Friday, July 21, 2006

A Message For American Drifting

My visit to the FD Sonoma was that of pure curiosity. Ken Takahashi who I work with is one of the judges so I wanted to see why exactly I am letting him leave work on Thursday when there is an event. Surely Zigzag Asia is not getting paid for giving Ken days off but our corporate decision was to accept the offer from Formula D because in the long perspective it will benefit both the corporation and individual. Another reason why I went was to check out how much the organically grown American pro drift series had evolved.

I arrived around 11am before the best 16 runs. I got to see the drivers and teams in action. I visited Ken up in the judge's booth before the show started and had some time to talk with Andy Yen and Alex Pfeifer. I chatted with Jim, Ryan and the entire FD crew. I met Hulk and Nick Hogan, the G4 crew and Jerrod. And I saw the fans.

I realized that day that I could be looking at history in the making. Drifting is exploding in the US and is becoming bigger and bigger everyday. Where it used to be a sport that had to be done using used up tires from the junk yard, now tire companies are throwing new tires at young drivers so they can kill the sh_t out of them in less than 10 minutes. When you have this kind of money being tossed around, it means you better hang on or you're going to miss the ride. Whether it is Formula D or D1, if they play their cards right they can make something special. Although, playing cards right is not as easy as it sounds when you're right in the middle of everything.

These are some things I noticed at Sonoma. During G4's Sonoma coverage, there was footage where they showed Ken Gushi talking about the judge's decision and later his manager Damien Takahashi claiming in front of the camera. Where the camera was not showing there were actually more heated complaints and ideas exchanged between the teams, event organizers and the judges. But you know if you run a competition there will be 1 satisfied guy and at least 15 unhappy people at the end of the day. Each and everyone will have something to say. The important thing at this stage is to have the place to be able to voice your opinion and ideas. I think FD has that atmosphere at least, compared to D1. FD organizers try to listen to ideas because they care about what the teams and fans think about the event. FD may not be perfect and every team may not believe this but I believe they do.

Why voicing opinions is important because I felt at Sonoma that everyone feels that they want to make FD a better event. The fans are not just there to see something but actually there to be part of the event. Everyone is there with an objective and it all connects to making FD a better event. The sponsors want a better event because they want to sell their products. The teams want a better event so they can win fair and square and please fans and sponsors. Let's not be naïve, we are all not there for some beautiful cause. We all have motives. But that's ok. That is what drives people and organizations to become better. All of these motives ends up at one place "we are part of FD and we want to make it better". If that wasn't the case, they would not be there and there would not be any complaining.

FD is in the midst of growing. D1 has matured in the homeland and needed to expand to the US because Japan was a shrinking market. When you've conquered your own land the only place to go is abroad. That is why D1 is aggressively expanding abroad to export the show and format. A format which is already established. D1 does things their way and have done it successfully. They may not have made everyone involved happy but they have a driving force which does not differ and stop at all means. Who said you had to be nice to everyone to get the job done? Their job is to expand, sell the show, sell the DVDs and move on to the next show. We all have to agree that they have successfully done just that. Come'on they never set out to grow the US drifting scene. The are a business, not an NPO. As long as they keep selling those drifting DVDs and people pay money to buy tickets, the show will go on.

This is a two sided blade. It is a business but they are working with people. As I wrote earlier each party involved in FD has a motive. Usually a different motive. When the event organizers can no longer fulfill the objectives and motives of the parties involved, it cannot function. When teams and drivers are forced to be there, things start to fizzle. The fans expectations and the event is somehow not the same anymore. Then the magic is lost. I see glimpse of that in D1 but it's always been there I guess. I just hope that doesn't happen with FD too.

One of the things that FD can do to differentiate themselves with D1 is to make the judging more clearer. If drifting is to be a sport and not the pro wrestling of motorsports, (no offense Hulk) the judging needs to be clearer. There should not be a consensus building among the judges but a clear yes, no and reasoning behind each decision. There are "3" judges unlike the "2" at D1 so they should take advantage of the odd number always making it a vote. At least for the subjective section of the judging. There could also be a quantifiable factor in the decision making, whether it be speed and angle. If figure skating can do it, drifting can. The organizers and judges need to sit down and make this crystal clear. The current tandem run and judging style is based on D1 style. That cuts it in Japan but some things you just have to change to fit the market. I think they should just change the entire format as I think it is outdated and harvests too much BS. Look how American Football is all about instant replays, numbers and playbooks. It is a science. It is the biggest sport in the US. It's come a long way since it evolved from rugby about a 100 years ago in Boston. If the Americans want to keep drifting, it's their job to change it too.

What can be done immediately in the short run is to make a committee to make the rules clear and to review the decisions if necessary. Also the judges should use the driver's meeting to address important points. That is what a driver's meeting is for. To remind the drivers and teams about safety and rules. They may have heard it before but why do you think the referee always tells boxers before each bout not to hit below the belt and have a clean fight? To emphasize and remind what they are looking for.

Another thing I thought at Sonoma was that not everyone is a drifting expert. Most probably the people at Sonoma were first timers. If they were first at it, how in the world would they know who "Hayashida" is and which car he is in unless they are reminded every single second? Also again the rules of the tandem run needs to be addressed more clearly to the fans. I for one would have absolutely no idea who won if I was just sitting in the stands watching.

My point is that the entire format should be changed. Drifting is a simple sport. Any kid can watch drifting and be excited by the smoke and noise. We all have to realize that just because the crowd is going nuts it doesn't mean that they all understand why Rhys Millen just won the tandem battle. I bet you more than half of the crowd couldn't tell you why. That G4 show doesn't help much either. Great for promoting the sport but bad for comprehension of it. Those camera angles and commentators need to really up their game because all they are doing is bringing you the feeling of being at Sonoma.

Just to prove my point, at D1 Las Vegas a week later, I was sitting in the stands where it was absolutely impossible to hear what the hell Toshi Hayama was yelling about. I walked over to the other side and was finally able to hear him. It was a shame since I think he has really improved in the last few years. I was truly impressed. But anyway, I don't know if D1 didn't bother to hook up any speakers on one side but it was just mute. So basically half of the crowd sitting on the parking lot side heard NOTHING. We had no idea, who was coming down the straight, what was going on or why the hell that guy just won. But was the crowd unhappy sitting in the scorching Las Vegas heat without any commentary? Hell no! It's fargin drifting! Cars were coming down at 75-80 miles per hour, tire smoking and blistering around the corner. Some cars were even kind enough to bang themselves into the concrete K-wall. The crowd went nuts. There was even a brawl in the stands during the silence to keep people entertained. Why in the world would we need to hear any commentator explain to us when and where we should cheer? It was all in front of us. Everyone was having a blast. Everyone in the crowd had absolutely no f_cking idea why Keiichi Tsuchiya and Manabu Suzuki was making those judgments. Actually we couldn't even hear who the hell won. But who cares! It's drifting! That says it all the organizers should not be satisfied with the number of fans it can attract. Because half the crowd may have no idea what is going on. I actually think they should do a survey or a quiz at the end of an event. This could prove that the whole format is absolute baloney and irrelevant. It's just self satisfaction and a big smoking jerk off if we ever saw one. Could it be that this competition drifting be the biggest scam in motorsports history? That everyone there is pretending to understand and enjoy the sport but only actually waiting for some guy to eat his face onto the wall? How embarrassing!

Part of me wants to believe that I'm wrong. It can't be that wrong and off course right? But what if I'm right? What if the US was so wanting to take on this new style of exciting motorsport that they were just was blind to the obvious negative factor of the sport? Sometimes the most obvious and biggest flaw can be right in front of your face and you can still miss it entirely.
If you think I'm wrong, you need to get those tandem rules right. If not I'm right and we need to think of a new way to watch and judge the sport all together.

You know where this could lead to is purely drift demos. Who knows? Drifting is all about tricks. Whether it is one car or with two cars or three cars. You go out and show your stuff and you're judged on how well you executed it. Just like skating and skateboarding. This tandem battle style is too gray for mainstream. This could be strange from someone like me who produces Touge Battle videos. But this gray style is just not TV friendly enough to make it big. Two cars going against each other but cannot necessarily pass and must follow some imaginary line? Come on! That is so Japanese in the bad vague way. Winning and losing has to be clearer. Clear as black and white or you'll never get rid of the whining. Japan invented the sport but the US doesn't have to follow every bit up to the gray stuff. The Americans this time must take in something that is not theirs and make it their own. It's time to rip up those old ancient rules and rewrite the constitution your way. It's got be easier than the won you wrote back in 1787.

Taro Koki
Executive Producer of the BMI Special Edition DRIFT BIBLE


Judge Ken said...

Well put.... said...

I haven't followed drifting's "explosion" because I see it as a 2nd leg of the Import Racing "explosion of the late nineties.

I don't think drifting will be an acceptable sport ever - you can look to Japan for that. Drifting will take place on the streets, in the mountains, in the canyons.

It's been and will always be "bosozoku" street sport, underground.

If drifting goes mainstream, you'll see motocross bikers drifting (tv) to kids on bicycles drifing in circles (myspace), and that's not hardly a sport.

With all that said, I did enjoy and value the commentary you made on the "professional" drifting scene you experienced in Sonoma, California.