You already know this car very well. S13 240SX chassis, the kind of car you want succeeding at a drift event. That TRA KYOTO/GT Rodeo aero, oh so good. Easily recognizable Falken livery. And that driver—yes, that cool Japanese guy with even cooler hair. So damn smooth and what I call pure genius behind the wheel. This is not so much a story about a car that was taken to a Formula D victory, but more about the guy who is responsible for doing the job. After all, without a great driver, the car is nothing more than a piece of lifeless machinery. Its life comes from within him, through his fingertips, fast acting feet and precision coordination. Winning a championship is a goal that has been in effect since the day he stepped off a plane back in 2003 as a hired gun for a then emerging drift scene. He never once stopped trying although he was knocked down a couple times in the process. And, so it goes without saying: 2011 was finally Dai Yoshihara’s year.
A Star is Born
There are so many stories that have been left untold when it comes to Dai. A quick search over the Internet will pull up various event results, so while you can talk statistics about Dai, it doesn’t really give you an insight as to how he is as a person. I’m here to share a few stories with you from people who’ve been a part of Dai’s professional drifting career at various stages. But, to start, let me tell you my earliest memories of Dai—before he was a star, before he could speak English, before he could even drive a LHD car proficiently—he was just, Dai. I met him at a local speed shop in Los Angeles the summer of 2003 through my friends, Ken Miyoshi and Jerry Tsai. The two of them (Ken being the head of Import Showoff with his latest venture at the time being Drift Showoff, one of the first drift events in the US, and Jerry the mastermind behind one of the OG import clothing labels, Pacific Rim) had wanted to bring over a driver from Japan to pilot a car for them at the first US D1GP driver’s search. By making random connections in Japan, Dai was the guy chosen for the job. I remember distinctly that he could only introduce himself in English and maybe a few other short sentences, nothing more. Quiet for sure, but you could see the hunger in his eyes. Clearly, the talent was there.
“When I first met Dai, he was a touge drifter I met through a friend who I partnered with to purchase JDM parts to send to the US. If I didn’t purchase those parts, I would’ve never met Dai and invited him over to the States. When we met, he told me he was a local mountain drifter and wanted a chance to compete on a professional level. I asked, “Why not D1 Japan?” and he told me that he needed connections and money to even be a top-level competitor. He offered to pick me up and show me his touge skills, and I accepted. That two-hour drive in the mountains blew my mind. I then asked if he wanted to have his drifting dream fulfilled since I was starting my own drifting series here.” – Ken Miyoshi, founder of Import/Drift Showoff
Here was a driver who was brought over to live his American dream, to drift in the US on behalf of a US drift team. In one of my first stories with Dai (‘Interrogation Room’, June 2004), he told me, “I’m not well-known [in Japan]; nobody knows me. It’s better for me to drift for the Americans. I want to represent the American scene.” It’s this desire to succeed in America that has obviously motivated Dai to push as hard as he can. As his skills improved, his fan base also grew. Dai and the Pac Rim drift team became an overnight sensation and when many drivers transitioned over to the Formula D series, many soon recognized him as a drift icon, including me. Yet, despite the popularity, all he really wanted was a championship title. And so the fight continued on…
The Makings of a Champion
In 2008, Dai parted ways amicably with Pac Rim, doing a brief stint (for one year) alongside Rhys Millen in the RMR Pontiac GTO before joining Team Falken’s dynamic team of young drifters, creating a sort of ‘best of the best’ union of tire-smoking talents. In some way, you could say that this was a make it or break it point in his career, a test for sure. He now had a team to represent, one full of stars where some claimed championship titles of their own, but Dai still stood out as a unique entity. It wasn’t just the added pressure to perform from his teammates that started to weigh him down; as part of Team Falken, he was no longer in his “comfort zone”, so to speak, as the S13s and S15 he had become used to driving—and subsequently, also synonymous with his image—were no longer. Dai now became the captain of the Discount Tire Lexus IS 350, a car that was often more problematic than not.
“His ability to hop into new vehicles and adapt quickly, and in several cases drive around issues with cars, has made him one of the top talents in the sport of drift over the past eight years.” – Rhys Millen
“Dai has always been the best but he lost confidence after his 2009 crash at Seattle. He had been suffering from development problems with his new car until it was destroyed in the crash. His hastily prepared S13 was barely competitive as well until the 2010 season. It took until his Atlanta victory in 2010 to get his confidence back. He is sort of like Senna, a brilliant driver but he sometimes has moments where he makes basic mistakes, mostly in strategy not related to his driving skill.” – Mike Kojima, crew member/MotoIQ.com