I was asked recently what incident I thought had the biggest impact on the Honda performance movement, either good or bad—a milestone, if you will. My answer was, without hesitation, the infamous series of Battle of the Imports events. The story is not an untold one: Frank Choi’s Battle arrived at a time when street racing was at its peak and when no other sanctioning bodies cared to dole out their resources or capital toward import-dominant motorsports. Battle events made legends out of otherwise 20-year-old hobbyists turned race car drivers. Trouble is, these milestone-like events took place nearly 20 years ago, and despite all of my efforts to prove otherwise, there’s not but a single landmark event since that can better them. Blame the Internet, if you must.
Historically, early Battles were not the most successful numbers-wise. NHRA and NOPI squeezed more dollars out of the sport than once thought conceivable and filled their stands with equally impressive crowds. Hot Import Nights, even the fledgling-by-comparison Import Alliance meets, arguably draw more cars and visitors than any early Battle ever did, to be sure, but the unmistakable aura of early-’90s drag racing at the now almost lore-like Los Angeles County Raceway, of waiting in line for hours to catch a glimpse of the next Honda drag racing record being broken, remain unmatched by what present times yield. For all of this, some argue that the Internet seems a likely scapegoat.
It used to be that if you wanted to see somebody like David Shih or Tony Fuchs turn one of the first 10-second passes in a FWD Honda, you’d get off of your lazy bum and make the pilgrimage to the then-desolate wasteland that was LACR, otherwise simply known as “Palmdale.” Were you to miss any one of these most poignant early Battles, chances are, your only alternative was to wait three months for the magazines to deliver their photo-fed regurgitations of events. Today, record-breaking timeslips are unloaded onto Facebook seemingly before drivers wield their whips back into the pits. Photo montages and video compilations are dumped onto forums and a series of movie-hosting sites before races end. It’s easy to blame the Internet for some of today’s events’ lackluster turnouts, but you’d be wrong to do so.
Last I checked, Wekfest’s, Import Alliance’s, Honda Day’s, and Eibach’s Honda meets’ attendance figures all fail to decline. Each continue to draw record numbers of the Honda populace past their gates, and each continue to vanquish themselves to the power of the web, serving as the subjects of hundreds of virtual get-togethers. Photo threads and video montages of each abound. None of that matters, though. Their saving grace, however—perhaps the one reason Hondaphiles continue to flock to such venues despite the Internet’s deathgrip—is their simplicity.
In an effort to increase attendance, modern-day event promoters continue to muddle the simple enthusiast-to-car equation with seemingly obligatory models, club-like atmospheres, even hipster food trucks gone wrong. To be sure, the Battle of the Imports of the 1990s was none of these things, and neither are today’s successful gatherings. Choi’s Battle was simplicity at its finest. Enthusiasts who wanted to watch drag racing knew what they were getting into when they pulled into that dusty, wind-torn Palmdale parking lot. Model-search contests there were not. Elite vendors dishing out coq au vin from the backside of van conversions for $18 you would not find. The formula was simple, pure, effective. It was what we wanted.
To be sure, Wekfest, Import Alliance, Honda Day, and Eibach Honda meets all share this same formula. Attendees are sold on events that promise to spotlight their favorite cars, their hobby, their passion, and are given exactly that—no gimmicky nonsense attached. Perhaps many of today’s event promoters should better evaluate what’s been proven to work and spend less time blaming the Internet. Simplify the formula. Give ’em what they want, spare the coq au vin.