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."