While the Seattle crash is probably what damaged his spirits most, a lot of good came from the experience. No longer being in the Lexus placed Dai back behind the wheel of a Nissan, his roots, you might say, and I’d like to say it’s the exact car where he performs most naturally and at his best: the S13. But this wasn’t going to be your average run-of-the-mill S-chassis drift car. His crew at SPD Metalworks implanted an American soul into the engine bay, a monstrous, power-producing LS7 V8, effectively creating the best of both worlds in a performance machine. It’s funny, though, when you think about it. A Japanese driver with a huge passion for American drifting using a very Japanese car but with a totally American powerplant. It’s the perfect storm for Dai. “I never thought my first championship would be won with a car like this,” he says, “And my team is all American even though I’m Japanese. JDM plus USDM work very hard together and that creates good chemistry. Just like our S13. This is why I have both the Japanese and US flag next to my name.” It wasn’t long before this combination got Dai back in the zone and on the road to victory.
And so it began. One win, two, they came consistently, more followed. Dai was getting his groove back. But it wasn’t an easy climb to the top, especially at the Irwindale finals. There, he had to face several of his Falken teammates in a nail-biting closer (you can read more about that in our FD coverage elsewhere in this issue). He was actually knocked out earlier than expected, leaving a small window of opportunity open for someone else to take the championship. But the cards played out in Dai’s favor at the very end. Even though the podium didn’t have him standing there, the title was all his.
“Every year has brought their own unique challenges that Dai has met head on. I don’t think any driver has competed in FD in as many car configurations as he has. Small car, big car, 4-banger, V8, coupe and sedan, no budget, big budget, small team, big team—he’s done it all. Two things that haven’t changed over the years are his driving smoothness and consistency. He has really come into his own, especially in the past two seasons. His smooth and consistent driving has earned him multiple trips to the podium and now the championship. I am very proud of him for accomplishing a goal that we set out to do eight years ago.” – Jerry Tsai, Pacific Rim Motorsports and former manager
“When we started Behind the Smoke this season, I asked him a question during an early interview. The question was, “Finish this sentence: I’m actually a _____”. His answer was “an ordinary guy”. By being able to acknowledge himself as an ordinary guy gives him the ability to correctly judge what he needs to do to advance in his goals, career and life without outside noise. So this also says his strength as a drift driver has always been to be able to examine his situation and do what is necessary to achieve that task. But he is one heck of an ordinary dude who achieved one big fucking accomplishment. I was very lucky to be able to document his achievement but the most rewarding thing was that I got to see every scene of a champion in the making.” – Taro Koki, GTChannel.com
Like these wheels? Dai is launching his Yoshihara Design wheel collection shortly, the two
After finishing out the season, I had a few moments to chat with Dai before he left to go back home to Japan. He told me he didn’t feel any different, perhaps it hadn’t sunk in yet. He still seemed like regular old Dai, which is a good thing. “I’m so happy to be the champion, but I really wanted to do well until the final round. I didn’t do that good in the last two rounds. Especially, in the final round, I got knocked out early and after that, I was just waiting for the other guys to get knocked out to win the championship. It wasn’t really the greatest way to win the championship. Last year, [Vaughn Gittin] JR had six podium finishes out of seven rounds and won the championship; he dominated the season. I have to give him big respect for that. I achieved one of my biggest goals, but there is a lot of room for improvement as far as driving skills, strategies and mental preparation is concerned. The competition is getting tougher so 2012 will be harder. I just need to keep improving.”
All I have to say to my friend now is, enjoy the moment. And congratulations; 2011 was YOUR year.
Relief for Japan
While Dai’s charity, Relief For Japan has already raised plenty of money for the tsunami recovery in his home country, we here at Super Street thought we’d join the cause as well. We’ve not only made our own personal donations, but we’re picking up a few of the RFJ t-shirts on your behalf, to which Dai will sign personally for the lucky winners. All you have to do is look out for our Relief For Japan post on our Facebook page starting (December 6, 2011); the first 5 people to reply with ‘RFJ DAI’ will be contacted by a member of our staff (please enable private messaging or we will move onto the next person in line) so that we can send your prize to you. But, we also highly encourage everyone to make a donation, big or small, and you can do so by visiting rfjp.org.