It’s hard to believe, but a new year and a new decade are upon us. For me, it’s my second of living and working in the sport compact scene in California, although it really doesn’t seem like it. It feels like only a year ago that I met Duane Bada and Amir Bentatou of VTEC Club. I began shooting and learning about the newly-formed competitive Honda time attack series they were working on launching within Extreme Speed Track Events, but that was half a decade ago.
Since then, VTEC Club has not only set the standard in Honda-only time attack, it continues to evolve into a community of Honda owners and enthusiasts dedicated to building themselves and each other—and the cars they love—into potent competitors.
I commonly utilize articles like this as opportunities to focus on results more so than the people who achieve them, since VTEC Club’s steadily improving machines and falling times are often so impressive. But after half of a decade, I think it’s long overdue for me to shine some light on the people that make the series what it is.
So, after the close of VTEC Club’s successful and busier-than-ever fifth season, I’m going to do just that, while focusing ever-so-slightly on 2019’s fourth and penultimate round at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway (CVR), held back in the fall.
Sadly, I missed the final event of the season, but you can catch up on what went down at Round 1 at Chuckwalla, the return of Touge Stage at Streets of Willow, Round 2 at Buttonwillow, and the nighttime Round 3 back at Streets by clicking each respective link.
The people tallied in this list may not own or build the fastest cars. They may not be the quickest or most accomplished drivers. They might not even be the most popular in the Honda community or even VTEC Club in general—or they might be. But after covering the series for more than a half of a decade, I feel they make up a great example of just who VTEC Club is, and who will be at the wheel in the coming year.
The Godfather. El Padrino. Baby D. Each of these is an excellent pseudonym for Duane Bada, VTEC Club’s creative visionary and co-founder. When a newfound passion for cars and drag racing gave way to an interest in SCCA Solo autocross competition in his hometown of San Diego, California, the seeds of speed were sown for Bada. Partnering with some of the guys profiled below, what started as a friendly competition among a few friends (with mostly single-cam-engined Civics) soon evolved into the modern-day VTEC Club. And it might never have happened without Duane’s perseverance and quest for having fun.
Today he is the proprietor of the growing R Compound performance tire supply chain in Whittier, CA, along with handling many of the logistical duties of each VTEC Club event. Duane doesn’t have as much time to get out on track as he’d like, but when he does, he and his B20 VTEC-powered EK usually lead Group A2 competition, as he did around CVR by clocking a fast 2:01.494 lap.
If you’ve had any involvement in Southern California track driving over the past decade, chances are you’ve crossed paths with Amir Bentatou. Previously known for his flared ’76 Porsche 911S, E36 BMW M3, Acura RSX, Mazda Miata, and single-cam Civic, the driving instructor, and former Redline Time Attack coordinator not only wheels a wide assortment of fast cars in various circles, but he is also really skilled in doing so. Now at the helm of his RS Future aero and performance shop in SoCal, Amir is someone you want to see if your goals include you and your car going faster.
Amir—also a VTEC Club co-founder—helps coordinate events, oversee logistics, and is never hesitant to drop some valuable classroom driving instruction along the way, sometimes, even when you don’t ask for it. He still manages to find time to compete with his newest project in top-flight Group A competition: his Midnight Purple III-clad, turbocharged, K20 VTEC-powered Acura NSX. In this first outing with the car after some major upgrades, he took third in class with a fast 1:59.636, clocked amidst rising temps and some minor mechanical gremlins.
When he’s not working behind the scenes as VTEC Club’s third co-founder and event coordinator, Kristian spends his days tuning thousand-horsepower Nissan GT-Rs and Lamborghinis from the confines of SP Engineering in City of Industry, CA. Amir might get cars and drivers around the track the fastest. Duane might make it the most fun. But Kristian does those things and makes sure it’s all stylish. He’s the guy who, no matter how dialed or fast your car is, will tell you it’s still not low enough, and be dead-serious about it.
But Kristian’s earned that right. His perennial project EK is a thing of legend. After cleaning up the 2016 VTEC Club N2 Class competition in a D16-swapped DC2 Integra Type R (yes, you read that right), he’s been taking his good old time building it to the performance and style standards he hopes VTEC Club will become known for into the future.
Much more than VTEC Club’s unofficial First Lady, Muoi is also one of its fastest drivers. She poses a sustained threat to Duane Bada at the top of Group N1 competition in her built, 1.9-liter B16A-powered EK hatch, and gets faster at each turn. Muoi and her EK took top honors in her class by a whopping four seconds at VTEC Club’s Round 2 competition at Buttonwillow earlier this year, and this time around claimed second in class just behind Duane—2:02.971 to Duane’s 2:01.494. Their nearest competitor? More than four seconds behind.
When she’s not giving the fast boys hell at the track in her EK or Miata—Muoi originally came to the Honda dark side via the Roadster Cup competition—she is busy running Formula Prints, LA’s premier all-in-one printing and sign-making biz, and is the long-standing designer/fabricator of VTEC Club’s much-coveted trophies.
While VTEC Club bills itself as a Honda-only time-attack organization, that description only applies to engines. Just about any vehicle that meets the class rules is eligible for competition, provided its heart beats Honda. There have been plenty of memorable Honda mashups in VTEC Club over the years. Still, one of the most potent was the Team WWR (short for Will Wattanawongkiri Racing) F20C-powered NA6 Miata, which was driven by Nik Romano to a slew of Group A wins a few years back.
Nik has since built and driven a championship-winning Lexus in USTCC competition, and returned to VTEC Club for this year’s fourth round, this time behind the wheel of a turbocharged K24-swapped Toyota MR-S. Working through some new-car gremlins and with the suspension not entirely where he’d have liked it to be, Nik still managed a 2:01.644 best lap, and we’re hoping to see more from the duo very shortly.
VTEC Club chooses round locations to give racers as good of a chance to compete on Southern California tarmac as possible. The NorCal vs. SoCal Round at Buttonwillow is pretty self-explanatory, but it attracts racers from as far away as Oregon and Washington. Such is also the case with the annual Chuckwalla Valley Raceway (CVR) rounds held in Desert Center, CA—roughly equidistant between LA, Las Vegas, and Phoenix.
Hasport founder Brian Gillespie, his son, Carter, and hired gun, Andy Hope (an LA native), are all living proof that this recipe works. They make the trip out from AZ to compete at each CVR round. Mechanical issues suffered by their turbocharged K24-powered Honda Prelude kept them out of contention at this round, but we’ll be seeing them regain their gumption soon enough.
Mr. Cruz and his “Goldy” EG Civic hatchback are fast becoming a legend in the Honda community and for a good reason, too. Powered by a modest N/A B18C engine with individual throttle bodies, sitting on a Godspeed Project Maxx 2-Way suspension setup, and wearing only 225-width Nitto NT01 tires has proved mighty for John and Goldy. The dynamic duo has set and broken records at nearly every track in the VTEC Club pantheon, and routinely clean up Group A2 competition—ahead of much, much more powerful and sport-oriented models.
The pairing managed a Second Place finish in class this time at CVR with a 2:00.762 lap time clocked. A missing third gear—over two decades of track days finally took its toll on the old girl’s box—couldn’t even slow them down. All smiles, John promised a quick return with Goldy, so we’ll be looking for them to clean up again soon.
AJ is many different things to VTEC Clubbers along their journey from rookie to veteran. At first, he’s a hard-nosed enforcer of the rules and driver etiquette. You’d better attend his classroom sessions, and you’d better pay attention. After that, you could very well meet the welcoming and loyal side of AJ, a driver and builder who’s always down to support friends and rivals alike.
Or, you could meet the diehard competitor who will stop at nothing in pursuit of his best-possible performance on and off the track. Just take a look at his meticulously built Honda S2000 and the 2:01.850 it recorded to take second in Group N this time with only a very, very close margin to first. Some very tight competition in Group N this year has cut into AJ’s usual lead, and we’re not-so-secretly geeked to see what his eventual retaliation will yield.
Meet AJ’s arch-nemesis as of late: Billy Jang. Where AJ’s calculated, measured, and precise traits describe him in competition, VTEC Club’s official grid master Billy plays fast and loose—and they’re both deadly fast. If you’ve seen Rush, AJ is akin to the intelligent and calculated Niki Lauda, while Billy is more of an Asian James Hunt, with less drinking and fewer women (except for that one cute S2000 girl in Michigan, he hopes).
It’s been fun to see their begrudgingly friendly rivalry emerge throughout 2019, and even better to see them push each other to become faster and cleaner around the track. While Billy came out ahead this time with a 2:01.677, it was only by the thinnest of margins. With both content on Group N competition and only looking to go faster, we’re looking at 2020 for both to raise the bar (and maybe, engage in some NASCAR-style fisticuffs).
Think of Thomas as the S2000 party crasher. There once was a time when S2000s dominated the VTEC Club Group N competition, and the world was at peace. But then this JE Pistons tech came onto the scene with his B18C-powered EG Civic explicitly built to the class rulebook, and nothing since has made sense to the roadster conglomerate.
Thomas’ 2:02.006 best lap at CVR this time was quick enough to land him in third on the hotly contested Group N podium, which was only a half-second from first. Past events have seen Thomas steal the win from Jaquias and Jang, and we can only guess he’ll continue making life hard for his RWD rivals, and let’s be real—who doesn’t love that?
If there was a Spirit of VTEC Club award, it should probably go to Pedreira. Rocco—a former SCCA Solo autocross head—and his Group N2 class Honda Fit haven’t missed an event in seemingly ten years. This is impressive, considering that’s a lot longer than VTEC Club has been around.
Not only is Rocco a guy who rarely misses an event, he’s someone who will add a $4,000 Motion Control Suspension setup to his $3,000 Honda Fit, and take the podium with 109 crank horsepower from its stock, naturally aspirated 1.5-liter inline-four engine. Two podium finishes this year might seem impressive, but Rocco won’t stop until he gets the win. And then he’ll be right back at the next round.
Finishes and lap times will always be what racing and time attack are measured by on the outside. But inside, the best organizations are about family, friends, and fun before any of that. No one goes easy on each other in VTEC Club. Here, even your closest friends will go out of their way to put up the best fight they can, and will most likely help you do the same. They’ll stay on your ass around the track just as closely as they’ll help you in the pits. Healthy doses of roasting apply as much to the grilled burgers as the personal jabs between competitors after the racing.
It might sound like a slightly dysfunctional family, but in two decades of covering this stuff, I’ve never found a stronger one.
A slight format change, some new collaborations, and new participants are in the works for VTEC Club’s 2020 schedule, all of which should serve to make each event more rewarding, while still retaining the series’ trademark fun and competitive spirit.
Announcements (by way of meets and BBQs) should be coming soon. Stay connected with VTEC Club and Front Street Media to get an inside look into all of it: