BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – As the NTT IndyCar Series raced around the twists and turns of Barber Motorsports Park this weekend in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst, there was another race taking place in the track’s infield.
Employees from the Honda Manufacturing of Alabama plant in nearby Lincoln constructed a Honda Passport SUV from the ground up, piece by piece, over the course of the race weekend. Fans could watch the build in progress at the Honda Gear Up Your Career Tent in a program run in conjunction with an initiative from the state of Alabama’s workforce development department.
“We decided how cool would it be if we brought the plant to the track,” said Samantha Corona, corporate communications representative for Honda Manufacturing of Alabama.
The team of 25 Honda of Alabama employees used 2,000 parts over the three-day weekend to put together the Passport, Honda’s newest SUV. It’s a project that can be completed by the training team in five non-stop hours by hand at the plant, but the manufacturer wanted fans to have an up-close experience of how the car is built.
“We wanted to get people excited about manufacturing. Sometimes, it (manufacturing) can have kind of a dirty connotation to it – people think it’s dirty, it’s hands-on. We want to show manufacturing can be cool,” said Corona.
It was the first time a project of this kind has been taken outside of the manufacturing facility, Corona added, and it impressed INDYCAR officials. Mark Miles, president and CEO of Hulman & Company that operates INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, sees unique ideas such as key to expanding how fans interact with the series at races.
“One of the things, by the way, we're trying to steal and take home to Indianapolis is the workforce development program that Honda sponsors and that the state is involved with,” Miles said during a Friday news conference at Barber. “(It) is really a terrific community engagement thing that I'm sure makes a real difference to the aspiring workforce, particularly in manufacturing, so they're an innovative group.”
Some assembly of the Passport, including the 3.5-liter V-6 engine and nine-speed automatic transmission took place at the plant in Lincoln to ensure safety and quality. But Honda associates also performed an engine build, from block to valve covers, at the track exhibit. Among the visitors over the weekend were more than 1,000 Birmingham school students to expose them to potential careers in automobile manufacturing.
“The Honda Factory Pop-Up brings to life our company slogan of ‘The Power of Dreams,’” said Mike Oatridge, senior vice president, Honda Manufacturing of Alabama. “Honda wants to show students, teachers, parents and the community that a career in auto manufacturing is challenging, exciting and incredibly rewarding.”
The team put the finishing touches on the 2019 Honda Passport on Sunday morning when doors were installed and the vehicle completed a quality inspection.