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Page 74 of 102

ODYSSEY’S ARMY The Go-Anywhere Honda Odyssey Got Its Big Break In Desert Racing At The 1984 SCORE San Felipe 250 By Larry Saavedra Photography Courtesy of Phil Blurton Sr. Thirty-seven years ago, the iconic four-wheeled Honda Odyssey made its official Baja racing debut in Class 34 and 44 at the 2nd Annual SCORE San Felipe 250 in 1984. It was a momentous day for the all-terrain vehicle, one that is arguably the forerunner of Honda’s modern UTV. Back then, the Honda Odyssey was labeled as an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV), and it was relatively unconventional during the late ‘70s to early ‘80s. Honda advertised it as a weekend warrior capable of tackling the biggest dunes. But Phil Blurton Sr. and Ron Griffin saw its potential as a desert racer and set out to prove it. a Together they blazed a trail unofficially, as Odyssey’s army to pursue their dreams of one-day racing in SCORE. With its single-seat, partially enclosed body, roll cage, hand controls, and two-stroke Honda engine, nothing like the Honda Odyssey had ever raced at an official SCORE event, let alone in the rugged deserts of Baja. At the time, some said the vehicle’s lack of suspension and ground clearance would prevent the Odyssey from surviving in Baja, but that soon changed. Tracking Down the Racers Unless Honda reintroduced it today, the glory days of Honda Odyssey racing with SCORE are in the past, but many of its former racers, builders, and fans remember it well. Blurton Sr., the father of current Can-Am factory driver Phil Blurton Jr., still has vivid memories of the Odyssey. “For me, it all began in ‘79 when I saw my first one,” said Blurton Sr. “I lived in Southern California and wanted to buy a go-kart. While I was driving to a local shop to buy one, I saw the new Odessey FL250 at a Honda dealer and decided to stop and check it out. I bought two.” Meeting of the Minds For the next few years, Blurton and his friends were content to spend time flogging the Odysseys in Southern California off-highway vehicle areas such as Glamis and Pismo Beach. They loved the recreational thrill that the Odyssey provided. Blurton then met Ron Griffin of Pro-ATV in Hollywood. Griffin was an established Honda Odyssey dealer and builder of the era. “What he could do with the Odyssey was no less than amazing,” said Blurton. “The first-generation Odyssey FL250 didn’t have any real suspension to it, and only a recoil-type starter. The second-generation FL250, (introduced in ‘80) had more tricks, but still not enough for it to be race-worthy. Fortunately, Griffin had designed a completely suspended chassis for it, and that made a huge difference in the vehicle’s capability and clearance.” Blurton and Griffin talked about the possibilities of the vehicle and they agreed to have Blurton’s Odyssey FL250s prepped with a new Pro-ATV chassis. It was also re-skinned with aluminum body panels, and equipped with a race-ready roll-cage. Horsepower and transmission tweaks soon followed. “Griffin’s upgrades were a departure from the stock Odyssey FL250 that Honda introduced, but that was the only way it would be competitive in off-road racing at that time,” said Blurton. “After I took possession of it I ended up racing the Pro-ATV Odyssey in the ARA California desert races. I won the first desert race overall and got really involved with the vehicle and the people behind it, from there on out. We used most of the stock setup, but the major change was to the chassis.” Blurton did more than race, however, he also fabricated parts for the Odyssey, including specialty transmission components that became known as the Blurton Box. At the time, the ARA provided an outlet for his racing, but it was big-league racing with SCORE that Blurton and his cohorts were chasing. Odds Against The Odyssey It was a longshot to get to Baja, but Blurton and Griffin were set on doing it. “SCORE didn’t have a class for the vehicle, and we set out to change that,” he said. Honda was never directly involved as a team sponsor. According to Blurton, it was on the two of them and a few others, who strategized on bringing the Honda Odyssey to SCORE events. In the end, it would take years and lots of R&D before they had a commitment from SCORE officials to listen to a proposal. Road to Race SCORE While Blurton and Griffin continued their quest to run Baja, other Odyssey racers like Randy Smalley, Richie Dahn, Nick Kozin, and Don Archibald followed suit. Collectively, it was a talented group who were gun-ho on establishing a class at SCORE. It was sometime in ‘83 that Blurton and his fellow Odyssey enthusiasts finally got the chance to talk to then SCORE owner and president Sal Fish about racing. In a phone call, he and Griffin explained that they’d bring a bunch of other Odyssey racers to Baja if Fish would create a class for them to enter. Griffin had the most to risk, however, as he had to deliver on his promise of building all the vehicles to spec. He told Fish that his shop would build every Odyssey that raced at the ‘84 San Felipe 250 if SCORE created a class or two. The race cars would carry the “Team Phantom” logo, and he ensured SCORE that all safety rules would be followed. Griffin didn’t know if the Odyssey venture would last one season or many. It was a crapshoot for everyone who had invested time and money in Odyssey builds. The estimated cost of a stock Odyssey in the early ‘80s approached around $4,000. Build costs, according to those that lived it, bumped it up another $10,000. According to Blurton, Fish was a bit apprehensive about running the Odyssey at Baja, as was then SCORE Technical Director Bill Savage. He was equally unimpressed about the vehicle’s safety, and durability in the longer courses like the SCORE Baja 1000. But Blurton and Griffin were confident they’d get the job done. A Hotel Room Meeting After sensing SCORE’s initial reservation about the Odyssey program, Blurton and Griffin decided to do a formal presentation to SCORE in a San Diego hotel conference room. “They were really shocked to see that Griffin and I had a room full of Odyssey owners there,” said Blurton. “There were about 18 of us and we hoped that our first race was going to be the SCORE San Felipe 250 that following year. We needed a minimum of 14 teams because the vehicles only had a 3.5-gallon fuel tank, which meant that all the teams had to pit for each other.” After doing the math, the group figured that the racers would travel about 25 miles before needing to be refueled. That meant no less than 10 fuel stops for the teams to run the entire 250-mile course. It was later revealed, it would be 14 fuel stops per racer just as someone had predicted. To make matters worse, the heat of Baja was a real threat to the air-cooled Odyssey 2-stroke engines. It wasn’t until the third generation of the Odyssey years later, that Honda decided to go to a water-cooled design. So some Odyssey teams resorted to water-cooled heads on their entries. One of the stipulations to race SCORE was the Honda 2-stroke engines could not exceed 360cc for Production Class 34 and 500cc for Open Class 44. Savage, who worked for SCORE for 36 years, said the engine allowances were eventually increased. “We bumped the performance up but they had some running gear issues in Baja as I recall,” said Savage. “The selection of tires for these classes was very slim. The Odyssey was never really designed to run long endurance races.” Start Your Engines! As the ‘84 SCORE San Felipe 250 loomed ahead, Blurton and Griffin agreed on the SCORE classification of the Odyssey. Everyone went to work. Griffin had his plate full, according to Odyssey owners. But because Honda didn’t offer a 500cc engine for the Odyssey, some of the drivers running Class 44 took the newly introduced Honda CR500cc motorcycle engine and installed it in the Pro-ATV Odyssey to maximize his horsepower. “We actually had to fabricate a separate crank to make the setup work,” said Blurton. “We could not have done it without Griffin. He was really the guy that made it happen. On race day in San Felipe, we all supported each other, and everyone loved it.” Although they were able to finally compete in a SCORE race, they were scheduled to be last off the starting line. “That can be blinding because of the dust, and that’s exactly what happened,” said Blurton. “We were the last ones off the line in San Felipe behind the Class 11s, but It ended up more fun than we could have imagined, especially when racing through Mike’s Sky Ranch. Smalley won Class 44, and I came in second place. Dahn took first Overall in his Odyssey and first in Class 34.” Paving the Way for UTVs After the Odyssey vehicles demonstrated they could finish in Baja, Blurton said that Sal Fish made some modifications to courses for Odyssey racers in the following races. “The SCORE Baja 500 and Baja 1000 were shorted that year, as I recall, an allowance that benefitted the Odyssey teams without putting the lead vehicles at risk,” said Fish about the 1984 season. “Fish had the vision to see what the Odyssey teams were all about,” said Blurton. “It kind of paved the way for the UTV at SCORE,” acknowledged Fish. “It turned into more than that with the help of the different manufacturers years later. I think Class 34 and Class 44 started out as a grassroots movement and that was key to its success.” Fish says he is a firm believer that moments like these give people the incentive to create special classes of their own. It certainly opened the door to many others. “SCORE didn’t want an organization that simply catered to the million-dollar budget teams. It was never exclusively for them and that’s why that Odyssey was so good for SCORE.” Team Phantom went on to run SCORE events from ‘84 to the end of ‘89, racking up podium finishes. The teams entered many of the biggest SCORE events including the SCORE Off-Road World Championship at Riverside International Raceway. While the Odyssey eventually faded away, the Honda Pilot ATV became the next big thing. Blurton consulted with Honda on the project. “Yeah, we trashed plenty of Pilots trying to figure out their weaknesses for Honda,” he laughed.

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