November 16, 2014
Okay race fans it is time to modify my philosophy in regards to one part episodes for this blog. I cannot do justice to this week’s subject in one column so there will be a part 2. My subject this week is Philip LaPointe. LaPointe is the son of former potato farmer Daniel and his wife Marie Taule LaPointe of Van Buren.
LaPointe, 45, currently is the Honda Performance Development(HPD) Chief Engineer and Manager II based out of HPD’s ultra-modern facility in Santa Clarita, California. I will tell you more about Phil’s current status in my next blog. In this episode I will bring you up-to-date on Phil’s pathway to his current job at one of the top motorsports businesses in the world.
I first met Phil when he was 16 years of age and wanted to race karts with us at Spud Speedway and in Canada in the early 1980’s. He purchased a new Margay SR 16 race kart from me and went racing primarily in the County.
I remember Phil saying that he wanted to drive in Formula One someday. I never want to squash any young person’s dreams even if they seem far-fetched. Little did I know that this young man would reach the top of the motorsports world not as a driver rather as a race engineer.
Growing up on a potato farm in the County meant that tinkering on mechanical devices was necessary in order to keep equipment in working order. LaPointe worked on farm implements, his motocross motorcycle, Volkswagen Beetle, and racing kart.
“He loved motors and cars. He read about them, he talked about them, and dreamed about them,” recalled LaPointe’s mom. “His motorcycle or VW would be scattered all around our garage, but he would put them back together again and they worked!”
Charles Cote, LaPointe’s automotive instructor in high school called him, “a very attentive student who was interested in the structure of the automobile. He loved to be in the shop. He was a very smart man.”
While racing karts, LaPointe befriended fellow kart racer Richard “Dick” McNeal now living in Presque Isle. McNeal was the owner of C & M Bicycle in Caribou at the time and did most of the machine work on the race karts as well as winning the points championship as a driver.
LaPointe valued the advice of McNeal who was a University of Maine at Orono graduate in the Ag Engineering Department. During a casual conversation McNeal made a suggestion that would steer LaPointe toward his current career.
McNeal suggested that LaPointe investigate enrolling in mechanical engineering at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston.
LaPointe applied and was accepted at Wentworth beginning in the fall of 1986. Engineering students at Wentworth were encouraged to spend time as interns as part of a cooperative work experience with companies seeking young engineering candidates.
On the job experiences at Fraser Paper in Madawaska and Raytheon introduced LaPointe to the real world of on-site engineering. A career in that type of work became a reality after graduating from Wentworth in December 1990.
A desire to be involved in racing lead him to his first post-graduation job at South Shore Racing in Cherry Hill, New Jersey for a three-month stint. A new manufacturing facility built by Honda in Marysville, Ohio would become the launching point for LaPointe when he began work in Research and Development for them in the spring of 1991.
Honda placed him in charge of dampers, coil springs, and stabilizer bars for the Honda Civic and the Accord wagon. After a couple of years, he took a two-year assignment with Honda’s overseas program in Tochigi, Japan.
While in Japan he designed suspension components for the 1996 Honda Odyssey and the 1995 V6 Accord. Upon his return to the United States he completed design changes necessary for the successful startup of the Accord at the Marysville facility.
Three non-racing projects stood out for LaPointe when he was a young engineer at Honda.
“My most rewarding was being the chassis design project leader on the Acura MDX which was named Motor Trend Magazine SUV of the Year in 1998,” said LaPointe in an interview I had with him in 2008.
“ A close second was being the assistant large project leader on the Acura TL Type-S from 2005-2006,” he added. “I was responsible for all design except for the engine and transmission. As assistant large project leader, I presented the design to the presidents of R & D and Honda America at each critical milestone.”
“My third highlight was as chassis group design manager on the all-new (at that time) Honda Ridgeline truck. The unique design characteristics of the truck caught my interest as well as providing a challenge to the design team. The Ridgeline went on to be named Motor Trend Magazine Truck of the Year in 2006.”
A second stint at Honda R & D in Japan in the summer of 1995 allowed him to design the complete rear suspension on the 1999 Honda mini-van, the Odyssey.
While in Ohio, LaPointe continued to race in the amateur ranks of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) at some of the finest race tracks in America such as Mid Ohio.
He raced a Van Diemen Formula Ford 1600 which at a later point in his career became one of the projects at Honda Performance Development. He designed retrofit kits to allow Formula Ford racers to convert from the aging 1600 cc Kent engine by Ford to the Honda Fit engine thus the name change, Formula Fit.
LaPointe later raced an SSC Acura Integra and SSB Honda Prelude. He designed and manufactured the roll cage for the Integra.
All the while the ambitious Maine man kept his eyes and ears open for openings in Honda USA’s Motorsports arm, Honda Performance Development. His experience with chassis design enabled him to land a job at HPD.
“I always kept my eyes open for any openings in HPD that I thought I might be qualified for,” said LaPointe. “I was asked by the executive management of Honda R & D if I could start up the chassis department at HPD. Of course I accepted the new challenge. I spent two months at the Santa Clarita, California headquarters before moving my family to England, where actual work on the car continued.”
England is the hot bed of formula racing ranging from Formula Ford to Formula One, the most sophisticated racing series in the world. It was in England that HPD’s new chassis engineer got to spread his creative wings while working on the Acura ARX-01B American LeMans (ALMS) race car.
LaPointe managed the 40 % scale model design that was tested at the Auto Research Center (ARC) in Indianapolis, Indiana while based in England. As a side note my FFA students and I had the privilege of visiting the ARC facility while on one of our “Gearhead Tours” in Indy. We also had the opportunity to visit on two occasions with one of the founders of ARC,, Bruce Ashmore. Maybe a future blog will include talks with Bruce who worked for Lola, Reynard, and Forsythe Racing before forming his own company Bruce Ashmore Design.
After two years in Bicester,England LaPointe moved his family to the ideal climate of Southern California at HPD. LaPointe is married to Amy formerly of Edmunston, New Brunswick. They have two children Peter age 14 and Sarah 11.
Part two the USA saga will continue in a couple of weeks. It is highly unlikely that I will update Up North Motorsports next Sunday since I will be in Bogota, Colombia working on a missions trip in the neighborhood of Bosa Esmeralda.
Maine Man on Pit Crew of Sprint Cup Champion Harvick
Oxford native Mike “Shrek” Morneau, son of Lisa Annance of Oxford and Michael Morneau of Poland was a 2003 graduate of Oxford Comprehensive High School. He has been a member of Stewart-Haas Racing since 2005 and was the rear tire carrier on Tony Stewart’s Championship winning team in 2011. After this year’s chase was narrowed down to 16 teams Morneau was moved over to the Stewart-Haas #4 Kevin Harvick team where it was felt that his experience as well as others who were also moved would enhance Harvick’s chances in the Chase. It looks like it paid off.
Wallace Wins Again In Camping World Truck Series
Darrell “Bubba” Wallace won his fourth race of the season and the fifth of his career in the Camping World Truck Series at the NASCAR Homestead finale. He edged out Sprint Cup driver Kyle Larson who started on the pole for the race and gave Wallace all he had in the final 20 laps of the Ford EcoBoost 200.
This was the final race in the Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota for Wallace who is expected to move up to the NASCAR XFINITY Series next year for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Wallace has made several appearances in the County at the Andy Santerre Aroostook Mental Health Center (AMHC) Snowmobile Fundraiser. He along with other NASCAR personnel make the trek to raise money to help fund the Sexual Assault Hotline. The fund-raiser is coordinated locally by Joe and Lorraine Chamberlain of Wodland. Look for more information about the next fundraiser in this blog.
Let’s Go Racing (In Bogota???)
Soli Deo Gloria