By Matt Wolfe
Soichiro Honda was a passionate man in many respects. He had a strong desire to build great products and always put the customer first when assessing problems. More than anything, Mr. Honda wanted to be the best at what he and his company did. It’s natural, then, that motorsports had a strong appeal to Honda and would become a pivotal part of his company’s growth.
Soichiro Honda had a short-lived racing career of his own. The first race he participated in was the All Japan Automobile Speed Racing Championship in 1936. He, along with his brother Benjiro, built a turbocharged four-cylinder Ford for the race. The brothers held a commanding lead until the final lap, when a car coming out of pit lane forced Soichiro to swerve. Honda’s car flipped, and Benjiro was jettisoned from the car. He suffered serious injuries and was hospitalized for six months with multiple fractures and bruises. Soichiro also sustained injuries to his face and left arm. He would participate in one more race that year, but would then retire from racing permanently.
Despite voluntarily ending his own racing career, Soichiro Honda still had a burning passion for motorsports. “Since childhood,” he said, “my dream was to become a champion in world automobile racing with a machine I had made myself.” After WWII, Honda Motor Co. began to participate in motorcycle races. The company’s bikes claimed the top five positions in two classes at the 1961 Isle of Man TT races, the most famous motorcycle race in the world, and won numerous other championships. The success of Honda’s racing motorcycles, combined with the company’s entrance into automobile manufacturing in 1963, would lead them to take the plunge into one of the greatest racing series of all time; Formula One.
Honda returned in 1983 as an engine supplier for constructors like Williams, Lotus and eventually McLaren. Honda engines would power the likes of Alain Prost and Ayerton Senna to four world championships between 1988 and 1991. Soichiro Honda would pass away on August 5, 1991, at the age of 84. 45 years had passed since he and business partner Takeo Fujisawa had founded the Honda Motor Co. In that time he had seen the company go from a fledgling motorcycle manufacturer to a world-renowned builder of motorcycles and automobiles as well as one of the most respected names in motorsports.