It's been years since I left Chicago, but as a regular participant in Club FR events, I was keen to keep up with what my friends were up to and what was happening with the Midwest drift scene. As it so happened, it blew up when those same friends that had organized Club FR events started an event called Final Bout.
Being over 6,000 miles away in Tokyo, I could only see what was happening via my social media feeds and media coverage. It was the slow-drip I needed to keep me awake during my daily commutes to and from the office. On one of those commutes, the slow-drip became a continuous stream as the announcement of Final Bout Special Stage Japan appeared.
As the white rental vans arrived with the Final Bout staff, I walked up to greet everyone. The reactions could only be described as disbelief. After seven years, the Chicago crew was back together but amazingly it felt as if only a few months had passed since the last time I met everyone in person.
Later that night I sat down with Simba and fellow Final Bout and Team ProceeD founder, Ilia Smolov, to discuss Final Bout Special Stages. As Ilia explained, Special Stages were created to do two things: allow talented regional teams opportunities to participate and reduce the overall costs for participants. After the success of the regional Special Stages, Final Bout looked to go even bigger by going international, and no other place than Japan made sense to host the inaugural Final Bout Special Stage International.
Choosing Motorland Mikawa was based on several criteria. The track had to support team drifting, which meant it couldn't be too big. The layout had to support lower drift speeds in order to allow the drivers to get as close to each other as possible. Surprisingly, the last criteria was the track had to have beautiful surroundings. As Simba said, it was equally important to have the setting be as spectacular as the drifting.
The next morning, walking through the paddock was like a mashup of different video clips featuring the top teams in Japan. In one area was Magician, in another was Sexy Knights, and yet in another was THe☆BReaST. These legendary teams were joined by up and coming teams looking to make a big impression, including Team49 Make F.D.R 1 (Rowdy), Level, Realize, Motor Fix, Props, Ketsuketsu Dohmei, and Aspiration. Of course, Freee's and Lowbrain Racing were on hand as both the Japanese host and drivers. Then suddenly, A-BO-MOON entered the paddock and like drift royalty, everyone stopped what they were doing to welcome them. With all the teams present, Final Bout Special Stage Mikawa was underway.
The event would be broken up into six sessions with five run groups. Only the last session would be judged to determine the best team. This makes the event much less about competition and more about having fun while putting on the best show possible. The low stress nature of the event definitely came through as the drivers were relaxed and smiling throughout the event. Although last to arrive, A-BO-MOON was the first to hit the track and exceeded all expectations I had for the day. Having the most cars of any team, the seven R32s took to Motorland Mikawa quickly even though this was the first time for most drivers.
Joining A-BO-MOON on the track was team Magician with their signature pink cars. The drift trains of blue and pink have been permanently etched into the memories of everyone in attendance.