Guess who’s back?! No, for real this time.
Since I haven’t published any stories on Speedhunters in quite a while, and since the website continues to attract new readers every month, I thought it would be a good idea to reintroduce myself and update everyone on what I’ve been up to by writing up a retrospective piece.
Those who have been following Speedhunters for quite some time might already know that I was part of the original team that launched the site and the SH brand back in 2007/2008.
Prior to the launch of Speedhunters, I was shooting for print magazines including Super Street, Modified, Grassroots Motorsports, 0-60, C16, FHM, Battle Magazine (Japan), Drift Tengoku (Japan), and Speed (Aus), while working with the Need for Speed team as an automotive trend spotter/marketing consultant. Yes, I had the coolest job in the world; we basically identified which events and which racetracks were on our bucket list, and then Electronic Arts flew us out to those tracks to take photos and provide reports on automotive styling, which they could use in the game. It was amazing.Fresh Wheels On My Fleet Make My Cipher Complete
After I left Speedhunters, I worked for NBC Universal – initially for The Fast and the Furious franchise – but later on I ended up doing creative ops in the motion picture marketing group. This type of work was fun, but I always knew that I wanted to continue shooting photos and writing about car culture, so my friends and I created a site called MotorMavens.
Even before I was writing and shooting for automotive outlets, I always loved old school Toyotas. I even remember riding around in my grandfather’s shiny red Toyota as a child. So naturally, when I was in high school I learned to drive in a Toyota, and eventually bought a Toyota as my very first car.
Some people might have even seen the video that Petrolicious produced about me and my twin red Cipher Garage AE86s.
When I first got into AE86s, my first three cars were really rough. They had dents and crappy paint, but they were still RWD with T50 transmissions and factory Toyota LSDs in the back. This made them perfect for canyon running, auto-crossing, and doing donuts. I spent much of my early years driving the twisty Bay Area backroads with my other AE86 friends.
We started a group in San Francisco called the ‘AE86 Driving Club’ back in 1997 or 1998, and my good friend Calvin Wan designed the logo (he owned an AE86 a long time before he bought his first FD3S and became a professional drifter). Shortly thereafter, I met an AE86 guy named Bill Sherwood who was visiting from Australia, and I gave him some of our stickers. Shortly thereafter, an AE86 Driving Club was started up in Australia (no affiliation to our original group). Fast forward to today, and lots of 86ers are rocking AE86 Driving Club stickers that look similar to the ones that Calvin first created, which is super cool.
When I finally moved to Los Angeles and found an extremely clean AE86, my automotive styling mentor/senpai Ricky Silverio told me I better keep it clean. Even back in the 1990s, he knew that the AE86 would become a cult car for collectors, and prices would eventually skyrocket, just like most sporty Japanese cars from this era. He urged me to keep this car (above), my 1986 kouki AE86, clean and preserved for future generations. I had other beater AE86s to play with back then, so even though I commuted to work with this car every day, I kept my kouki 86 garaged and away from the elements.
When I first got my kouki AE86 in 1999, it had factory red painted USDM bumpers, tinted windows, and a CD player inside. I immediately removed the CD player in favor of a period correct factory Toyota head unit, took off the tint with help from my friend Ricky DelaCuesta from DC Autosport, then immediately swapped out the bumpers with factory Japanese Toyota kouki items that I got from my friend HerbrockOne, who had been our source for factory Toyota AE86 parts since the mid-1990s. Thanks to my friend George Ciordas, I already had new old stock TRD short-stroke adjustable suspension (I still have the boxes – they’re so cool) in the car, that had come from an old Japanese guy in Toronto, Ontario. Yup, I traveled from Los Angeles to Canada’s East Coast just to get my suspension. This Japanese market stuff wasn’t even available locally back in the late 1990s; everyone else was running TRD USA suspension, which wasn’t as low, and utilized progressive rate springs (yuck) and long-stroke shocks.
I could literally write on and on about these cars for like 20 years, so let me keep this short and sweet. In the early 2000s I had the chance to get a red zenki AE86 hatchback that matched my kouki, so I jumped at it. I ended trading my friend Patrick Ng my 1974 TE27 Corolla SR5 with TRD Tosco wheels for the 1985 zenki AE86, and these two Cipher Garage AE86 twins have been together ever since, like stepbrothers (did we just become best friends?).
I always like to change things up on the cars, so I have multiple sets of negative offset wheels for both cars – RS Watanabe Type Rs, SSR Mk2s, Mk3s, Work Equip 01s, SSR Starsharks – with lots of different choices of rare steering wheels, shift knobs, seats, exhausts – you name it.
The thing I don’t seem to have enough of is engines, because currently the zenki AE86 has a blown motor, and I need to finish building my new engine. Sadly, the zenki is on the back-burner right now.
Ever since the third generation GRS191 Lexus GS came out I loved the body style, so I bought one for daily.
The car’s face gives a nod to the slant-nosed styling of the original JZS147 GS300/Aristo, but it has the four-eye look just like the second-gen JZS161. This is aesthetically my favorite body style of GS. I love the amazing factory Lexus/Mark Levinson sound system and the air conditioned seats. I do not love the crappy HID projector headlights.
Anyway, thanks to my friend Robby Caballes from RSPEC Auto, the car is slammed with ISC Suspension coilovers and 19×10.5-inch Fondmetal wheels. It would be much more convenient to have air suspension to raise the car on steep driveways, but oh well.Let’s Bring It Back To 86
As some folks may or may not know, I’m the founder of an event called 86FEST. The creation of this brand happened pretty much by accident. Back in 2012 when Toyota USA (Scion USA) first began promoting its nimble, rear-wheel drive successor to the AE86, I was invited to one of their focus group events. There, I said I loved the styling of the car, but was disappointed that it had a boxer motor instead of a traditional Toyota/Yamaha twin cam DOHC ‘G head’ to keep it true to the roots of the Yamaha-designed Toyota engines, like the 2TG, 4AG, 3S-GTE, and 2JZ-GTE that made the RWD Toyotas of the ’80s and ’90s so great.
Shortly thereafter, Toyota invited me to drive the new car at Spring Mountain Raceway, prior to its public release. After tracking the car, my opinion was swayed; the boxer motor and its contribution to the car’s low center of gravity made me love how the new 86 handled, and the 4U-GSE/FA20 engine had decent enough power to have some NA fun.
We decided to do a small car meet with the old 86s and the new 86s (ZN6 chassis) to promote the creation of the new Toyota 86/Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ, and 86FEST was born. We had no idea that the event would continue to grow every single year and attract so much participation from the automotive aftermarket industry, but for that I’m so thankful.
When you have a brand or event that grows quickly, it’s very easy for it to evolve beyond your control or beyond your initial intention.
86FEST is a polarizing event; even though there are thousands of attendees that love it, there’s also a few people that criticize it. I’ll be very up front about this: some of the old school AE86 guys began feeling incredibly outnumbered by the new chassis 86, and began criticizing 86FEST for that. That’s completely understandable, but I feel kind of like this: If it were an event with classic S30 240Z owners and new Z34 370Z owners; or classic Nissan Skyline GT-R owners together with R35 GT-R owners; or classic Ford Mustangs and new S550 Mustangs, maybe people wouldn’t be as critical. Or would they?
This being said, I’m incredibly grateful for all the folks I’ve met from the newer ZN6 86 community. The new 86 owners have amazing enthusiasm, and we’ve had people make long drives from Washington state, Arizona, Utah, Texas, Georgia, and Florida just to attend 86FEST.
I do own a ZN6 Scion FR-S project car (it’s in the body shop right now), but in my heart of hearts I will always remain a true die-hard AE86 fanatic. To this day, I still own four AE86s and an orange TE27 1973 Corolla SR5 (the grandfather of the AE86) with all sorts of TRD Japan parts.True In The Game, As Long As Blood Is Blue In My Veins
Have I mentioned that I’m a die-hard Toyota fanatic? Even though I’ve owned other cars (read: FC3S Mazda RX-7, S14 Nissan 240SX, and a few BMWs), I still have 3E6 ‘Toyota Red’ blood flowing in my heart.
I was so incredibly honored when Toyota SoCal reached out to me to create a Toyota Owners Showcase event this past summer. We teamed up with a huge food festival called 626 Night Market to create the event, and gave away awesome prizes and free food to Toyota owners.
Even though I had a severe knee injury and was on crutches at the time, I still jumped at the chance to work with Toyota, as they’re one of my favorite brands.
This time, our event wouldn’t be catered only to the 86 crowd, but would be expanded to all sorts of classic Toyota cars and trucks to be displayed right next to newer model Toyotas. We had judges from Super Street and the Petersen Automotive Museum, and several awesome examples of classic Toyotas joined us for the show. I really can’t wait to organize another event like this.Who Shot Ya?
Although many people tend to pigeonhole me as a Japanese car enthusiast, I have a strong affinity for European cars also, and I blame Speedhunters for that.
Back in 2007, when we went on our first Speedhunters missions to the race tracks in the UK, Germany, and Belgium, I started drooling over BMW wagons and Porsche 911s. Fast forward several years later, my long time friend Peter Bodensteiner from Stance & Speed contacted me and asked me to work with him on a new book he was publishing on Singer Vehicle Design and their amazing Porsche 911 builds. Of course I said yes; Peter was the person who gave me my very first book deal – my hardcover photo book, Drifting, which was published by Motorbooks International in 2006. I promoted the book pretty intensely using social media, but back then I used Myspace because YouTube and Facebook weren’t popular and Instagram hadn’t been invented yet.
Drifting flew off the shelves at Barnes & Noble and Borders Books pretty quickly. In fact, it was this book that started my initial involvement with Electronic Arts, which led to the creation of Speedhunters. Someone from EA’s Black Box studio in Vancouver, BC found a copy of my book at the local bookstore and brought it to work. It was because of this book that EA initially contacted me. Years later, I introduced EA to Peter, and they struck up a deal to create the Speedhunters books, which I’m sure many of you already have.
Last year while I was in Japan, I was excited to find a copy of the Singer Vehicle Design book, titled One More Than 10, at my favorite bookstore, Tsutaya in Daikanyama, Tokyo. I enjoyed working on this book a lot, as I’ve always thought Singer’s founder, Rob Dickinson, had great taste in styling cars.
I shot Rob’s 1969 911 for Grassroots Motorsports magazine long before he started Singer Vehicle Design. In fact, I think I did a write up on the car on Speedhunters in 2008? I need to search. By the way, look up the OneMoreThan10 hashtag on Instagram. You’re welcome.You Requested It, So We Rewind
I have Speedhunters to thank for my very first trip to Germany, and my very first time behind the wheel of a Porsche – a 2008 Porsche 911 GT2 Clubsport no less. Yes, this widow-maker 997 GT2 was the first Porsche I ever drove.
Due to a relationship that Need for Speed had with Porsche, we were invited to the Porsche factory in Leipzig, Germany and I got to test drive the 997 GT2 at the manufacturer’s private test track. I got to launch it, and I was floored (no pun intended). At that time, that was the fastest car I had ever driven, and it was all because of Speedhunters. Amazing.
One of the many highlights of this particular Speedhunters trip to Frankfurt, Munich, Leipzig, Nürburgring, and Spa was meeting one of my motorsports photography heroes, John Brooks from the UK.
Sir John Brooks was another core member of the original Speedhunters Class of 2008, along with Mike Garrett, Rod Chong, and Jeroen Willemsen. Brooks is the one that took the photos of me driving the 911 GT2, and I’ll never forget our drive through the German countryside, blasting NWA on the Autobahn on our drive to Nürburgring. I’m so glad that because of Speedhunters, I became good friends with John, and we continued to work together on other projects thereafter.The Sun Rises In The East
Immediately after our trip to Germany, we went straight to Japan to experience the all-new Super GT series in Japan for the first time. This was amazing for me because even though I had been to motorsports events in Japan many times already, it was my very first time going to a Super GT event.
I was somewhat familiar with the cars, as I attended the JGTC x D1GP event at GTLIVE in Fontana as a photographer and event emcee, but my mind was blown when I saw these cars on their home turf. To me, there’s just nothing like watching and listening to these cars in person, in Japan. It was a sensory overload for sure.
See the guy standing on the left side in green? That’s Matsuda-san from legendary AE86 parts-maker Revolver. He now works for the Jim Gainer Super GT team, but originally, he was Katsuhiro Ueo’s crew chief for D1GP. Matsuda-san came to Irwindale with Ueo for the historic D1GP USA event on August 31, 2003 where Ueo defeated pro driver Nobuteru Taniguchi’s HKS S15 Silvia using a privateer garage-built AE86 with a naturally aspirated 4A-G engine with Tomei internals. Legendary.
At Super GT Suzuka, one of my favorite cars was the RE Amemiya FD3S RX-7. It was so crazy to see an FD all done up with Super GT aero trim, as I was more used to seeing FD street cars or drift cars. The FD3S is just one of the most beautiful Japanese cars ever made in my opinion, and the experience of seeing and hearing it (more like losing my hearing, because that thing is loud) on the track was so crazy.
I got to hang with Hamada-san from Dunlop and my good friend Kenta TokyoDrive, who was writing for several Japanese magazines like Daytona and Battle Magazine at the time.
When we left and headed to Ebisu Circuit for D1 Grand Prix, we saw tons of Need for Speed advertisements in the JR trains and on the wall at the Hachiko exit of Shibuya’s JR train station. Everyone uses this exit to get to the famous Shibuya ‘scramble’ crossing seen in movies and in magazines. It was so cool to see our Need for Speed brand all over Tokyo – it made me feel proud to be connected to such a cool brand.It Was All A Dream / I Used To Read Battle Magazine
Everyone who follows drifting has undoubtedly heard of Ebisu Circuit. Owned and built by D1GP champion Nobushige Kumakubo from Team Orange, Ebisu is one of the world’s most famous drift circuits.
Drivers and fans from all over the globe aspire to make a pilgrimage to Ebisu, the mecca of drifting culture, and being there for a D1 Grand Prix event back in 2008 was an experience I’ll never forget.
Professional drift events in Japan feel just so different from professional drift events in the United States, and professional drift cars back then looked so different than they do these days. Do you remember when pro drift cars looked like this?! Just look at this pre-grid lineup underneath the Ebisu Minami Course grandstands.
In the front, we have Akinori Utsumi from Kansai drift team Night Zone, but instead of driving his signature teal blue metallic S13 he was driving his pro car, which was this red PS13 coupe. It looks beautiful. Behind Utsumi’s S13 is the yellow AE86 driven by Ken Maeda of Team DP2 from Kanagawa. Mae-ken is such a nice guy, and I absolute love his yellow AE86 Trueno (obviously). It looks so damn good with aero mirrors and the full Goodline aero kit. Behind Maeken is the white Blitz ER34 Skyline four-door driven by Monkey Magic frontman Ken Nomura. Can you guess the drivers of the cars behind Nomuken? Fukuda and…
Also underneath the grandstands, I captured this moment with two legends. Ebisu owner Kumakubo is leaning on his CT9A Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX while his legendary car builder Susumu Koyama from Jun Auto Mechanic is on the phone. Koyama-san is the man responsible for the success of Jun Auto’s legendary engineering, and he told me he began working for Jun in the 1970s, when he was driving a KE25 Corolla. Since he was a fan of older Corollas, he began tinkering with Toyota engine parts, and began working on 2T-G Toyota twin cam engines for Toyota Team Tom’s. He built all of the famous Jun race cars, as well as Kumakubo’s D1GP championship-winning car, the RWD-converted Subaru WRX, this Evo IX pictured above, and Kumakubo’s RWD-converted Evo X as well.
Sadly, Koyama-san isn’t building cars for Team Orange anymore because he had a stroke a few years ago, but everyone still remembers and looks up to his engineering and craftsmanship. We miss you, Koyama-san, and I hope to see you the next time I’m in Japan.
If you have ever seen Team Orange at a live event, or if you’ve ever visited Ebisu Circuit, then you’ve most likely seen this guy pictured here, driving the Team Orange K-Truck (kei truck), which is packed full of drift spares at events. That’s Igusa from a drift team called Response Family Sessions from Gifu, Japan. He’s the manager at Car Shop K-Style, speaks English, and is super fun to hang out with. He always looks out for me when I’m in Japan, and he teaches me super funny phrases in warui nihongo (bad words in Japanese).
Everyone from the Ebisu camp has always been super nice to me. This is D1GP AE86 builder ‘Mohican’ Matsuoka san from Droo-P and pro D1GP and Formula Drift driver Toshiki Yoshioka. When we arrived at D1GP Ebisu, Matsuoka-san gave me Espelir springs for my AE86, which I mailed to myself while I was still in Japan, but I never received them in the United States. Ten years later, I still haven’t received them, sadly.
Since I hadn’t been back to Ebisu since our Speedhunters trip in 2008, I decided to go and visit my Ebisu fam last year. It was so great to see my good friend Igusa again after almost a decade. Apparently he put new wheels on the K-Truck, but some of the stickers are beginning to peel off. I hope he replaces some of those stickers to make it look more tidy. Motto ganbatte, Igu!
It was so cool and random to also bump into Akinori Utsumi from Night Zone again, nine years later. This time, he had a wife and child with him. Seeing him was a pleasant surprise, especially since he lives in the Kansai region of Japan, which is a long way from Ebisu. He just decided to bring his S15 Silvia up so that he could practice driving at Ebisu’s Minami Course (D1GP course) before the event.
I went to Japan twice last year, and spent an entire month there both times. I have a lot more photos to share from my trips, but maybe we’ll save those for a future Speedhunters post.Fresh Out The Gate Again, It’s Time To Raise The Stakes Again
Earlier this year, I did a photo story on the Pirelli World Challenge at the Long Beach Grand Prix, which was reposted by several of the teams and the series itself. This opened the door for me to travel to a couple events on the PWC tour this past year, which was really fun.
I was absolutely smitten by the amazing supercars racing in the World Challenge GT class, which includes cars like Ferrari 488 GT3, Porsche 911 GT3R, Bentley Continental GT3, Audi R8 LMS, and Lamborghini Huracán GT3. These wide-body beasts look and sound so cool on the racetrack.
Aside from the GT class supercars, I thought the new TCR class was super cool too. In this class, you find a lot of wide-body race versions of normal production vehicles, like this Volkswagen GTI TCR, driven by Michael Hurczyn of FCP Euro, a large online retailer for European car parts.
The TC and GTS classes in World Challenge have awesome cars too. Some of my favorites include the HMA Motorsports Civic Type R driven by Honda factory employee Josh Foran, seen here catching air at Virginia International Raceway, and the awesome BMW Motorsports liveried M4 GT4, as driven by BMWSF owner Henry Schmitt.
The Pirelli World Challenge series has been retitled the Blancpain GT World Challenge for the 2019 season, and I think it’s cool to see more European teams getting involved with the series from here on out.Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everybody
I think I chose this chapter title pretty appropriately, after all, knowledge is king.
American domestic cars are a genre of automotive culture that I’m not extremely well versed in, but I absolutely love the look of classic muscle cars, kustoms, and slammed hot rods.
Even though I’ve been photographing and writing about cars for well over a decade now, I still have a long way to go on my learning path. I still have a lot to learn about V8 engines, drag racing, muscle cars, kustoms, lowriders, hot rods, and the like.
I saw a quote from Mahatma Gandhi (see, hip hop lyrics aren’t the only quotes I remember) that said, “Action expresses priorities.”
Therefore, in the interest of continually improving my automotive journalism with a broader range of knowledge, I’ve been actively attending hot rod events, nostalgia drags, lowrider shows, and classic muscle car events for the past few years so that I can further expand my horizons and build more relationships within the worldwide car community. After all, building great relationships within the global car community is what drives me. Just like music, food, or photography, a common love for car culture can instantly bind two complete strangers together, can’t it?
Okay, that’s it for me. If you made it this far, thank you for reading. I have lots of cool content planned for the site, but if you have any feature car leads, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me! (Instagram is probably the easiest way)