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Their Dreams, Your Realities - Industry Innovators

Meet the People Who Helped Shape the Way You Race, Drift, Tune, Build and Look at Cars

Jonathan Wong
Sep 13, 2006 SHARE

Jim Liaw and Ryan Sage
Formula D / www.formulad.com
Responsible For:
creating the first US drift competition series

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Before the idea of a US drifting series was even conceived, Jim Liaw and Ryan Sage were helping to make the very first D1 event in the US a success. From selling sponsors to marketing and track preparation, their company, Slipstream Global, was the group responsible for the success of D1 in the States, which caused drivers and the entire industry to want more. Turned down by D1 Japan to license a US series, Slipstream announced its own drifting series called Formula D at SEMA '03. "By the time we launched Formula D," says Jim, "we only had two experiences working on a drift event-D1 and a D1 drivers search. It took some time to figure out how to make it work." Now in its third season, Formula D has made superstars of the highest caliber drifters from diverse walks of life, and gives greater credibility to US drivers who often take a backseat to their Japanese peers. Ryan credits their success to the relationships they share with the drivers, adding "This is a business, but because we were friends from the beginning, it's made learning how to do this job a lot easier, plus it's allowed all of us to become better friends in the end."

John Concialdi
AEM / www.aempower.com
Responsible For:
tuning Hondas and helping them break the 11-second barrier

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Long before AEM became a common name as the powerhouse backer of two very successful drag and drift teams, John Concialdi was working in the R&D department of what used to be known as Weber Carbs. He eventually bought out his old company and on October 1, 1987, the day an earthquake rocked Los Angeles county, the doors to AEM opened. John and his employees spent most of their time making small cars like the Acura Integra or 22R-driven Celicas go fast. In fact, that's how AEM's reputation got its start: at the street races. All it took was a sticker on the side of a car to take care of their guerrilla marketing. "From then on, we started to pick up work for guys that were getting their cars featured in magazines," says John. "Guys like Tony Fuchs and Brian Kim from Cyber Racing, Darin Ishitani from Honda Service Center; that's when they really started going fast." AEM moved out of a small tuning shop when they started focusing on the development of their cold air intake kits-the company's long time bread winner-and helping Steph Papadakis reach low e.t.'s with the AEM Drag Civic. In recent years, they've released several bolt-on pieces, a stellar engine management system and have even started their own line of truck parts. Today, AEM continues its innovation by developing the first dry-air filter element and supporting Steph and Tanner Foust with the AEM Drift team. And if you bump into John, you may want to ask him about his Vette fetish.

Ken Miyoshi
Mainstream Productions / www.showoffcafe.com
Responsible For:
Import Showoff, the first and original import car show; introducing drifting to the States

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Let's paint the scene for you. You're a club promoter and you step out onto the street for some fresh air-what do you see? Fixed up cars. Lots of them. And they're cruising up and down street like there's no tomorrow. This was a common sight for Ken Miyoshi during the early '90s, and when one of the premiere events for car enthusiasts in LA (Nisei Cruise, during Little Tokyo's Nisei Week) died off he knew people were looking for another way to show off their cars. "All these guys ever wanted to do was be seen," says Ken. "They would park and not even go inside the club." That's when he came up with the idea for Import Showoff; the concept was instantly a huge success. "There were a lot of shows out there, like Lowrider," he says. "But there was never anything for us, the Asian-Americans. I think catering to that particular demographic since it was predominantly Asian, just really lent to its popularity." Besides Import Showoff, Ken should also be credited as being the first to introduce drifting to the States when he held the first Drift Showoff in '03 before any D1 or Formula D series, bringing over Signal Auto's then star drifters, "Chunky" Bai and "Drifter X" Komatsu, and Falken's Yoshinori Koguchi and Seigo Yamamoto. Ken picked up the idea of exposing drifting to the States after Signal's Kousuke Kida took him to the Osaka street drifts. Import Showoff continues its legacy by attracting the top show cars and clubs to its Nisei and EXC events.
[Little known fact:] Ken helped spark the careers of many industry icons: RJ DeVera was the first to respond to his Import Showoff flier; he recommended Daijiro Yoshihara as a driver to Pacific Rim's Jerry Tsai; he used to fly Ben "Big Smoke" Schwartz out from Florida to drive at his Drift Showoffs. Even crazier, his wife is a former Mugen Japan campaign girl!

Oscar Jackson
Jackson Racing / www.jacksonracing.com
Responsible for:
developing the first CARB-legal supercharger for the Honda Civic; racing Hondas before most of your parents even met

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Owning the fastest Honda in '90 meant 13-seconds at nearly 100 mph-this was even faster than the car built by HKS for the first company heads-up drag race at Battle against Oscar Jackson, the man behind Jackson Racing. "It's funny," recalls Oscar, "My son was only 18 months at the time and I had him strapped into a baby chair while I made that pass. Back then the rules weren't as strict." However, Oscar's story goes back further than the import scene as we know it. After dropping out of law school in 1973, he found employment at a Honda dealership as a mechanic and worked day and night, developing cam and header packages for the early model Civics and CRXs. Over the course of the next decade, Oscar put his work to the test on the track and won several endurance races before switching gears so he could release the first CARB-legal supercharger for a Honda engine while most companies were hard up for turbocharging. "I've always marched to my own beat, so to speak," he says. "Most people get into [tuning Hondas] because it's the popular thing. Well, I do it because I love Hondas and I made it the popular thing. When I decided that I was going to sell a supercharger it was because most of the cars that were using turbochargers were blowing up. You were limited by not having fuel management, things like that. The companies selling them weren't offering warranties, and I wanted to sell a product that was reliable and had a two-year back-up." The instant boost in power was a much-welcomed and instant success, so much so that it became a hot modification for budget minded enthusiasts. Moss Motors licensed the name a few years later and Oscar Jackson nearly disappeared from the limelight. But if you think Jackson Racing is out of the game, think again-Oscar recently took back control over the company and this fall a new division of JR will unveil a supercharger for what Oscar calls "the next generation of Honda's small super cars," the Fit. He's back, Mortimer!

Kipp Kington
KTC Media Group / www.ktcmediagroup.com
Responsible for:
creating Turbo - the first magazine to cater to aftermarket performance for sport compact vehicles

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The year was 1985. Michael J. Fox was raking it in as a time traveling doofus and Kipp Kington was enjoying driving a turbocharged Nissan 300ZX during his stint as a partner at a Phoenix-based publishing company. Dissatisfied with the power the Z came with, he and his partner's son got to talking about performance and how they could get their cars to go even faster, and, with roughly a million turbocharged cars being sold that year, they figured other people might want to know about how they could go faster too. Hence, Turbo magazine was born. Its reader base started slowly and it took Sai Akimoto (RS Akimoto) and a trip to the '90 Compton street races to convince Kipp that the rise of import performance was about to hit hard. "I was with my wife and started to do a smoky burnout when cops surrounded us," he laughs. "I told him we were just out looking for business property when we ran into these kids. He almost let us off until he saw the entire rear quarter panel covered in rubber." These same kids at the street races eventually became the front cover news, and Turbo suddenly was the "it" magazine on the newsstand (Until we came along (we kid, we kid) - Staff). Turbo's popularity eventually spawned Import Tuner and both magazines were sold to Primedia. Kipp now serves as an advertising consultant with KTC Media Group, creating ads for companies like GReddy, AEM and ACT.

Jon Kuroyama
HKS USA, formerly Fastrax / www.hksusa.com
Responsible for:
supplying the early drag racers with race-proven turbos

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If you were drag racing an import back in the early '90s and were going really fast while doing so, chances were you had a Fastrax turbo hanging out in your engine bay. Already a local legend of sorts, Jon Kuroyama had turbocharging science down right, selecting the proper turbos for everyone's race car, including Abel Ibarra, Adam Saruwatari, the Bergenholtz brothers, Stephan Papadakis and Lisa Kubo-they all went with Jon's turbos. "Turbos weren't always popular," Jon reminisces. "I mean, I had a turbo on my car, but as far as the technology to support it, like fuel management, it just wasn't there. It had been a few years that I'd been working with turbos before everyone started getting into them." And there was no secret to Jon's magic, either: "It's a matter of matching the turbo correctly to your engine," he says. "Rather than picking something off the shelf, I'll find out what type of management, engine size, how it's being used and the size of the turbo according to their power band." Can't argue with his logic.

Shaun Carlson
Nuformz / www.mopar.com
Responsible for:
helping to build the first front-wheel drive, tube frame chassis drag car that also broke 9's

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In the span of 10 years, it seems like Shaun Carlson's done it all. Starting from an editorial position during Turbo's early years, the blonde, mohawked, fabricator/racer from the 909 has crafted innovations in more ways than one. During the mid-90's, he founded Nuformz, a fabrication shop where he produced the first Honda cylinder wall sleeve, which helped strengthen the D and B-series motors that were pumping out big horsepower. In '99, he teamed up with Stephan Papadakis to build the first FWD tube chassis racecar, a Civic that was the first to complete 9, then 8-second passes. His mechanical talent led him to a sponsorship with Ford and Meguiar's where he raced a Focus ZX3 in numerous sport compact drag series. BJ Birtwell, formerly of Meguiar's who moved onto Mopar/Daimler Chrysler, brought Shaun into Mopar late in '03 where he raced a FWD Dodge SRT-4. Last year Nuformz took on the responsibility of working as Sam Hubinette's technical crew, aiding in improving the current SRT-10 Viper and the upcoming SRT-8 Charger. However, the highlight of Shaun's career is happening as we speak: a big-time ride in NHRA's premier Powerade series as a Pro Stock driver for powerhouse Schumacher Racing.

Mike Munar and John Russell
Vision Entertainment / www.hotimportnights.com
Responsible for: taking the car show idea and turningit into an entertainment extravaganza with Hot Import Nights

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It took only 30 minutes for the Long Beach PD to come in and tell Vision Entertainment that ticket sales had to stop; the first Hot Import Nights in '97 had reached full capacity. But why make a show at night? "So much of the culture was happening at night," John says. "The club scene and the cars; it just made logical sense to combine the two." By giving younger enthusiasts an avenue to check out cars and hot women, and attracting big name musical groups and DJs all in one place, their formula for success has been proven time and time again with lines stretching outside convention centers well into the night. Mike adds, "from the very first show to now, one thing has remained constant: we're providing great entertainment. We want to see people have fun the second they walk through those doors. Cars and the lifestyle that incorporates it-as long as there are kids, cars and cool things to go with it, this thing is going to continue to grow." HIN continues to tour around the country and plans to add drifting exhibitions in the near future.Totally useless fact: Disappointed that the first HIN had sold out before the night had even taken off, a young Jonny Wong and friends snuck in through a side gate and proceeded to holler at girls all night.

Javier Gutierrez
JG Engine Dynamics / www.jgenginedynamics.com
Responsible for: building record breaking Honda engines when the top racers were just getting their careers started

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Javier Gutierrez got his fix as a teen by racing on the streets of So Cal. He then started road racing, along with building and tuning engines under the guise of JG Engine Dynamics. During the Honda drag phenomenon of the early '90s, one thing was clear: JG was the place to go to when you needed horsepower and a lot of it. Youngsters like Steph Papadakis, Viet Lam and countless other draggers relied on his expertise in engine building to help break records on the 1320. JG eventually began to produce its own line of engine bolt-ons, including cam gears and, to this day, continues to do quality machine work and complete, turn-key engine packages. But it wasn't an easy road to travel, as Javier explains: "Overall, the industry went up and nosedived down. Now it's back to where it was during the late '90s. We now find ourselves back at the roots, which is good for a lot of people. We build roughly 115 engines per year, but 60 percent of those are used in road racing applications. It's a direction we chose to go with; I'm a road racer at heart and the drag racing is really just a piggyback to everything else we do. I love competing where horsepower makes a difference and that's where we shine the most."Little known fact: Javier's wife Carrie was the first paid subscriber to Super Street. We're not sure who bribed her, but we are sure that it had something to do with a tall, unkempt gentleman by the name of Matt Pearson.

Frank Choi
IDRA / www.battleoftheimports.com
Responsible for: creating the first import drag racing series, dubbed the Battle of the Imports

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Like many of his friends, Frank Choi was a street racer. Shunned by the LACR (Los Angeles County Raceway) because his car wasn't a domestic, Frank left without any options; he couldn't even race for a time-only run. He was told by track officials that if he didn't like it, he could rent the track on his own. In July of '90, he finally got the chance, and had the satisfaction of turning away a V8 as he threw the first Battle of the Imports-the first ever import drag racing series. What started off as a small local event with 70 cars nearly tripled in competing cars by the following year. Even with little support from the aftermarket, Frank pushed on, and, by its third year, Battle began to pull crowds in excess of 14,000 at a track that wasn't even NHRA sanctioned. From then on, the cars started to go faster and faster. The sponsoring companies followed suit and import drag racing took off to unprecedented heights. For many lucky So Cal residents, being at any Battle from its humble beginnings to the late '90s was an unexpected chance to witness history in the making. Little known fact: Battle of the Imports issued Super Street's first media credentials. "I thought the staff seemed like nice guys," says Frank, "That's when John Cobb (former publisher) and Matt Pearson (first editor) were running around with cameras."

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By Jonathan Wong
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