I started racing karts at age 5, and since then I have enjoyed the speed and cornering forces that you feel when racing. Near the end of high school, I was eager to start driving a car on track. The NASA HPDE program provides an affordable path to get your racing license. I just needed a car. Through NASA and the United States Touring Car Championship, my family has been involved in racing for the past 30 years, and we really like our Hondas, so we decided on a 1996-2000 EK Honda Civic. These cars are affordable, easy to work on, reliable, and can be made to go fast.
Through a salvage auction, we found a 2000 Honda Civic Si that had been crashed in the front. The rest of the car looked good, but with auctions you never know. We placed our bid and waited. It is so exciting when you finally receive the notice that you are the winner.
The first time that we saw the car we were genuinely surprised at how good of condition the car was in, seeing that it was 2 feet shorter than stock. The car was able to run and drive, however had a busted radiator, AC compressor, headlights and more. The hood, front bumper cover, and front fenders also needed to be replaced because of the accident. But to our surprise, the frame of the car was perfectly fine and so were the airbags. That was a big relief.
We started by fixing the body damage, and instead of painting many of the parts, we used Orafol’s 970RA wrapping film. This made the car look fantastic and was so much easier than painting. With Orafol’s vast selection of colors, it also made it easy to match the original color.
We wanted the car to be a street car that could also be a track-day car. Because of that, when selecting a new radiator, we went to the racing radiator experts at CSF Racing. They have a great aluminum radiator made for an Integra that is twice as wide as the stock Civic unit. We opted to put a full-size radiator into the car because it was going to be driven hard on track in summer heat.
After installing the new radiator and body panels, it was time to see what condition the engine was in and perform maintenance work. We did compression tests on all the cylinders and checked and replaced the spark plugs with Iridium plugs from Denso. We also installed a new Denso distributor, cap, rotor, plug wires, and even wipers. Following that we performed a few more maintenance tasks such as changing the oil with Castrol Edge full synthetic 5W-30. We also changed the gearbox oil to Castrol full synthetic gear oil, which made the transmission shift better. We replaced the wheel bearings with brand new ones from Timken. We finished by checking the tires, cooling water, brakes and flushing all other fluids as well as other miscellaneous items and then it was finally ready for its first track day.
I signed up for a NASA weekend at Sonoma Raceway and was anxious to see how the car performed. To my surprise, halfway into the day it started hailing and raining, which made the challenging Sonoma circuit even more fun. The car did well and there were no problems, but I also realized there was room for improvement.
After taking the car on the track a few more times, we knew we needed more grip than the original all-season tires provided. We talked with the people at Continental tires and they recommended their ExtremeContact Sport maximum performance summer tires in a 215/45-17 size. Using a specialized summer-only compound molded into an asymmetric design, they focus on precise handling, wet traction and enhanced grip for well-rounded maximum performance. The outside shoulder features wide tread blocks for lateral grip and high-speed handling, and the continuous center rib provides constant rubber-to-road contact for solid on center feel.
Of course, the new tires needed some new wheels, so we made a call to Konig Wheels, which has provided some great wheels for our team’s racecars for the past 20 years. Konig has a huge selection of attractive wheels suitable for street or racing. The Ampliform seemed like a great choice with its gorgeous design and low mass. These wheels use flow formed technology, which makes them as strong and light as some forged wheels out there, while remaining affordable. They come in 4 x 100 bolt pattern in a 17 x 8 size, which is perfect for our car with a 45 mm offset, and they tip the scales at around 17 pounds each. We also added Gorilla tuner-style lug to complete the look and make it harder for the wheels to get stolen when I daily drive the car.
The new wheels and tires made a huge difference in how the car looked and handled, and the extra grip was welcome. At this point in the build, we realized that this car is even more fun than we originally thought. The extra grip and speed was now causing the stock brakes to overheat. We wanted to keep things as affordable as possible, and Stoptech offers an affordable way to get race-grade brakes while still being able to drive on the street every day. The company’s upgraded rotors and track pads provided just what we needed without the extra cost of a full big brake kit. Stoptech’s Sport pads proved to be fully up to the job of stopping the car on the street or the track without issue.
We also replaced the original shifter with a K-Tuned Circuit X shifter and shift knob. The shifter uses a Delrin bushing, which is hard, but has a low coefficient of friction. What’s even better is that the throw and the length of the rod are all adjustable to your liking. Rowing through the gears was now even more fun, and the K-Tuned shifter is one of the best and easiest mods that you can do.
After a few events, we knew the stock suspension was holding the car back. We went with single-adjustable Koni Sport dampers, which provide a few settings to lower the car using the stock springs. But we needed with a kit that adapted coilover collars with custom rate Eibach springs from Ground Control Suspension. This allowed the car to sit lower and we could make sure that the cross weights were matched so that the car handles evenly. The guys at Ground Control were awesome and provided great tech support to dial everything in, including recommending the right spring rates that work well on the track, but are not too harsh on the street. The Civic has a comfortable ride, but is firm and responds to your inputs well. We also used roll center adjusters and race bushings from Blox Racing to control the suspension motions.
When we switched the suspension, we also installed a new header, exhaust system and air intake to get a bit more power. We used the DC Sports 4-2-1 header and DC Sports cat-back exhaust. The combination of the header and exhaust made a crazy difference in how the car sounds. To this day it is probably one of my favorite modifications that we have done and, best of all, it is smog legal in all 50 states.
To free up more power, we went with an ATI Performance Products Super Street Damper, which allows you to still maintain your power steering and air conditioning. It is a lighter harmonic damper than stock and is fully balanced while allowing the accessories to spin at slower speeds.
It also was time to replace the original clutch. We talked with the experts at Spec Clutch and they recommended a stage 2 clutch kit, which has a slightly stronger pressure plate, but retains a sprung clutch disc that can work well on the track or street. The kit also came with a lighter weight flywheel, which made the engine rev quicker and transformed the driving experience.
The next step was to make the car look a bit more aggressive, so we decided to add the Si specific front lip to the car. The car came with the lip and it was still intact but it was scratched up. We sanded down the scratches in one afternoon and then it was time for more Orafol 970RA wrap material to match the black paint of the car. We installed a custom small carbon fiber splitter to the front. Although it is a front-wheel-drive car, and a small splitter does virtually nothing, it does enhance the look of the car.
Then it was time to move to the interior of the car, which was completely stock. We replaced the shift boot with a leather one from Sparco. It had red stitching, and the Sparco logo on it, which fits the car perfectly. We also replaced the front seats with some Sparco Chrono Road seats that hold you in on the track, but also recline and are suitable for street use. Next, since we still did not have AC in the car, we got the windows tinted with the Llumar IRX 15 percent tint on all the windows except the windshield. This made a huge difference in interior temperatures and made the car look much better.
Finally, we were able to install some custom carbon fiber side skirts to add to the look of the car. This made the car look lower than it was since we made them wider than the stock side skirts. Throughout the process, we also added a few stickers to the back windows from GoGoGear.com.
The build has been ongoing for a few years and small improvements are still coming, but it has been an amazing transformation from the first day, and most of the changes have been easy to do and affordable.