By James Tabafunda
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
He steers his rear-wheel-drive racecar around the tight hairpin turns at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, knowing that driving aptitude, mastering oversteer and car control are the keys to winning for Team RS-R. Thick clouds of light blue smoke fill the air as he burns rubber speeding up after a turn.Kenshiro Gushi, 21, of San Gabriel, Calif., competes in drifting, a unique form of motorsports developed in Japan where drivers go over 100 mph then skid their rear tires around turns to maintain vehicle control and maximum speed. Two drivers are judged individually in side-by-side competition on four criteria: speed, line, angle and overall impression.
Drifting is not the illegal driving on city streets depicted in the 2001 movie, “The Fast and the Furious.” Though a fan of the movie and of its sequels — many of his fellow drifters performed the stunt driving in the latest sequel — Gushi made it a point to emphasize, “I don’t think it portrays any of us in this Formula D series at all because we don’t do any of that stuff on the streets. I don’t recommend anyone (drifting) on the street.”
He takes practice laps in his red-and-white-striped Scion RS-R tC — car number 5. He wants to be ready before the Aug. 9 competition — the fifth of seven rounds called “Breaking Point” — in this season’s Formula DRIFT schedule. At the event, he lost in his first pairing with Samuel Hubinette who later finished the event in second place.
Born in Okinawa, Japan, and raised in Los Angeles, he remembers his first ride at age 13 not as a driver but as a passenger. His father and rally racer Tsukasa Gushi, sat in the driver’s seat of his 1986 Toyota Corolla GT-S and showed him the basics of drifting on a dry lake in El Mirage, Calif.
Two years later, Kenshiro Gushi competed in local events to practice his skills against other drivers. “Because of my age, some people didn’t take me seriously,” admitted Gushi. “I guess, sooner or later, they see that I’m not just about having fun. When it’s down to business, I’m pretty serious about it.”
Drifting, itself, is a business. “As I do everything on my own now, it’s really hard to keep in touch with sponsors,” he said. “You gotta be always pleasing them and at the same time, you gotta remember that you’re doing this because it’s fun, not because it’s just work.”
He finished in seventh place overall in the 2004 Formula DRIFT Championship. Success finally came when he finished in first place at the third round — in Reliant Center, Texas — of the 2005 Formula DRIFT Championship.
When he’s not racing, he studies business administration at Pasadena City College. Gushi considers both of his parents as his personal heroes and said, “As a young kid, I didn’t really see myself as a professional driver until my dad showed me what I could do with my driving ability. And my mom’s the one who supported me. Without them, I wouldn’t be here.” Taka Aono, a drifter since 2002, remembered when Gushi first became one of his competitors and said, “He was a lot calmer person than his dad, and he started picking up things like this (drifting) quickly.
“When he was 16, he was already a good driver, and it’s always fun to drive with him,” he added. ♦
James Tabafunda can be reached at email@example.com.