer than my age would suggest.

My father, George, raced a Sunbeam Alpine and Lotus Cortina before I came along, and got involved in the administrative side of the sport (he was eventually elected to the SCCA Board of Directors and served as Chairman). So, I grew up in SCCA and attended my first racing event, a drivers’ school at Blackhawk Farms Raceway, at around four months old.

When I turned 16, I started doing autocross events – which I was absolutely horrible at, I have to say. At 18, as a rite of passage, I was given the opportunity to attend drivers’ school and figure out what racing is all about. Needless to say, I stuck with it.

There were two avenues that linked me with Honda from the very beginning. One was former National Champion Fred Fiala, a close friend of the family, who was selling a Showroom Stock CRX. The other link was another National Champion, Jim Dentici, and his King Motorsports shop. Jim was building some really good, solid Honda racecars, so we bought the car from Fred and brought it to King Motorsports to prepare. I met my other teammate, Bob Clark, through Jim, and he remains my crew chief today.

The link to Jim Dentici, Bob Clark and Honda is what keeps me on track today. I drive one of the cars Jim built, and he still builds my engines and preps my car. Plus, he keeps me honest on the track by racing me hard and often beating me, as he did recently at the June Sprints.

I raced a variety of cars between that first CRX we bought from Fred Fiala and the GTL CRX I have now. I raced in the Improved Touring category for about eight years, then in E Production with a King Motorsports-built Honda Prelude. But when I had an opportunity to buy one of Jim’s Mugen-built tubeframe CRXs – I now own two – I jumped at it, and that became my National Championship-winning car.

So that link to Jim has been critical to my racing success. He had quite a reputation for building good cars and being one heck of a race driver, so I grew up with a healthy respect for him. Jim always gives me good equipment and I believe he takes a great deal of pride in seeing another generation of racers exploit the work he’s done in the past. I know he views his cars as his legacy in some sense. We fight hard on track, and there’s a huge ego battle between the two of us, but it’s all good-natured, it’s all on the track, it’s all for fun and it’s all for everybody’s success.

We’re looking for more success at this year’s SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Road America. To be honest, we have a bit of a battle ahead. The GT Lite rules dictate a smaller engine restrictor plate this year, which has actually slowed our lap times by about eight seconds on the four-mile course. We’ve been struggling to figure out how these single-inlet restrictors work, and what kind of engine configuration we need. I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say we’ve built more engines this year trying to figure it out than we have in my entire prior racing life.

That said, I wouldn’t have entered the Runoffs and committed the time and resources if I didn’t think we’d do well. Until everybody shows up and shows what they have, we don’t really know. But I do have a great deal of faith in Jim’s ability to build engines.

Beyond this year, we might actually look at some type of historic racing. The cars are still competitive in SCCA Club Racing, but these were significant cars with the Mugen input they had. They’re FIA-spec cars, constructed by people who moved into the Formula 1 world. We think it’s time to start showing how exotic these tubeframe cars were, establishing their legacy and how important they were in the history of North American motorsports.

Because they are custom-built, most of the parts are, too. That keeps us from taking advantage of some of the benefits that the Honda Racing Line program offers grassroots racers. But I can’t begin to explain how valuable it is to have help from the Honda guys in lobbying for rules changes, interpreting the rules, and helping us to adapt to whatever adjustments we have to make over the winter.

Having a relationship with somebody like Lee Niffenegger (Senior Engineer at Honda Performance Development), for example … being able to send an e-mail and say, “What do you think about this? Are there better ways of doing it?” is important. Having someone within Honda Performance Development who has greater resources, a greater reach, to bounce ideas off, or to ask for a broader view of products or technology … those kinds of things are very valuable to us.

I hope that, along with a little luck, those kinds of resources, plus having the car- and engine-building expertise of Jim Dentici at my back, are going to lead me to another National Championship in the near future.

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.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Andersen Wins Inaugural Pacific Formula F Super Series Title


The Pacific Formula F Super Series wrapped up October 7-9 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway road course, with veteran California Formula F racer Jerry Andersen claiming the inaugural series title on the strength of a pair of second-place finishes.

A highlight of the fourth and final doubleheader race weekend of 2011 was the appearance of international racing star Simon Pagenaud, making a guest appearance aboard a Piper Honda Formula F fielded by PR1 Motorsports. Pagenaud reveled in this return to his racing roots, as he four-wheel-drifted the Piper to a pair of victories at the desert road course.

“I was just 13 when I first drove a Formula F in France, but driving this Formula F Piper-Honda was just as much fun as I remembered,” Pagenaud said. “These days, I am more used to the high-performance power of IndyCars and prototypes, so I had to return to the ‘basics’ and focus on the fundamentals of racing. Momentum and precision were the key words! Whatever inputs you made with your feet and hands, the car would react instantly and perfectly; it would give you a lesson at every corner.”

Pagenaud was one of three different Pacific Formula F race winners this year, with Jeff Sakowicz and Jon Brandstad also scoring two wins apiece during the season. Pagenaud’s victories last weekend were the first for a Honda-powered Formula F in the Pacific series.

But it was consistent finishes – two second-place runs at Las Vegas coupled with a fourth-place finish at the second Buttonwillow race in May – that clinched the championship for Andersen. In all, 10 drivers scored championship points this year, giving the series a solid base upon which to build for its second season in 2012.

In 2012, plans call for the Formula F Super Series to again run as a separate class with doubleheader events at four of the six Pacific F2000 race weekends, totaling a championship run of eight races. The fields will continue to feature both the Honda and traditional Kent power plants and chassis from Piper, Swift, Van Diemen and other Formula F manufacturers.

“I recommend this product to any racer! Whether your dream is to race in IndyCar or some other professional category, or if you simply are passionate about the sport and want to drive an open-wheel racer, then Formula F is what you need,” Pagenaud enthused after his race weekend in the Piper Honda. “This is a great ‘weapon’ for either professional or amateur SCCA events. It definitely is where you should ‘use up your shoes.’”

More information on the Pacific Formula F Super Series is available on the web at www.pacificF2000.com.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

I RACE A HONDA: MIKE MOSER

I’m Mike Moser, and I race a Honda CRX. In 2010, I took second place in H Production at the SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Road America, and this year I’m looking to do one better.

Last year was my first year back in the car – one of my buddies raced it in 2009 – and we’ve done a lot of work. We made a lot of changes to the suspension, and built a race motor for it; before that, I was racing with a bone-stock motor.

It took me some time to get used to all the changes and get more comfortable with the car. Finishing second to veteran racer Steve Sargis last year is nothing to be ashamed of – he’s a great guy and a great driver. But, hopefully, this year we can change that. I was dealing with some issues last year: the transmission kept popping out of gear and I had some difficulties with my air-fuel ratio. Plus, we’ve been doing some more development work on the car this year. I’ve also had more seat time at Road America – I recently won the June Sprints there (pictured) – and have been trying some different lines. The CRX has been stout and really, really good, so I think my chances are good this year.

My CRX and I have come a long way since I built it and started racing it in 2002. It took a couple years to get the car developed and get me up to speed, and accustomed to racing on slick tires. It was a new experience, because previously I raced on dirt and ice!

I started competing early, doing motocross when I was 12 and 13. Then there was no more racing for awhile, until I took up dirt track racing. At Hales Corner Speedway, I met Lawrence Loshak, who encouraged me to try ice racing. If his name doesn’t sound familiar, Lawrence was one of the first to successfully campaign a new-era, front-wheel-drive car in the SCCA Production classes, doing well with a Honda Prelude in E Production.

So, I gave ice racing a go, and from the first lap I was hooked. In my first season, I won the Rookie of the Year award, then took a couple of championships after that. It was funny, because I was beating guys in the Modified class, with a bone-stock Honda. Lawrence and I would always finish first and second overall, with him winning Modified.

Ice racing really got me hooked on Hondas. You can’t beat the reliability. Then Lawrence got his Prelude, and I helped him develop that car for four or five years. He won the E Production National Championship in 2006, and has now moved on to Sports Racing (he won the title there, too, last year).

Now, I hope it’s my turn for a National Championship. But, really, I just like to run my own race, and where I place is where I place. I’m just trying to have fun at it.

The Honda Racing Line program has been a big help. The parts discount is important, and the program is also helping to pay a little of the money we spend on racing through contingency. We get a little something back to put toward tires or fuel.

That’s just one of the things that keeps me in the Honda family. I like being loyal and Honda has been great to me. I like to go with a good product, and I’ve found out Hondas are the best. If you’re going to spend your money, you might as well spend it where you get the best bang for your buck.

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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