Team Drift Association – 2004
Attempts and Accomplishment, its meaning, its focus…a reflection and a huge appreciation...
In the Beginning
As of this time, everyone here knows what Team Drift Association has been up to for the last season…traveling across the USA... With combined efforts of those who covet Club4AG, the countless hours of promotion and tireless hours of toil by those associated with its operation force, Drift Association LLC, we have come to a conclusion for the Formula D effort. Yes, we still have a couple of tries at D1 Driver’s Search, and a few appearances as exhibitor, I would like to express my own review…and my own words, the story told in my account.
Team Drift Association consists of two drivers, Taka Aono and Hiro Sumida, and a crew and support of many entities and people. Its birth is accredited to Naoki Kobayashi, a confident individual who takes adventures without hesitation. His determinations lead him to believe that such team can exist, and be a powerful showcase of talent and promotion of Drift Association LLC. Often reserved and shy, Naoki has always been the cause and driving force of Drift Association LLC as an Operational VP, and with preservation with dedication that will make George Washington proud and Napoleon pale. Sometimes haphazard in decisive times, he's always prepared to follow through and make things greater than where he started.
Taka, a veteran enthusiast and often humble guy and his younger but equally talented apprentice Hiro were both faced with a challenge, to partake in the fight for the best drifting talent in the USA. We all knew that such effort will be a costly and daunting task to succeed if our goal was to accomplish the Champion’s Title at the Formula D. Nevertheless, with hopes of all those who knew of the plans and their aspirations of yet something greater for both Drift Association as a company and patron of the sport, and for the history and what Club4AG means… No one ever questioned our intent nor had reservations about making an idea transpire into an effort that no one will argue over.
I myself, as positioned project manager and in charge of many of the tasks to be manned away from home, had a task of making the ultimate and sometimes absolute decisions of plans, resources and personnel. My initial assessment, and I hoped everyone would agree is that this won’t come without a price. A price of time, funding and collective efforts of many. By this, I meant that there will be times where we will face humiliations, times to triumph, time for crying and a time for laughs. No one questioned though, of the capability as an organization and the huge support of the fans who sought to support our adventure.
As initial assessment, that was enough for us.
All those involved were prepared to set sail and soon everyone was pressing hard for its first task of rigging the ship, counting the beans and loading the guns. For all this time, Club4AG community has been a pleasure boat, seeking fun and safe pastime for all… For the first time, the ship was equipped with guns and ammunition. Our 40ft trailer of Drift Association were unloaded of pylons for Drift Day fun, and reloaded with spare parts, tooling and flags representing the collective efforts of every crew, sponsors, and hopes of all those who follow what we do best. That is to represent AE86, Toyota fans, and more recently, of all those who partake in drift events, and to function before an entity who commits to betterment of an automotive sport. Needless to say for us, that was a big project… But somewhere inside, we knew that we can accomplish all this… And do it without stepping on people and maintain the love of what we all stand for…
The Journey Begins
In early April, Drift Association’s trailer driven by myself, and with Shelby Asistio and Ryan Nambu as crewmen, we left for Houston. With arms in the air, full of hope - from those staying behind and those who will be joining at destinations, we set forth on our cross-country Journey…
Our operation had to make the first stop in Houston to help host the Falken Drift Showoff on April 10th, 2004. First Falken Drift event of 2004, it was also the first spectator drifting event for Houston.
Upon Arrival in Houston, Naoki, Taka, Yoshie, Hiro, Koji, and a dozen other remote California fans and volunteers including Gushi Family, trickled over and joined the welcoming Houston fans, lead by Daily Drifters of Alex Bahena to help make the Houston event a rewarding success… I hope that people of Houston, Falken Tire Corporation, Mainstream Productions, all felt the same. It was a fun prelude to what was to come ahead, 2 weeks later in Atlanta, the first round of Formula D. Taka and Hiro gave a show for the crowd, along with masterful display of talent by Falken’s Koguchi and Yamamoto, as well as their apprentices, Calvin Wan and Ben Schwartz. In return, our drivers full of solid excitement, had taken in a good mental boost before flying home in preparation for the battle just 2 weeks later.
By April 12th, we turned east once again in serene Interstate Highways and long haul to Atlanta, 850 drive away. Trench Shoring Services of Atlanta, GA gave us a secure, hospitable location to store and service our trailer, where it would safely rest for 10 days while our transport crew took a break back in LA. By the time of arrival in Atlanta, Shelby, Ryan and myself all gazed at wonder and thanked our reliable, old, Haulmark Drift Association trailer and the Chevrolet Silverado C3500 dually combo… At our final Atlanta destination, we secretly and affectionately christened the rig - Murray, named after the “Urban Assault Vehicle” in the old movie Stripes and the actor Bill Murray. It kind of rocked the senses and went against many odds, just like in that movie we thought...
Round One – Atlanta, Georgia
Now fast forward to one week later… Taka and Hiro flew into Atlanta on a red-eye flight, sleepless in the face of challenge and anticipations of good times with old friends who traveled the same path, and also of making new buddies who share the passion. Naoki chose to stay in Southern California for the million tasks at home and to hope for good news and updates. Shelby, Ryan and I prepared for the arrival and welcomed them with both comfortable accommodations and latest tactics to prepare for battle.
April 23rd, one day before the event, we spent our day greeting many who toiled for months to make the event happen…
Property Director, Earl Fannin of Road Atlanta, Sanctioneer, Mitch Wright of SCCA, Event Hosts at Slipstream Global Jim Liaw and Ryan Sage, and all the event sponsors, who showed to support each of the respective drivers including ours. In our case, Art, Kim and staff of Yokohama Tire Corporation, Nick Fousekis and the Falken Dudes at Falken Tire Corporation. We were also surprised to see how many Club4AG fans and enthusiasts who found our trailer, who stopped by to give the thumbs up…some from as far away as Tennessee and Florida.
In qualifying session that day, Taka and Hiro both joined the pack of the best drifters in the nation… In our case, unique and strange at the same time as we realized, that about half the field of drivers were graduates and patrons of our Drift Day program… And as such, we could have cheered for any and all of them… And that we did. Benson Hsu and his ever-cheerful, beautiful and loving mate, Nadine, Ben Schwartz who traveled the same path from Houston and away from his Florida home. Andy Yen, Alex Pfeiffer, Ryan Hampton, JR Gitten, Eric Jacobs, Tony Angelo, and Chris Forsberg if that wasn’t enough to cause a scene…
Ken Gushi and his dedicated dad Tsukasa… Ernie Fixmer and Calvin Wan, the famous rally talent that is Rhys Millen and his charismatic and powerful friend, Sam Hubinette. It almost felt at home by the time it all started…
The results of the qualifying were news I could call home to Naoki about… Taka and Hiro in the old faithful underdog AE86's placed 2nd and 3rd.
It took a few hours before we all collected ourselves from a rush of euphoria, before I called Naoki’s office to tell all about the news. I was sure that Naoki would not sleep that night, from the tone of his deep voice suddenly turning into a pitch for the World.
Soon after the joyous celebration of men hugging other men as if these men were all drunk from mad rush of Red Bull… the baaaaad news trickles out of nowhere other than our own paddock…
After some maintenance in the pits is when all hell broke loose and a sign that gods were playing with our course of life…
Taka has found that his unusual engine vibrations and idle was caused by a broken woodruff key on the main crank pulley. Quickly, Taka and Hiro disassembled the 20V 4A-GE and assessed the damage. We would need a list of tools that we didn’t bring, and a new pulley and a woodruff key. I happened to be 20 miles away back at the hotel to take care of post-event logistics with associates, when Ryan called to hand me the bad news.
Then, a series of what I would like to call real miracles happened. Ryan greeted earlier in the day, some fans of Club4AG who happened to know a friend, who knew some friends…just happened to stop by at the end of the day…AND happened to gather more friends of Club4AG locally…and who JUST HAPPENED to have a key and pulley!!!! (Albeit by taking apart someone else’s car who they knew) Oh MY GOD!!!
We would have given up on the entry of Taka’s car if it wasn’t for all of them.
Probability aside, I started to hunt for other things needed to get Taka’s car back together. Over the phone, distressed Taka claimed he needed an impact wrench, a large vice, some more hand tools and a shitload of time. And yet another miracle happens… I found a Home Depot 2800 miles away from home with just 10 minutes to spare, before they closed the door for the night. As expected of Home Depot, the store has millions of things neatly arranged in a similar fashion at all of its thousand stores; I could find everything I needed. I spent money on a new electric impact wrench, hand tools, a big vice, and fluids… I knew exactly what else Taka would have needed too, and that one thing we didn’t have on our side was a ‘shitload’ of time. Needless to say I cancelled all my meetings for the night…Sorry John and Mike! And sorry Naoki, for spending money Drift Association does not have! I HAD to DO IT.
A few hours later, with the crew in the paddock, vigilantly watching Taka perform surgery on his 4A-GE; the AE86 came back to life. Hearing all the 20 valves growl again with parts donated from Mid-Tenn-Drifter and his friends and with all the miraculous events in between…the engine sounded seemingly better than before. What a tear jerker!
For the details of the main event, you can refer to any of the reports from magazines or the net. That part isn’t why I wrote this really… All want to really tell is that Taka ran his bright-white AE86 to heart’s content. And that Hiro jammed all the way and took 3rd place among the most notable competition they ran to this date in the finals.
The first round was full of pride, and with the first-ever feeling of genuine accomplishment to take us to the next round… Houston was just under 2 months away on June 12th. How sweet was the 4 day trip back home, I could always recall that drive through all the states in between. Deep inside, we felt as if all the people were cheering us on at every stop. (Though that was only in our bloated heads…ha-ha!! "Who the heck is Drift Association?!" was more the popular question, everywhere we stopped for fuel)
Murray, the big rig, and the crew spent a day at the Graceland to pay a joyous tribute to Elvis… How that has anything to do with Formula D? Who cares!! It's about FUN.
Round Two – Houston, Texas
A few local events and some more planning, came the day to leave for Houston. By this time, the rigging has become more routine and crew had become accustomed to traveling with Murray. We blasted forth to Texas once again.
This time we had a new crew on board, Mickey Okita whose friend Ko Kagiya has landed his one-time role as test driver for RS-R’s new carbon clad S2000. Destination, Houston Formula D.
With the same pair of AE86's on board we arrived a bit early, just to find that Falken’s 18 wheel driver, John had arrived at the same time, just a few minutes before. He taught me how to wash a BIG TRUCK... He said, "You call these guys and pay them to do it!" Uh, OK!
Again we gathered our necessities and awaited Taka and Hiro. Ko and RS-R group also arrived to join our paddock as well.
Taka and Hiro came to town, and found that the race course was really tiny this time around… Was it a blessing for AE86? Well, not really as smaller course requires lots of traction, and conversely also lots of power to break that tenacious grip loose.
AE86 with a solid axle really doesn’t have the traction advantage with a light rear nor does it have the flexibility to setup easily for the power given from a smallish no-blower 1600cc 4 banger. What we had in our favor, with spectators up close is the sheer racket that the naturally aspirated 9000rpm engine can generate. Where we lack in tire smoke, we make up with 4-ITB Rasp and Noise!!
Again, with good driving and crew support, Taka and Hiro both qualified… YES!
Hiro had made his belated decision to change over his final drive gear to 4.7 from his 4.3. Easy for him to say!! Taka and Mickey got all greasy, pulled the axles, dropped the rear diff and put it all back together in the hot sun of Southern Texas sky. What a nutcase we are… Only the true enthusiast would even think of such move, and a greatest of them all would begin to actually do it!. The 4.7 ring and pinion gears will help make more noise as it revved higher and tactically, it would match better to the tight course layout too. And it worked!
Well, sort of… It's where it got really complicated.
To our dismay, Hiro and Taka qualified 2nd and 15th… What that meant was that they would be battling each other in the first round and there’s absolutely NO way in hell, that both would advance any higher - together. One will eliminate the other. Ugh!! So such is life… The greatest teammate now became silent partners… Loving like a brother and yet faced to take down the other. THIS SUCKED!
Meanwhile, Ko and RS-R S2000 as predicted, being a twitchy car and jittery driver combined, had lots of problems finding a setup and keeping the wild horse at bay. The unthinkable happened… Ko slammed ever so slightly, into the wall during practice. Ko shaken like a puppy that got the rolled paper handed to him, came back to pits all pale.
John Masuda, the RS-R boss man, came and said “GOD DAMMIT” in his broken Osaka dialect Jingrish Language. Ko was about to hide under my trailer about that time. Ben and RS-R crew with our Mickey swarmed the back end of the Carbon Honda, and in less than 2 hours it was ready to run again… a little tweaked but ready to go for whatever its worth. Masuda had calmed by this time but also, fueled by energy of his crew and ours. His command now was “press on and drive harder!” Ko had regained his driver role and he slowly gathered himself to go back into the ring. The S2000 didn’t make the cut, but all those who were involved, through all the collective efforts, now shared the Drift Association fever. That was a good thing.
At this event, Ken "the GUSH" advanced to the finals -- just to break his axle shaft on his last attempt to battle the Goliath of Formula D, Sam and his Mopar Viper. We all jumped and cheered even after his heart-crushing snap of his axle. Alex and Andy gave the audience a kiss of the rear bumper, rodeo like no Texan have seen before, and even a dash of Comedy as Alex with his plain, Fruit of the Loom underwear ran among the crowd to go push Ken’s car. A sick and freakish thought now, but all funny and good at the time.
Another day, another growth for Team Drift Association. No Trophies this time, but all fun…as if that’s all that we needed. I think so.
By the end of this trip home… Drift Association gave another birth to a new team. Team Over 40’s, a team whose focus is to prove that you can be older than 40, a team to prove that one can have all the fun as Club4AG in the AE86. For that I congratulate Mickey and Ko, and best of luck I said as they quickly gathered, broke each other’s piggy banks to count the coins They proudly rock new banners on the flanks of their beloved Disco Gold AE86 Coupe. Banners of their Team Over 40, of our Drift Association, of Yokohama and of all the local folks who help them achieve that beautiful thing… We transcend the Club4AG thing way back to the days of the funk. “THAT’S the WAY, ah HUH ah HUH, I like it!”
Round 3 – Sonoma
Now, in the midst of summer, the day arrives when Naoki can no longer stay home, a round that many more local Los Angeles crew can cheer their way up to Sonoma, California. On this grand course, Infineon Raceway, formerly known as Sears Point, we hauled our cars and people gathered. This time, in addition to Taka and Hiro’s cars, the battle fleet was joined by Mickey and Ko’s Team Over 40 AE86, and also for the first time, Yoshie’s AE86, borrowed from Taka’s spare horse stable and given Naoki’s now famous “Team DD” livery in appropriate PINK. A sparkle of art and a timeless design that we all came to covet…
As unexpected as it began, Yoshie’s pink and purple splash on white drew a lot of fans. So much so that Taka and Hiro were jealous yet full of smiles… The pits formed by 40 ft trailer and lined by 4 of the most beautiful AE86’s… I can’t help but to snap away some photos… Man! We blew away all of our cash by now on this adventure, but that day, everyone felt it was worth every signature and every card swipe. Damn! What we do for fun and games!
As the event slowly started without warning and with casual voices of Ryan Sage the host of the event just as usual. Taka with his energetic as ever drive, looked into the apex and hit it every run…bouncing the Blue and White Yokohama AE86 over the bumps like there was no tomorrow. Hiro with seeing Taka’s lead, pressed harder and smoked his rears around too, run after run, for his Falken fans. Yoshie a bit alarmed still, but gave her best show ever. And finally Ko, in Mickey’s Soul-master funky-gold AE86 caught all that and gave his best show. So much energy was with him that day that Ko smashed Mickey’s pride and joy into the wall of death! Holy Crap!!! Mickey’s cringing face was one thing all of us witnessed at that very moment. Holy Crap, Holy Crap!!
But dreams of Team Drift Association were not to be distracted. An ensemble of drifters, fans and officials all dashed out to Ko and everyone took part in making sure Ko was fine, and when dust all settled on Wine Country asphalt, the team danced as I pulled the car back to the pits on a tow rope. Mickey was not even fazed yet. He quickly broke open that toolbox and his show began… While practice went on for another couple of hours, Mickey hammered, pulled, torched, greased, and banged on every piece that was crooked and WHAM! He got the car back to running order again… Damn! A repeat performance since Houston when he did the same for RS-R car…and after the same driver, Ko wrecked…
Freaking Awesome!!! HOLY CRAP once again.
At this event, as hard as we all tried on Naoki’s first ever visit to Formula D, we couldn’t perform well enough collectively to miss out on another trophy. But I didn’t really care. We all had once again, showed everyone our commitment to AE86 representation, and doing it all for those who come to see them run. And with that in mind, it was a triumph for everyone who came to seek who we are. Taka and Hiro may have been upset not being able to satisfy the best of the best… But no one will say that we have failed. Because this at this point isn’t about winning but making the best efforts to attempt to win…really… but to drive the AE86 the best we can with the best drivers we have.
Packing the trailer we headed home to prepare for the last round in Los Angeles… out back-yard, Irwindale Speedway.
Round 4 – Irwindale, California
August 29th, 2004, I must say that my job should have been easier for such local event on a venue we know so much about. However, it probably in recollection was the most demanding task ever for the crew and well as me. Those who were present to see the event will know what we are all talking about, and I will leave that to imagination for those who did not. In any case, for one reason or another, things just didn’t flow smoothly leading up to that final round for us. We had lots of things to do unrelated to winning the event, and it took a toll on everyone that was there as part of our team. Irwindale’s NASCAR event the night before had everyone staying up into the morning hours to setup the event. Hiro’s car took on a new paint job making it a stunning candy-blue AE86. Thanks to Falken dudes and Alsa Corporation Paint. However the car took until one day before the event and consequently, Hiro never got his chance at the Thursday practice. No fault of anyone, really… Taka, being a overall silent consultant to the series now, had spent much of his hours on helping the setup all week and associated activities. It just made us feel how involved we are and how much we influence as Drift Association. It sounds like an excuse really, and maybe perhaps it is just that. All I can say is from the beginning it just didn’t feel right.
Then the unimaginable happened in qualifying… Taka after qualifying near-perfect pass of his lap 2, had lost control and hit the wall on lap 3. Was it a combination of lack of sleep? Was it the pressure? What really happened though did not matter. The AE86 instantly became a useless piece of steel scrap that sat silently against the 3/8 mile inner loop wall where Legend cars and junior NASCAR were designed to hit. Hiro just never locked his car to the trajectory he needed, no matter how hard he tried. Yoshie gave her shot and in the midst of all the drama around us, did her best to keep spirits high. Ko was there to perform as our last remaining hope on behalf of Taka and Hiro, but simply wasn’t good enough too to make the top 16. It was the first time that Team Drift Association could not start among the “sweet 16”…Not a single car.
What then, did we accomplish from all this?
Well first of all, I feel now that the last round was still a success. There were no points to be had, but lessons we learned should serve to unite everyone who took part in this season. Fans flocked to pat on the driver’s shoulders. None of the Club4AG Fans or Drift Association Staff ever stopped working. In everyone’s eyes I can see the hope and sincerity to see to it, that Taka and Hiro, Ko and Yoshie and every other driver would get back in the seat again to bring the AE86 to this series the next year. The busy and often overwhelmed crew from every drift event from Falken Showoff, D1 Grand Prix, and Formula D to Drift Day, still… to that day and today, everyone is working together for that next time when we’ll all run again.
Conclusion -- Appreciation
As of this date, September 13th, just 14 days after the last event... Taka, Mickey and Hiro has spent all waking non-working hours to rebuild the flagship AE86 for us, Taka’s AE86. It is, by the way, 90% done, and a week ahead of schedule, just waiting to get that spray of white and blue and chrome. I am finishing this article this morning of September 13th, as Taka’s car is being rolled into the paint shop… All rebuilt from what was salvaged from his car, some new parts for what was wrecked, and a shell of an AE86 to replace the pile of scrap. Just 9 days to re-do all of what Taka did in the last 2 years. I call that kind of determination, a success, no matter what others say. And as this one crazy guy, me, that started all this mess several years ago… All I can do is to keep doing what I do, as long as people who covet what we accomplished.
Naoki and I still feverishly spend all of our days planning for the upcoming events such as RS-R Drift Festival in Chicago, D1 Driver Search in Las Vegas, Falken in November at home turf, and the big show, D1 Grand Prix in December. Not a single one of the organization we work with has cancelled our plans and still willing to back up our efforts in 2005.
I wrote this on behalf of all those who strive to keep this alive, and to all those who help and endure all that we ask of them.
So far so good…
CHEERS TO EVERYONE!!!
This story is dedicated to all of those who support Club4AG, and my family who put up with my countless time away I take from home.
It is also dedicated to my often unrecognized partner in our business of making fun for all, Naoki, and all his good will and determination that keep my goals alive day to day.
President Drift Association LLC, Founder Club4AG.