Text and Photos by Luke Munnell
You’ve got to hand it to VTEC Club USA. Three years in as the Honda scene’s newest time-attack series, and they never cease to find fresh and interesting ways to innovate their competition format. Based in SoCal, past years have seen their traditional stomping grounds of Willow Springs and Buttonwillow grow to unite Honda-powered drivers from Arizona and Nevada at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway, and even engage the community as far away as Portland and the Chicagoland’s Gingerman Raceway.
Then there was the first-annual Autumn Speed Festival, which could best be thought of as a track-focused gathering similar to what you might find in the drifting community’s many pro-am bashes—mixing mild/moderately modified VTEC Clubbers and enthusiast drivers with some of the biggest names in Honda time-attack. You’ll of course recall our recent coverage of the VTEC Club Touge Stage, which combined time-attack competition with a Best Motoring/Hot Version-style “touge battle” on Willow Springs’ canyon-road-esque Horse Thief Mile track. And now, as of their most recent competition round back at Buttonwillow, a new addition has been made: The VTEC Club Norcal vs. Socal battle.
For SoCal racers who live within a couple hours’ drive (usually less) of Willow Springs, Fontana and even Chuckwalla racetracks, VTEC Club competition is an easy refuge to satisfy their time-attack itch. As such, competition between the SoCal drivers has matured over time; their track-driving skill, competition experience, and capabilities of their cars has followed suit.
NorCal drivers might arguably have fewer racetracks at their disposal, and no dedicated Honda-powered competition series quite like VTEC Club, but that doesn’t stop them from taking to area tracks like Laguna Seca, Thunderhill, and Sonoma as regularly as they can to hone their skills and dial in an impressive crop of track-ready machines. Buttonwillow Raceway Park, located just south of the midway point between the two regions, might not be the most readily accessible facility for either, but when delegates from each region got to deciding where best to throw their first friendly grudge match, it became the logical choice.
But Buttonwillow is a serious motorsports venue, and reserving its track in the traditional clockwise-13 configuration necessitates renting the entire facility, which can be expensive for a bunch of enthusiast Honda guys. So, they teamed up with the Roadster Cup and alternated run groups throughout the day, which added another degree of un-official, friendly competition to the main event … with some interesting overlaps.
VTEC club drivers and followers will know Nik Romano and his No. 127 F20C (S2000 engine)-powered NA6 Mazda Miata for regularly cleaning up Group A competition in the events they enter. Nik competed in VTEC Club this time around, though technically he’s eligible for competition in either series. What’s more, he’s originally from NorCal even though he drove with his SoCal buds, and if that’s not already interesting enough, he nabbed third in A2 competition this time around with a blistering 1:58.633 in 100º+ heat … with no clutch. A throwout bearing failure early on meant Nik and his crew had to push-start their Miata and he had to shift by rev-matching the entire day. Crazy.
Another cross-classification phenom was present from Evan Tran and his No. 290 NA6 Miata, powered by a J30A Honda V-6. The car is admittedly still in development, but ran reliably in the triple-digit heat all day long, logging a respectable best time of 2:15.941 in Group A competition.
Topping the podium in Group A (usually VTEC Club’s fastest class) were two SoCal aces: Jose Mejia with a 1:57.768 from his No. 69 K-swapped DC2 Integra, followed by Bruce Simpson with a 1:58.576 in the No. 059 Honda S2000.
Upsets of the day came from two NorCal hot shoes in the Group A2 class, led by Gary Yeung, who piloted his No. 39 S2000 to a 1:56.151—good enough for fastest-lap honors of the day, the Group A2 win, and a new VTEC Club class record around Buttonwillow’s clockwise, 13-turn configuration (CW13). Claiming second in Group A2 with another Group A-besting time was Vuong Tran with a 1:57.435 from his No. 102 S2000.
SoCal started to take back some ground in Group N, thanks to the quick work of a trio of LA/OC S2Ks led by David Ishida, with a 2:01.509 from his No. 35 car, followed by Sean Mulyanto, with a 2:01.548 in the No. 73, and Alan Jaquias with a 2:03.737 from his No. 53 S.
Groups N1 and N2 were completely filled with FWD challengers, and running fastest among them was none other than NorCal’s Tim Crane and his No. 280 N/A B-series EK Civic hatch, with a 2:01.420 best time to second place’s SoCal’s Brian Salmeron in his venerable No. 77 CRX with a 2:02.432. You’ll remember Tim as the lone FWDer who nearly locked up the Touge Stage against a host of S2000s. A relative newcomer to VTEC Club competition (but not to track driving), it’s going to be really interesting to see how far Tim can go in threatening the Honda roadsters out there.
And in the technically slowest, but arguably most fun class of VTEC Club competition, fearlessly overworked leader Duane Bada took a few laps away from the control tower to clinch the Group N2 win from behind the wheel of his girlfriend’s No. 5 EF hatch, with a 2:08.216 best time, just ahead of two SoCal competitors locked in a fierce battle for Second: Ryan Constantino, with a 2:09.329 from his No. 364 EF Civic hatch, followed by Melvin Rodriguez, charging hard with the 2:09.441 he churned out from behind the wheel of his No. 375 Civic sedan.
With its first NorCal vs. SoCal battle in the books, VTEC Club can safely claim another welcomed addition to their arsenal of awesome track events, and one that’s already being planned again for next season. VTEC Club’s next two events will be held back at Willow Springs, beginning with a night race the evening of August 19th, and then it’s onto the second-annual Autumn Speed Festival at Big Willow, then back to Buttonwillow in December before wrapping another successful season and planning bigger, better, and fresher for 2018. Learn more at www.vtecclub-usa.com, and check out our gallery below for more from Buttonwillow!