This story first appeared at Hagerty.com on 9 August 2016.
Before growing up and running Nissan’s motorsports programs and Ed Pink Racing Engines, a young Frank Honsowetz learned that Thunder Alley came by its name honestly. Thunder Alley is a stretch of Jefferson Boulevard in Culver City, Calif., that housed Traco, Edelbrock, Iskenderian and Guldstrand’s shops to name a few.
This was the 1960s, and Honsowetz loved pedaling his bike down the backside of Thunder Alley, always slowing when he came to the Traco shop. Back then, they were building engines for men with names like Foyt, Pensk and Reventlow. Squinting into the dark maze of mills and lathes, Honsowetz would crane his neck to get a glimpse of the latest race engine sitting atop the shop’s dyno, its exhaust pipes running into the alley just inches from where Honsowetz stood. When it came time to test an engine, Jim Travers or Frank Coon – from whom Traco took its name – would push a starter button and fill the alley with all manner of terrifying sounds.
Honsowetz was enthralled.
Around the same time, the name “Ed Pink” first entered Honsowetz’s consciousness when he began watching races at Mickey Thompson’s Lion’s Drag Strip down in Los Angeles Harbor. Each week, Pink’s legendary “Elephant” Hemi engines would do battle against rival Keith Black’s Greer-Black-Prudhomme engines, leading the local media to hype the “Pink vs. Black” battles. Little did a young Honsowetz know that he would one day lead Team Pink.
Born with his own desire for speed, Honsowetz was no mere spectator when it came to racing, and his own car, a Chevrolet Nova with cheater slicks, embodied the flat out, straight-line speed that characterized American racing at the time. He enrolled in trade school with the goal of one day working at General Motors’ research center in Burbank, California.
While still a student, however, Honsowetz got a peek inside a Datsun 240Z and a 510 and his outlook – and future – changed forever.
“I went back to the counselors at school,” recalls Honsowetz, “and told them I wanted to work for Datsun.”
At the time, Honsowetz was unaware of Datsun’s prowess on the track, unaware that John Morton had recently captured two national championships (in a 510 and a 240Z for Brock Racing Enterprises), but he was intrigued by technology and quickly came to appreciate how the Japanese company’s engineering translated to racing success.
By 1976, Honsowetz was had befriended Don Devendorf and John Knepp and was moonlighting with their Electramotive Engineering racing team, which was just then beginning its own foray into the world of IMSA racing. In 1980, Honsowetz moved over to Nissan’s factory motorsports division and never looked back.
Honsowetz spent most of the 1980s working on Nissan’s sports racing cars – working with the likes of Paul Newman, Bob Sharpe, John Morton and Geoff Brabham in the process – and by the mid-1990s, when Nissan was ready to enter the Indy Racing League under its Infiniti marque, Honsowetz was tapped to lead the charge.
He knew just the man to build the engines.
By this time, Ed Pink & Co. had evolved from building drag racing engines into a one-stop shop for racing engines of all kinds, from IMSA GTP Porsche engines to Cosworth Indy engines. Honsowetz now leapt at the chance to hire the same crew whose work he had once idolized at local quarter-mile tracks as a kid.
In 2001, after 27 years at Nissan, Honsowetz came back to his local roots and joined the Ed Pink Racing Engines team full-time as its general manager. For a man fascinated by – and obsessed with – engine technologies of all kinds, it’s hard to imagine a better home for Honsowetz. A stroll through the EPRE shop winds past TRD USAC-spec midget engines, a plethora of vintage Jaguar, Ferrari and Porsche racing engines, and an entire operation dedicated to building the 4.0-liter Porsche engines destined for the bespoke creations of Singer Vehicle Design.
Known as “The Old Master,” Ed Pink sold his namesake shop in 2008 to longtime customer Tom Malloy. EPRE, however, remains a collection of “old masters,” with many of its engine-builders boasting more than two decades of service in the shop, and a few more than thirty years. Indeed, as Honsowetz points out, some of the same men who built Porsche 962 IMSA engines for the likes of Jim Busby in period are now refurbishing those same powerplants for the vintage circuit today while continuing to build new engines for Singer’s Porsches. As enthusiastic as he is about the wide array of technology around him, Honsowetz is clearly even more energized to get to the shop each day and join this unique collection of human talent.
For Honsowetz, the process and collaborative problem-solving that go into building each engine – the pursuit of perfection, however elusive – is a reward unto itself. Never one to stop and bask in his own success, Honsowetz’s life and approach to engine building has always been defined by asking “What’s next?”
One thing’s for certain: for this kid from Thunder Alley, it’s sure to be loud and beautiful.