My first car was a Datsun 510. It was 1983 and the Dime was THE hot car to have. It wasn't running when I got it and people were doing the L20 swap, five-speed swaps, JDM wheels, etc. I rebuilt the motor but never finished the project. I was in high school and was pretty distracted. I eventually got another 510 and did it up nice with an L20, paint and a few tricks. That was the first time I ever worked on cars. I had no visions of anything like DRT back then.
I was an avid street racer in the years after high school. I ran a Mitsubishi Starion and a wild 1990 Nissan 300ZX twin turbo. The Starion was my introduction to turbo cars. It was an '88 ESI with the front-mount intercooler. That Starion was a good car, rear drive. Take the wastegate hose off which bumped it to 14 psi and that thing ran like hell. I squeezed nitrous on that car. Made a lot of money with that car.
The 300ZX was a money machine as well. Actually, I lost my first race, for $5,000, but had a good night the rest of the night and made it all back and then some. It was actually good to lose. If you come out a winner people will be afraid to run you or you would have to spot them a bunch of cars. We didn't race a quarter mile, we had a one mile course that we used. When I gave car lengths it is how many cars behind me; not in front. So I would go once the other car came past me and with a mile to go there was more time to close the gap. I had a tremendously strong car. The Z liked the long distance runs. I gave a tremendous amount of cars up to 20 cars, 23 cars a couple of times.
We ran on the Henry Hudson Parkway. It started at the Dyckman St. entrance and ran to the 'Next Exit' sign for the George Washington Bridge it is a perfect flying mile. It wasn't straight; it had a curve to it and it went slightly uphill and slightly downhill. We had to run interference up the highway to block people from coming on the highway. It took some time, the people got pissed off but we didn't care, it was racing.
The Fast & The FuriousIt started as a write-up in Vibe magazine. Actually it started before that when Kenneth Li was working on an earlier story. I have an early draft of the article. We spent a long time, 2 1/2 or three years on it. I would take him to all the race spots in New York and he thought it was cool that everybody knew me. I said, "Hey, this is what I do." He would show up with cameras and recording equipment and I had to explain that it was all cool; he wasn't a cop or anything.
I was the Racer X character in the article and as that first story was coming to a close Ken said he had never gotten a ride in a fast car so I hooked him into my Civic and we made the Hudson run at 130-plus mph. The guy was going all crazy in the car, it was funny, he was all scared.
There were a bunch of different story angles. One had me as the guy everybody wanted to race. The guy you had to beat to make a name for yourself. There was a young up-and-coming type out gunning for me. Then the story was just about me.
It's funny because that line Vin Diesel says in the movie that was a line I used to describe myself. "I live my life a quarter mile at a time.' When I heard that in the theater I laughed hard. Also, the scene where they chase Vin Diesel and he parks in a garage and walks out, that actually happened to me. I told Ken that story. There a lot of things that only he and I knew about that made it into the movie; things that happened to me in real life.
When the movie was ramping up one of the writers came to New York and told me the article was going to become a movie. I didn't believe it and thought 'this guy is nuts.' I grew up in a part of town where nobody's life was interesting; my life wasn't that interesting. Obviously I was wrong because Ken sold the story for pretty good money.
So I took this new guy around and there happened to be a big race on that night. So he got to see everything; how it all unfolded. How they met up, how they bet the money, how the cops kept coming and we kept moving and one of most legitimate parts of the movie; where they meet in buildings before going out to race. We did that.
I began to see that it was really going to be a movie, that guy was for real. So I called and asked what's in it for me. They said the movie was going to shot here in New York and that I could be a consultant, technical advisor, help build some of the cars, etc. But the guy never gets back to me.
Then I'm in the theater and see a coming attraction clip of "The Fast & The Furious" so I call the guy and say, 'Hey, I see the movie is coming out and you never contacted me so I though it was all forgotten.' He said yeah I forgot to tell you it's actually on the way to the movies. So now I am kinda pissed because I am out of it.
He said he would invite me to the New York premier so I got to go and see it but also meet some of the studio people. I was introduced as the real guy the movie was based on. So after the movie I sat there for the whole credits, I saw the last line of that movie. I wasn't mentioned at all.
So I talked to the screenwriter and he says there is going to be a DVD with extra scenes and bonus material and the original story and some other items are in it. So at least the truth was out.
Drag Race Technology (DRT)DRT came about in 1996 when I started building my first Honda because I was reading Turbo magazine and seeing how things were blowing up with the Civics. I was building the car for a Drag Wars drag race at Atco. That was the first-ever big import event on the East Coast.
They handed out posters the year before and I had a friend who wanted to build a Honda so we hit it hard. We actually made it to the Atco event. What led to DRT was the attention I was getting while building and tuning the car. It was running 11.30s at the time, which was on par with the West Coast scene.
During that time I met Javier Ortega. He came around when I was building the Civic and it was he who pushed me to open up a shop. He was working with Drag Wars and Atco. This is well before he started working at Englishtown, and we went in it as partners.
The shop opened November 15, 1997. I'll never forget that date. It is also the day I stopped street racing because I knew I had a lot to lose. Needless to say the Fast & Furious thing spanned my street racing days and my legit drag racing efforts.
That first Honda was big but there was another important event in the early days of the shop.
During that era the Mitsubishi/Honda rivalry was heating up. We put on a match race between me in the Honda and Sean Glazar in his Extreme Motorsports Diamond Star. The place was packed and people still talk about it to this day. It was a night show and we had a lot of problems, Sean was red lighting. We were both running pretty much the same ETs so it was tight on the tree.
We have been lucky at DRT, we did not invest a lot of money and have never been stretched too far. The business has paid all its own expenses since day one. Thank God. You have to realize that 1997 was a great time to start a business like Drag Race Technology.
That was when all the hype about the California Honda scene was hitting out here thanks to Turbo magazine. Turbo was the only magazine to give the scene the respect it deserved and it showed the technical side of what was happening so people could see how the cars were able to go so fast and build their own. That was big. This was a time when grassroots guys drove the market and I can't tell you how many guys would show up with Turbo mag in their hands saying 'I want to do this.'
The Battle of the Imports coverage was huge. In fact, Javier and I came out to California to check out a race before opening up DRT. We wanted to see it for ourselves and meet some of the people behind it. We met some of the JG Engine Dynamics guys, Myles Bautista, Adam ran 9s in his RX-7, Steph was working at Honda Pro and the Bergenholtz brothers had their CRX. We got to meet future customers, see what the shops looked like. I was building a new race car and used the trip to get some of the latest ideas. Later, as Javier got busy at E-Town I bought out his share of the shop.
Backing Away From The StripThe first year of the NHRA I wanted to run the whole schedule. But you come to realize after a while, although I was doing well, finishing fifth in the Hot Rod class, I realized that I couldn't run a shop and run the full circuit. Without sponsorship it was not feasible. We tried working a bunch of deals but it, the big sponsor deal, never worked out. Then the second and third year it got even more expensive.
So for the second year I went local; running Englishtown, Atco, Florida and whatever other events were close. We went as far as Texas. But the budget wasn't there to realistically go for the championship.
But now it is unreachable. Forget the championship I'm talking about being competitive. There used to be 20 to 25 cars in Hot Rod and just making the field was an accomplishment. Now there's five cars in the field. So I have sold everything.
If I get back into racing it will probably be as part of a team as crew chief, like with Manny Cruz. He is crazy, he just wants to show up and race but nowadays things are much more organized, much more professional. Hopefully he will get it together for 2006, get the car back and have some fun.
I have been approached with some interesting ideas but it must make sense financially. It will take me away from my shop and in my shop is where my family eats. So if I am going to be away I need to make some money, even if its not much, just enough to maintain the shop.
I will never leave my shop behind. In any decision I make my shop will come first. That is the way it has to be. I am looking for ways to make it grow. One of the things I am looking into is manufacturing parts, the margins are much better than retail. I need to make parts for cars that are relevant. If the car is on the way out it won't work.
I think the Scion tC is the next Honda. Its low price tag makes it good for the youth market. Scion is putting a lot of money behind it, the motor is excellent, the car looks right. The Civic keeps getting bigger; it's like an Accord now. The cool thing was making a small car go crazy fast. When it comes down to it, I will build whatever the customers want.