Note: This article came from the Nov/Dec 1990 edition of
Grassroots Motorsports Magazine.
This is a copyrighted article which can not be duplicated without permission.
It is posted here by permission of Grassroots Magazine.
One Swift ChampionNoonan and Kennedy's Suzuki gets it done
Story by Marjorie Suddard
Photos by Tim Suddard
This year, a two-time autocross champion climbed behind the wheel of her car at the Solo II National Championships and proceeded to drive that car to her third Salina title. While there doesn't appear to be anything unusual about that fact people who have won multiple championships are usually good bets to continue winning, there was something different about Tina Kennedy's DSPL win this year: the car she drove.
Kennedy, who claimed Solo II crowns in 1988 and '89 in a Honda Civic, switched to a new marquee for 1990 Suzuki. This was an unusual choice, not only for this Honda-driving champion, but also for autocrossers in general. In all, only three Suzuki's competed at Salina this year. Besides Kennedy's 1989 Swift GT (which was also driven by Tasha Kimmey and Kevin Taylor), just two other Suzuki Swifts entered the Solo II Nationals; both of those ran E Stock. The final results show that for its four entries, Suzuki took home two trophies: Tina's first in D Street Prepared Ladies and Taylor's third in D Street Prepared. Not bad for a manufacturer who's still better known for motorcycles than automobiles. The man who first saw and developed the Suzuki's autocross potential is Chuck Noonan. Chuck, who is a six-time Solo II Champion himself, is the owner of CRE (Chuck's Racing Enterprises) of Barre, Massachusetts. CRE is a small shop there are just three employees with a big name in autocrossing, thanks to a history of building winning cars for a number of national champions. Tina Kennedy, who started driving for Noonan four years ago, has won all of her national titles in CRE-prepared cars; she also became CRE's office manager about one year ago.
CRE started out as Chuck's Civic Center, because the company's original emphasis was on rebuilding and repairing Honda Civics. As Noonan's reputation has grown, the shop's focus has shifted to building racing and performance enhancements for all kinds of Hondas as well for other vehicles. Chuck estimates that fifty to sixty percent of his business is now centered around building autocross and hot street cars, and developing and producing the various suspension and performance pieces through CRE's mail order catalog.
During the past couple of years, has campaigned a Honda Civic adorned with Domino's Pizza logos and colors. Chuck explains the Domino's tie-in with typical humor: "The Civic was originally a pizza delivery vehicle. I bought the car used--it was really just a shell [crust?] because I liked the way it smelled. The local Domino's franchise sponsored our trip to Salina that first year, so we painted up the car and put the Noid [a toy version of the Domino's mascot] on top." He adds, "The Noid fell off this summer, and we just haven't had time to put him back on. He still came to Salina, where he bounced around between various cars--at one point I saw him strapped into Walt Peterson's 510."
These off-the-wall remarks are typical of Chuck Noonan, who describes himself as simply, "a guy who likes to build race cars--that's his joy, his fun. I enjoy taking an ill-handling; car and seeing what I can do to make it better, make it work, or finding more power for a car that needs it."
Noonan says the Suzuki Swift was a natural choice for his next "specialty" car. "The Swift is like a modern day Mini-Cooper: good brakes, good acceleration, just needs the handling sorted. It's also kind of an underdog, which I like. And it's not expensive, which means you can build a Street Prepared Swift for less than guys are spending for Stock class cars."
The car that Tina Kennedy drove to her D Street Prepared Ladies victory is a 1989 Swift GT. Noonan has had the car since February of this year, and says he spent much of the season developing the car's suspension. The modification process started with the installation of a CRE suspension package, which includes 200lb. springs and a 19mm swaybar in front, and 280lb. springs and a 19mm swaybar in the rear. Special suspension bushings replace the stock units, and Koni shocks handle the damping. A 4.10 limited slip and BFGoodrich Comp T/A tires on 13x7" Revolution rims help keep the Swift firmly planted on the pavement. The alignment is optimized with 1-1/2 degrees of negative camber and 3-1/2 degrees of caster in the front, and one degree negative camber in the rear.
Coupled with a Street Prepared version of the Swift's strong 1300cc engine, these suspension modifications make for a fierce competitor. Unfortunately, Noonan says they also make the car unsuitable for street driving. He recommends that enthusiasts seeking a less serious, dual-duty car forego the limited slip and the bushings in order to keep the car streetable.
The foray into Suzuki preparation is not the only new venture being pursued by Chuck Noonan: he's also moving into road racing. His first efforts have not been overwhelmingly encouraging--Chuck says his first outing in his ITB Civic was "relatively unsuccessful"--but Noonan points out that he did finish, and says "I had a lot more fun than I've had in a long time."
The CRE gang's future plans include a lot more involvement in Improved Touring racing. Chuck is building an ITA Honda Civic for next season, and says he's going after former BSP Corvette driver Wilson Wright, who now runs ITA. (Fair notice, Wilson!)
All of this does not mean, however, that Noonan and company plan a departure from autocross competition. "We'll still compete in Divisionals and Pro Solos," says Chuck. "Autocross is a lot of fun still. and we've still got a lot of friends here."
END OF THE INNOCENCE
Our conversation with Chuck Noonan was almost predictably hilarious--the somewhat rotund Noonan is habitually jolly, and is probably the closest approximation to a racing Santa Clause we've got. He had already told us a number of funny stories and jokes when the talk turned to his recent debut in IT competition.
"I was a pretty good back-marker," he said. "I let a few guys get behind me, but not many. I had a hell of a good time, though. I was so far back, I could just be Chuck!"
All joking aside, one of the reasons Chuck Noonan may have enjoyed his anonymity at the IT race might be the fact that CRE has recently come under criticism in the world of autocrossing. The problems center around the disqualification of CRE drivers Jinx and Ginette Jordan at this year's SCCA Solo II Nationals.
Noonan is understandably reluctant to talk about the Jordan disqualification. "I haven't seen the official report yet, so I'd rather not comment until I have more facts," he said when questioned about the incident.
The ugly topic seemed out of character and inappropriate in a conversation which had, up to then, stressed fun. Chuck told us that he got into autocrossing, many years ago, because it was fun, and he says he's stayed in it because he's still having fun. He describes himself as a man who finds his joy--his fun-- building race cars. We'd suspect him of insincerity and accuse him of over-using the word "fun" if he wasn't so fun to talk to. But one has only to hear his booming laugh to realize that Chuck Noonan is serious about not being serious.
So what happened at Salina? If you put it way too simply, you could say that someone stopped having fun. The question of just who that was--the competitor. the rulemakers, or all of us--and how, and why, is one of those riddles we could spend eternity trying to solve. We don't have all the facts yet, so we can't even begin to solve it. It's the end of the innocence, all right. We just can't decide whose.
(Look for more on this controversial topic in an upcoming issue of GRM.)