It's fun recounting all the countless stories I have of meeting the personalities who make up our small but awesome tuner scene. My friendship with Dai (Daijiro Yoshihara) is one of my favorites. We both met while we were much younger and could barely communicate (language barrier)—and today, well, let's just say we've already exchanged a couple of texts and have liked one another's photos on Instagram (we tight, aight) by the time I finished writing this sentence. Needless to say, I've watched him grow from an unknown to an American drifting sensation, regarded today as the best of the best. A maverick in his own right, and deservedly so. He has since retired the S13 that is long synonymous with the Yoshihara name (also won the 2012 Formula D title) and is campaigning an all-new Subaru BRZ for 2014, one that has been outfitted with a turbocharged V8, nearly 1,000hp, and the fashion-forward Version 2 kit from Kei Miura's Rocket Bunny label. It is the stuff hipster tuner kids and diehard drift fans would kill for, and is the culmination of Dai's American drifting career.
But the BRZ (at the end of the day) is just a car, and ultimately what makes Dai so popular is that he's approachable all while being that totally cool JDM guy. Without him at the helm, the cars remain as lifeless as can be—but he gives them purpose. Dai, as a driver, also has a purpose—to continue driving as he has, since he was a teen, to become the best he can be. I wanted to get into Dai's mind to find out where he came from, where he's at, and where he wants to be. I can tell you with confidence that he'll always want to be driving something...it's his "driving force," so to speak.
SS: What was your life like when you first started driving?
DY: I was 18 when I first got my license. I was already riding motorcycles with all of my friends because you can get a motorcycle license when you turn 16; you cannot get a driver's license (for cars) until you turn 18. But even when we could get one, not all of my friends went to hashiriya (street racing)—most of them went VIP or low riders, only to party. I was the only guy who went up into the mountains to go racing. Before I rode motorcycles, I always wanted to drive something.
SS: Where did that interest in driving come from?
DY: Well, my father used to work at a car dealership that my uncle owned. Growing up, I was always surrounded by cars. I think everyone has that dream to become a race car driver. I didn't have any heroes; I watched Senna casually, but it was never too hardcore. Just a cool fantasy.
SS: What was street racing like for you growing up in Japan?
DY: It was fun. I know I shouldn't say that, but it really was. I would go with my senpais (mentors), who weren't very close friends of mine, but they were really into drifting. This was kind of a secret life that I led (being a drifter); most people who are into drifting, their life revolves around drifting—not me. I had a separate life outside of it. Back then (late '90s to 2000), drifting wasn't cool, and it was considered kind of nerdy. The culture was very different. Hashiriya/street racers...girls weren't into it. For example: Miura-san's generation—the bosozoku—they transitioned into street racing. For my generation, it was lowriders, hip-hop, and American culture that were coming up. People wanted to go clubbing or were more interested in following other trends besides touge or drifting.
SS: What was your first car?
DY: A Corolla, AE86. The same year I started drifting ('95) is when Initial D came out. It wasn't even popular, but I was reading it. It was a fun comic but didn't really influence me in any way.
SS: So there's no story of you driving around with a cup of water, making sure it won't spill?
DY: That's actually not possible (laughs).
SS: How did you practice?
DY: First I did donuts and figure eights like everybody else. I used to practice at these public bus stations; at night, they're empty so they turn into big parking lots. Every single night I went and practiced.
SS: Was there ever a time when you thought, "I'm not good at this; I should stop" or did it just come easy to you?
DY: It wasn't easy, and I spent a lot of time working on perfecting my skills. But I didn't suck. I was pretty good compared to a lot of people. After a few months, I was already better than people who had been doing it for a few years.
SS: Better than your senpais?
DY: Yeah, they were like, "WTF?"
SS: How difficult is it for someone to become a pro drifter in Japan?
DY: It's not easy at all, and the bottom line is, at the time, even someone like Taniguchi was still a touge driver. There was no D1 yet. At that point, nobody, not even one person, except maybe Keiichi Tsuchiya, thought there would ever be such a thing as professional drifting. It was just kids messing around type stuff.
SS: When did you discover you actually had a talent for drifting?
DY: Around '96-'97. D1 Japan started in 2000 and I didn't come to the U.S. until 2003. In between all those years, I was a weekend street racer. I did the same thing over and over, practice, practice, and never thought anything would come of it. I went through five more cars after that AE86: a Nissan Laurel, Cefiro, 180SX, R32 Skyline four-door, and an S14.
SS: What was your favorite car out of those?
DY: I've always loved the AE86, even today. I want to own another one in the future. I didn't really fix up my cars, though. That's probably why I never had any problems. Just a simple set of coilovers and an LSD, change the tires, and put gas in. I like to drive a car as it comes naturally, more or less.
SS: And then comes the infamous story about how you linked up with Ken Miyoshi (founder of Import Showoff) and how he was looking for a driver to come drive in one of the first U.S. drifting events...
DY: Yes, I connected with Miyoshi through a couple different acquaintances, and it wasn't necessarily that he was looking for a driver, but he said if I wanted the opportunity to come and drive, he would help bring me over and give me a place to stay. D1 was going to have a driver's search, and he recommended I try it out. I said, "Of course!" and I wound up becoming the driver for Jerry Tsai and the Pacific Rim drift team. I always wanted to come to the U.S. to do some "thing"—not just drifting but anything—so it was very exciting for me. Right before this, I even applied to work on the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka because I had this desire to do something that would hopefully get me to the States.
SS: You could've become Tetsu's coworker. [Ed note: For those who don't know, our man Tetsuya Ogushi is a driver for the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.]
DY: (laughs) Yes, basically Tetsu's job—that was my goal. I didn't think to become a pro drifter. When I found out I could go to the U.S., I finally thought, "Damn, I'm one step closer to achieving my dream."
SS: Then you get here and suddenly you realize drifting is a lot bigger in the U.S. than you think. Were you surprised or nervous?
DY: It was crazy at that first D1 event, and I had never driven in front of a group as large as that in my life. I was nervous, but it went well. I lost against (Katsuhiro) Ueo in the Top 16, so I thought that was pretty good. I also thought that was it as far as any big drifting event I'd compete in—go back to Japan and my life would go back to normal. But that same day, Jim Liaw and Ryan Sage—who were helping D1 then and would eventually start Formula D—came to me and asked if I would be interested in driving in a new series they would be starting the following year. I agreed since Jerry was interested. I even quit my job so I could drive. I didn't know if it was going to work or how I was going to make money, but I wanted to try the Formula D series. That was my life-changing moment.
SS: Fast-forward another couple of years and U.S. drifting is becoming more serious. What was your mind-set then?
DY: I started to pick up sponsors and was earning more pay, so it was becoming more of a professional thing, and that's when I thought maybe I should take this more seriously. As FD continued to grow as a series, I also grew as a driver. But I'm always thinking about the future and how I'm going to sustain a living. I know it shouldn't be about the money, but it's important, just as making a living should be. It's tough and stressful, and who knows if I'll be driving the next year? I don't want to rely on drifting so much.
SS: What's the most exciting thing about drifting? What scares you?
DY: The most exciting thing is to win. The fact that I even have a chance to win an event is very exciting as well. I'm scared of failing, and it sucks when I don't do well.
SS: What does Dai ultimately want to do? If you could have it your way...
DY: I'm studying to do more types of driving and I also have a couple of product lines out there, like Yoshihara Design wheels and 8 PRINCE wheel spacers. I've taught as a driving instructor, too, but that's tough. I guess you could say I'm still finding my way.
SS: The reason why I've asked so many questions about your past, leading up to the present, is because I see a strong correlation between you and your competition vehicles. When I first met you, you didn't speak any English and drove an S13 with an SR20DET—very Japanese. Slowly, your cars have become more "American," just like you. I know you don't get a choice when it comes to car selection, but I'm seeing a nice evolution of Dai here. Do you get to inject a little bit of your personality into every car you compete with?
DY: I've never owned any of these cars; luckily, I just happen to drive for someone. Most of the time, the car selection or engine isn't my choice. They build it; I just get in and drive. I'm not car crazy; however, that being said, I am into the driving aspect much more. Like I said before, when I was in Japan, I would spend less time on buying parts and focused more on becoming a better driver. I care more about being competitive; the way a car looks is not important—that's someone else's job. And you're right—before it was just a 240SX with an SR20 and now I have a BRZ that's pushing almost 1,000hp with a V8. Maybe it's a coincidence, but the game has changed in as much as I've adjusted to life in America. And in the process, my cars have become more competitive with the rest of the field in Formula D. The fact that people use V8 here isn't because it's better than a lot of other engines but because it's a domestic product—it's much more reliable and easier to source parts affordably because it's an American engine platform. But I see 2JZs coming up recently; they've always made crazy power and I'm seeing them more now, like in Daigo Saito's car. Again, it's not my decision which engine goes into the car—if they want to put a 2JZ in, I'm down.
SS: How did you wind up with the BRZ?
DY: My last S13 has aged quite a bit, so a few years ago, the discussion came about for a replacement. Your next car, you always want it to be brand new. From a sponsorship standpoint, it's better when you have a newer platform to work with. The S13 is more like a classic now; if you want to build one now, it's a little bit more difficult. Most of all, I wanted an FR (front-engine, rear-wheel-drive), and the only one that appeals now is the ZN6, or FR-S/BRZ chassis. We thought about a 370Z, but the BRZ is more popular. We almost went with a Cadillac CTS-V, but the wheelbase is too long. If I had gotten the CTS-V, then for sure we could say my car evolution became more American!
SS: What keeps you motivated to do your best?
DY: Myself—I just want to do well. It's my career. Before it was a hobby, but now it's my life. I have to pay my bills. Ten years ago, I wasn't making money by drifting—but ten years ago life was a lot different. I want to be more realistic about [the way I carry on]. Doing well now only helps to secure more for my future. I want to be the top drifter, and it's been a while since I won a championship, so I definitely want to be back on top. I never want to say, "forget it" and go do something else; I have nothing else. I'm lucky enough to have so much support. There are a lot of drivers who put in their own money without any major backing; I don't know what I would do if I found myself in that situation. I just want to drive. I'm one of the few drivers who make a living by drifting, which is good. But at the same time, it's a lot of pressure. I suppose it would be ideal if I could drift competitively without worrying about the stress and just enjoy the driving.
SS: Do you think your reason for being is because of drifting?
DY: Yes, I think so. I haven't been doing well recently, but I always think things happen for a reason. I'm having a hard time, but I think I can overcome it—and without drifting, I wouldn't have the life I have now. I get to live in the United States, and I have a lot of friends because of my drifting career. I wouldn't be in Super Street if it wasn't for drifting. So yes, it was meant to be.
Tuning Menu2013 Subaru BRZ
Owner Dai Yoshihara for Falken Tire
Hometown Los Angeles, CA
Occupation Professional race car driver
Power 962hp at 6,800 rpm; 832 lb-ft at 6,800 rpm (est)
Engine 7.0-liter Chevy LS motor; All Pro Heads head porting/machining; custom Brian Crower cams, cam gears and crankshaft; REV valves; Manley valvesprings and retainers; ARP head studs; FelPro MLS head gasket; Cloyes timing chain; RHS block machining; JE 10:1 pistons, piston rings; Callies connecting rods; ATI pulleys; custom SPD Motorsports 5" oval exhaust piping, up-pipe, downpipe, intercooler piping, motor plate, oil filter relocation kit and intake piping; GM Performance 90mm throttle body; Wilson Manifolds prototype intake manifold; Aeromotive Eliminator fuel pump and fuel pressure regulator; Wilson fuel rail; Bosch 1300cc fuel injectors; custom JSP Fab turbo manifolds, turbo elbow; Garrett GTX5008R turbo and intercooler; Turbosmart USA blow-off valve and intercooler wastegate; Dailey Engineering dry sump pan and oil pump; Setrab oil cooler; K&N HP3001 oil filter; Griffin dual pass radiator; HPS silicon hosing; Derale radiator fans; custom wiring harness by James Lin Motorsports; modified GM Performance valve covers with oil squirters
Drivetrain G-Force GSR four-speed dog box; Winter's 10" quick-change differential; Drivelines driveshaft; Driveshaft Shop axles; McLeod clutch and flywheel; custom SPD Motorsports shift lever; transmission work by RaceTech Services
Engine Management MoTeC M800 ECU with PDM 15 Gateway and Keypad, tuned by Redline Performance
Footwork & Chassis KW coilovers; custom SPD Motorsports stitch-welded chassis, rack/pinion, rollcage, camber plates, front toe control arms and front lower control arms; Whiteline sway bars and endlinks; Cusco roll center adjuster, rear lower control arms and rear toe control arms
Brakes Wilwood six-pot front, four-pot rear Dynapro calipers with BP-20 pads and custom stainless lines, proportioning valve, master cylinder; SPD Motorsports dual caliper bracket with brake handle
Wheels & Tires 18x9" +15 front, 18x10" +25 rear Yoshihara Design Champion wheels; 265/35 R18 front, 295/40 R18 rear Falken RT-615K tires; Project Kics R40 Black Chrome lug nuts; ARP extended wheel studs
Exterior TRA Kyoto Rocket Bunny Version 2 body kit; Seibon OEM-style carbon-fiber doors, dry carbon roof, FA-style hood and OEM-style carbon-fiber trunk; Subaru Gloss White interior, engine bay, trunk and undercarriage; paint/bodywork by Sam's Autoland; graphics by AWS Graphics and Daley Visual; Spyder Auto DRL LED chrome headlights; Xenon-Vision HID 5000K headlight bulbs
Interior Sparco Circuit driver seat, REV passenger seat, seat rails, six-point HANS Formula harness, R325 steering wheel, steering hub and quick release; G-Force shift knob; Wilwood pedal box with custom gas pedal; MoTeC SDL Dash gauge cluster
Thanks You Falken Tire, Discount Tire, America's Tire, SPD Motorsports, KW Suspension, Mobil1 Racing, Forza Motorsport, Subaru of North America, Borla Exhaust, Sam's Autoland, Turbo by Garrett, Wilwood Engineering, Illest, BC, Turn 14 Distribution, Sparco, Seibon Carbon, HPI Racing, Whiteline, Battery Tender, Turbosmart USA, HeatShield Products, GT Channel, Yoshihara Design; 8 PRINCE
More About the BRZWe didn't forget about you tech geeks out there, and hit up Falken's Motorsports specialist Steve Wong to find the skinny on the BRZ build. Obviously, with a new chassis comes a whole new learning curve, as Steve explains: "With this new chassis, we're attempting to try things that haven't been done yet. The S13 gave us years to develop and dial-in properly. We literally spent hours looking over different things to make sure the BRZ works a certain way. From there, we followed it up with testing, got feedback from Dai, and pulled data off our telemetry system to see how the car reacts to his driving." But what was the original game plan for the car and how much has changed since putting it into competition? He adds, "We went into it with open minds. There's always that 'what-if' factor with Dai being in an S-chassis most of his drift career, and the characteristics of a BRZ are a bit different. With more seat time, he'll become more comfortable and confident with the chassis."
Then there's the LS swap. Seemingly most teams running the ZN6 chassis have pretty much swapped the original FA20 for something more boost-friendly. And with SPD behind the build, it was a no-brainer to opt for a turbo V8, especially with more room in the engine bay than a S13. The biggest challenge for the crew was fabricating downpipes and exhaust manifolds that would be able to clear the framerails and subframe. And is that Rocket Bunny purely for looks? Well, mostly: "It fits very well, to my surprise," Steve says. "I fit a few of the panels on the car myself, and they go on relatively mod-free. I'm not sure if it helps with the aero on, but it does make it look super aggressive." The season is still young (as of press-time), so let's see how the car performs to Irwindale before passing final judgment!
Do or Dai - There is No TryAnyone who's tried drifting can tell you it's not easy and takes loads of practice—just take it from Dai himself. We asked him what three tips he would recommend if you want to become a better driver:
1) "Practice. Practice as much as you can. That's always a priority."
2) "A lot of people spend too much money on customization and there's nothing wrong with that—but I'm different. Me—I'd rather put [money] toward gas, tires, and practice. Pros will tell you to spend the money on the right equipment and it might be true, but I don't agree with it. Looking good doesn't always equate to good skills."
3) "A little luck and timing go a long way for anything in life. Sometimes you need some luck and to be in the right place at the right time in your quest to become a good driver."