For the first time in my tenure at Super Street, I was flying out to Tokyo Auto Salon alone (time to put on my big boy pants, right?). I wouldn't have a fellow staffer or photographer/videographer by my side to help capture content and comb Japan's mega show, which now consists of 800 registered show cars. On top of that, this also meant I'd be lost in translation without a Japanese-speaking companion for the first time; not impossible to work with by any means, but it sure makes it difficult to chat with local shops and vehicle owners. Was I worried? You bet your ass I was! I didn't want to come home with lackluster show report and no leads on any new feature cars. But luckily, things just tend to work out and 2020 hasn't been a complete disaster for me (quite yet).
Our friends at ENEOS Motor Oil came to my rescue with a solid solution, plus a few cool ideas, which made everything a win-win situation. First, they connected me with their pro driver and brand ambassador, Dai Yoshihara to assist me with whatever I needed in Tokyo. Next, ENEOS printed out 100 limited edition sticker packs for Dai and I to giveaway to spectators at the show (the stickers came out pretty badass, I might add!). Third, Dai and I had the pleasure of picking out our top three show cars which would be recognized with the first-ever Super Street x ENEOS Tokyo Auto Salon Award, not to mention these three cars would be lined up for full features later this year. And last but not least, we'd be hosting an intimate car meet and cruise with some local enthusiasts which would begin at an ENEOS fuel station—one of 14,000 stations across Japan. My solo trip to Auto Salon didn't sound so bad anymore!
ENEOS MEET & SHIBUYA CRUISE
While Tokyo Auto Salon is the main reason Super Street visits Japan every year, it's also a treat when we get a chance to meet local project car owners. This year, we have Ilia Smolov of Final Bout to thank for coordinating 10 old school cars (mostly drift-prepped) to meet us at an underground parking structure and ENEOS service station. The car owners were comprised of members of Team Freee's and Lowbrain. According to Ilia, he met many of these guys when he was still part of the Risky Devil team nearly ten years ago. They have remained friends throughout the years, share fond memories of street drifting, and we couldn't have been more grateful for them to join us on such short notice for our mini car meet and midnight cruise through Tokyo's Shibuya district.
CATCHING UP WITH DAI YOSHIHARA
Unless you've been living under a rock for the last 15 years, then you should know the name Dai Yoshihara. He's one of the longest-running competitors in Formula DRIFT and the 2011 overall champion. He's also a hot shoe for Evasive Motorsports and Spoon Sports. It's been a good minute since Super Street has officially sat down with him, so right before our ENEOS meet, we decided to pick his brain. Enjoy our exclusive 1-on-1 interview with one of the industry's most admired, veteran drivers.
What's your past experience with Tokyo Auto Salon? Did you attend the show when you were younger?
Yes, I came to TAS when I was young. Well, it has changed. When I went to TAS for the first time, which was in the late '90s, it was really just for the performance cars. I don't think I saw that many dress-up cars mainly for looks, and the dressed-up ladies in the booths, haha! I think that the barriers between categories are gone. Now, TAS is for all kind of car people, which is good, I think. For the result, they have been topping their attendance amount every year and it's really good to see so many people still go to the show even though you don't see that many modified cars on the streets these days!
So why are we heading to an ENEOS gas station next, and what is its significance with you?
Well, the ENEOS brand is huge in Japan and one of the biggest things they have here are gas stations. I just wanted to show you guys that. Plus, I used to work at one of their gas stations, so it brings me back memories!
Did you hate it or love it?
I loved it. As a car guy, you would get so much benefits working at a gas station. You can get all the supplies at a cheaper price and they let us use their garage to work on our own cars when it's not busy. And I was using all of the disposed tires that the customers left for my drifting practice. So, I'd never purchased brand new tires back then.
We understand your first car was an AE86 Corolla. Was this the car that you bought while working at the gas station?
Yes, that was my first car. It was already modified enough to practice drift. It had lowered suspension, limited-slip, and it was only $200. So, I didn't really modify it since it was ready to drive but spent all my money on the gas.
Exactly where was this gas station—how far was it from your home?
It was in Hachioji City in Tokyo, which is my hometown; only five minutes away from my parent's house.
Your new Type R-powered AE86 went bonkers at SEMA. How did this project come up?
I've owned and driven so many cars in the past, but still, my favorite car is the AE86. So, I always wanted to build one and the opportunity just came when Turn 14 needed their booth car for SEMA and PRI. I don't think we will use it for any serious competitions, but we'll take it to the track for fun, and hopefully we can get some content out of it! The reasoning behind the FK8 engine is that no one has done it yet. It's a four banger and makes perfect power and torque, stock, and stock means reliable. I just wanted to spend time on driving and not fixing it after we build it.
Did it turn out the way you wanted it?
Yes, it did turn out the way I wanted for the most part. Like I said, I didn't have money to modify the AE86 when I first owned it. I still don't have money, but I got a lot of connections and supporters now. So, this is like my childhood dream build and we are aiming to have it on the track in the next couple of months.
You moved to the U.S. 17 years ago... What are your fondest memories of Japan and what would you say is your biggest accomplishment in America?
I gotta say that was my Touge days in Japan. It's not like I achieved anything since I was driving just for fun, but I definitely loved those times and I think my life direction was built based on those days. My biggest accomplishment in America is winning the FD championship in 2011. It was my goal since 2004.
What other important milestones would you consider big in your career, and who is the '2020 and beyond Dai Yoshihara'?
After I won the championship, other important milestones included me being able to do multiple driving challenges, not just drifting. Events such as Time Attack, road racing, Pikes Peak, etc... As for the "2020 and beyond Dai", I want to continue driving various categories on top of drifting. It might sound simple since I just said "continue" but it's not easy. Continuation is power!