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
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.
falken tire corporation/ discount tire
7.0L LS7 V8 engine; forged high compression pistons, billet crank and rods; fast LSXR intake manifold, 102mm throttle body, and fuel rails; Griffin radiator; K&N air filters; KRC power steering pump; RC injectors
G-Force GSR transmission; McLeod twin-metallic racing disc clutch; Winters Quick Change differential with spool; Driveshaft Shop axles; Drivelines Inc. driveshaft
Footwork & Chassis
KW 3-way adjustable coilovers; SPL control arms; SPL/Battle Version adjustable rods; Progress 3-way adjustable sway bars
Wilwood calipers, disc brakes, brake bias adjuster, pedals, brake pads and brake master cylinder; SPD hydraulic e-brake conversion
Wheels & Tires
18x9" Yoshihara Design wheels; 245/40R18 and 275/35R18 Falken Azenis RT615K tires
TRA KYOTO/6666 Customs GT Rodeo aero kit; L&S Custom Products hood; Seibon doors; APR wing; Speedglass windows; KICS Project spacers and lug nuts; D-MAX corner lights and taillights
SPD Metal Works rollcage; Sparco Corsa driver seat/Evo passenger seat, safety equipment and fire extinguisher; Fuel Safe 8-gallon aluminum fuel cell; Optima battery
First of all, I want to thank all my sponsors, including Discount Tire, Falken Tire, KW Suspension, Sparco and GT Channel—without any of their support, I wouldn’t have been able to finish the 2011 season on top. I am so thankful to have my great team, Team Falken Tire with SPD Metal Works—they provided me with a great car. I think this year we showed what this team is made of. They all worked really hard and more than anything, we had great teamwork—I think it was the biggest factor for us to do well, and that’s why I was able to perform my best. I want thank to all my fans. I got so much encouragement through Facebook, Twitter and all. It was amazing! Thank you so much! I want to give a very special thanks to Ken Miyoshi and Jerry Tsai—Ken was the guy who brought me to the US so I could drive for Jerry until 2007. Without them, I would never have been able to come to the US and compete.