Alex Pagan’s reputation for banging out quick Hondas in the United States has filtered through to our local Honda scene. I hooked up with the legendary engine builder, tuner and racer and chatted about his early adventures, drag racing, Humble Performance and a whole lot more.
By Joel “Batty” Silva // Photography courtesy of Kenny McKee
While the Honda tuning – and Honda drag racing scene – is South Africa is forever evolving, Alex Pagan’s reputation for banging out quick Hondas in the United States has filtered through to our local Honda scene. Whilst finishing off my long overdue CRX, I hooked up with legendary engine builder, tuner and racer to ask him about his early automotive adventures, his career in drag racing, Humble Performance and a whole lot more.
You’re known to be one of the most “motivational” tuners in the industry. Why is that?
I always try to keep everything positive, I try to stay away from negativity and drama. I just wasn’t raised around negativity, so I always strive to put content out that inspires people in a positive way.
“Stay Humble” – explain this, but in the Alex Pagan way? No matter how much you grow in this industry, you always have to look back at how you started. So throughout the success you should always remain humble.
How did your interest in Hondas begin? I started street racing during the 90s with my brother. I would always watch my brother wrench on his and his friend’s car.
Tell us about some of your earlier engine setups? It all really began with the D-Series. We were racing in the early 2000s with basic single cam setups and slowly beating V8s and growing a new found respect for Hondas in an area where domestics are king. We really started getting known with a basic turbo setup on a D-series with a basic rod/piston combination that made over 500hp that we started beating some local ‘fast’ Dodge Vipers in 2000-2001. We then started experimenting with B-Series setups with a street legal, tagged CRX with full exhaust that ran a 9-second pass nearly every time at the track.
Talk us through the evolution of La Lenta, from the day you bought it to a 9-second machine? I bought the car off a customer who gave up on his street car project in 2009. I bought the car as a shell with only K-Swap mounts, shifter cables, and a shifter box. We started with a basic K24/K20 setup that came off the very first 300hp All Motor pump gas K-Series in the world that we had tuned previously. We started competing in the Import Face-off Series which we managed to win 1st place in every single event and won the points championship which started getting us recognized with bigger companies like 4Piston Racing. After IFO, we went to our very first big event which was Fall Nationals in Englishtown where we competed with the fastest All-Motor cars in the country and ran 10.51 @ 205km/h which is how we got introduced to 4Piston. After that event, we had the privilege to get sponsored a cylinder head to try out and on its very first pass, we ran a 10.21@ 221km/h which put us in the top 5 in the country from number 18. We kept chopping away and managed to run a 9.98 @ 221km/h on Hondata and Q16 fuel at a sanctioned event which made us the first team to run a 9-second pass in a street trim all motor car making us the world record holder for that pass closing out the year as number 2 overall. That year, it was just my tech, Falo and I with a car, a cardboard box full of tools, a truck, and a trailer competing against full race teams with uniforms, company sponsored wrapped double stacker trailers, spare transmissions, and spare motors. We had no 3-piece front end, no traction control, no methanol, no lean mounts, no spare motors, no spare transmission just a simple setup with a Hondata K-Pro, and if the car broke we were done. Since then we’ve just been pushing and have managed a best time of 9.63 @ 230km/h.
What position in the All Motor FWD category does La Lenta lie? La Lenta is currently #8 on the OGS All Motor list.
What would a blow-the-budget All Motor engine cost? La Lenta runs a 4Piston 106 Stroker that runs about $17,500 but other cars in our program run ‘Super99’ motors start around $12,500. (R180,000)
South Africans believe that the hunt for more power is the be-all and end-all of every conversion? Is that true? No. Power can help you get somewhere, but it’s ultimately all about how you get the power to the ground. Suspension, alignment, tune, and driving are all key factors in going fast. Power is just a part of the equation.
Alex Pagan’s Secret for Maximum FWD Traction is…Other than tuning, the biggest factor is weight distribution.
Tell us about Humble Performance? We are based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. We offer everything a racer could need like parts, custom fabrication, tuning, engine building, and much more.
Oklahoma? The land of the Street Outlaws – have you ever considered pitching up at one of their events and offering them a La Lenta sandwich to chew on? We were supposed to be on an episode of Street Outlaws but due to an engine failure on their part, our schedules couldn’t align. On the second attempt, we had an engine failure and couldn’t get our schedule to align. Could it still happen? Stay tuned.
While we’re on your fans, you’ve got plenty of them here in South Africa? We have a surprisingly loyal following in South Africa. Quentin Boylan, for example, started as a customer of mine and over time has become much more than that, he’s a part of the family. When he’s in the states he always brings us gifts and hospitality. We also regularly send parts to our friend Ashley Petersen with his Civic named Jester and I’m extremely excited to see how his project turns out and we’ll be here to support him every step of the way.
We attended WCF last year, and there’s a lot of money being spent – Is it hard competing with so many other tuning businesses? Luckily with where we’re located, we’re one of the only major Honda focused shops in the United States. We’re blessed to have customers come from all over the United States, but because of our location, we don’t have much crossover in terms of customers between the east and west coast-based shops.
Would you say building and racing a Honda is the cheapest form of racing competitively? In the broad sense, relative to other drag racing at this level, absolutely, but in no way would I ever call it cheap.
What do you think is the secret to surviving World Cup Finals? The biggest factor is longevity. Striking the balance between power and reliability is the toughest part. Parts fail, that’s a part of racing and as a racer and a team you need to be able to take on the challenges that face you. WCF is a brutal event and if you’re not ready, it can eat you alive.
Will you be running La Lenta at WCF again this year? That’s the plan. With some of the changes we’re bringing to the table this year, we hope to come out stronger than ever.
What are your goals for 2019? Run a new personal best and keep growing as a business.
Fast forward 5 years from now: how do you see the industry and times progressing? Technology keeps progressing. AWD is quickly becoming one of the dominant forces of the Honda industry. Mixing power, traction, and weight it seems like AWD Hondas have limitless potential. I think one of the biggest moves we need to make as an industry is to spread positive influence to our new generation of racers and enthusiasts. With parts becoming more affordable and making power becoming easier, it’s our duty as veterans of the industry to adapt and pass down our knowledge to the up and coming. In the coming years I want to work toward educating those willing to follow in our footsteps.
With so much being said on social media regarding the use of fuels, what are your personal views, considering you have a few cars running under your banner at WCF? We’ve always run legal fuels, and we plan to stay that way. I enjoy the challenge of making the car work within the rules.
Pagan Psychology 101: How do you deal with the haters? Throughout the years, I’ve learned that those who hate are doing so because they wish they could be at your level. For someone to pull you down means they are already below you.
How can our readers in SA follow your daily adventures or contact you?
Facebook: Humble Performance
YouTube: Humble Performance