In this era of corporate sponsorship-driven success it's refreshing to see All-Motor maverick Leslie Durst make it to the top. Her success has been a family effort. Leslie's father Michael owns Long Beach, Calif.-based Horizon Motorsports, mom Lyn serves as team statistician, boyfriend Carlos "Bubba" Ocegueda is crew chief and tuner and friend Chris Cook is the lone crew member.
Leslie, 27, got into the scene with a show-built '96 Civic Coupe but found her taste in cars did not jive with those of the judges. Unwilling to create an undriveable show winner, Leslie needed an outlet. In 1997 she bought an '89 CRX and, on a whim, took it to a Street Legal Drags event at Pomona and the instant gratification of drag racing offset the frustration of the show scene.
Leslie wanted to do a power swap but the $6,000 price quotes were too much. So her dad bought the motor and the two of them performed the swap in the family garage. Then a house call from a friend who worked at Place Racing got her on the go. In 1998, the car's first foray into drag racing netted 14.5-second timeslips and this was just in her driver development phase.
In October 1998, Horizon Motorsports was created solely to step up Leslie's budding career. The car was off to the chassis shop and Leslie was off to school-Frank Hawley drag racing school. Ocegueda came on board and fortified the 1.8-liter GS-R powerplant for high-level all-motor competition. The car was on cinder blocks for nearly three years.
In 2002, with a purpose-built chassis and Bubba-built 2.0-liter LS/VTEC engine, the CRX blasted 10.70s at 127 mph on the NDRA circuit and earned several podium finishes.
In the off-season, Ocegueda worked the Bubba magic on a new 2.2-liter engine, a stroked 1.8 liter that uses a custom crankshaft and rods to pump up the displacement. Since the plan was to compete in the NHRA, which has different minimum weight requirements than the NDRA, the car went to Steen chassis for a revamping.
The previous chassis was a six-point proposition that had bars added over time. The new setup would be a one-shot deal that would back-half the Honda from the B-pillar rearward. Horizon also wisely grafted in a Nuformz rear suspension setup, which has been a proven performer in FWD competition.
The Horizon team made its 2003/NHRA debut at the July Las Vegas event, where Leslie qualified fourth with a 10.85. She advanced to the semifinals but lost a heartbreaker to eventual winner Scot Mohler. Her time was a 10.52 to his 10.50, but her car was quicker than ever.
In Dallas on August 8-9, Leslie picked up where she left off in Sin City with a 10.52, which positioned her as top qualifier. She sizzled a 10.35 in the finals to beat class leader Ken Scheepers and tally her first-ever win. Rear drive has been dominating the NHRA All-Motor ranks and Leslie developed a big following flying the flag for the Honda camp. In fact, she was a tenth off the e.t. record, a 10.25 held by Scheepers.
What impresses us about this car is its consistency. The team tears down the engine after every race because it has no spare motor to fall back on. Despite all the wrenching, the CRX doesn't miss a beat. For instance, in Woodburn, Ore., on August 23 the Purple Haze Honda rolled off the trailer and posted a 10.32 at first asking after running a 10.35 in the Dallas final. Beyond that, the CRX has improved its e.t. on every pass in 2003.