Luckily I have something to drive in San Francisco…
If you like pictures, sorry. There are many words to accompany these photos as the story behind them has become one of my most cherished. For those that don’t know, I work full-time as a test driver for Toyota in Arizona. Recently I took on a new position developing electronic controls systems and I’m the only technician in North America that does this. Finally, my ticket to Japan has arrived! Sure enough, after the first year I was told I would be training at our sister facility in Higashi-Fuji for three weeks. This story however, is about one weekend when I decided to travel to Motegi, Japan by myself to meet an inspiration of mine face to face. Mostly naive mixed with over-confidence, I set out from Iwanami station in Susono at 10am on Saturday the 28th of July…
It’s hard to fathom how difficult it is to navigate a trip when you speak only the most basic Japanese and your reading level is that of a very young child. I found out quickly that there would be no spoken English for the rest of the trip. It’s kind of cool to see life outside of city, the houses are spectacularly large for Japan with land to boot.
Luckily I had the help of my co-workers on Friday when it came to booking a room near Motegi. I decided to stay the night in a town called Moka because they had a Route-Inn which I had become accustomed to. Half way there I had to make a transfer at a really cool station.
At this point, things are going well. The weekend bag I packed wasn’t too heavy but the extra weight was not fun with the 88 degrees and 90% humidity. I mean you can catch swamp ass just crossing the street! After a few minutes and a nice drink from the vending machine, my train to Moka arrived.
Man that looks old…
Okay so that is really old. Can’t be that bad in the passenger cabin right?
Hmmmm, so that’s the A/C for the next hour and a half. Oh well, no turning back now. I arrive in Moka and exit the station to find not a taxi in sight. This could get interesting I think to myself. I remember from checking on Google that the hotel was maybe only four miles away. Just when I was about to hoof it, I spotted a police station and figured someone in there could help me out. You have to understand that up to this point, I have met nothing but the sweetest and nicest people in my life. This trend continued as the officers did their best to understand my Janglish and point me in the right direction. Pretty much all I gathered from the conversation was “Hidari, hidari hidari.” Okay, so I’m going to be making a bunch of lefts. A heart felt thank you, wave and I was gone. Twenty minutes of wandering later, I found the taxi shop, on the other side of the station. Through some more conversation and a hotel guide I had picked up before I left Susono, we had the Route-Inn targeted. You can’t imagine how happy I am at this point just to be able to take a shower and stop moving. Thankfully I had spotted a McDonalds on the way and decided to trek back that way. Low and behold I caught some Moka street style on the way…
Now it’s time for some rest. The start of the Idlers 12 Hour Endurance Race is scheduled for 8am so I wanted to get there around 7:30 and catch some pre-race shots. Alarm goes off at 4:30am and I’m up instantly due to the excitement that always hits before a track day. At the front counter by 5 I ask for a taxi to take me to Kita Moka station which will lead me to Motegi. I can barely make out what the front desk clerk is saying but gather that taxi service doesn’t start until after 7’oclock. Before I can say anything, the clerk has left and shows up out front in his personal car, a lightly modified kei car. I’m not gonna lie, it felt a little sketchy but I had come too far. I was prepared to walk as I had mapped out the route on Google. I am sooooo thankful for his help as I must have had the scaling wrong. It would have taken at least two hours to walk to Kita Moka station. After arriving, I did my best to insist that he let me tip him and how much this meant to me but he wouldn’t have it. Again, the nicest people I have met! So here we are 5:30am in the middle of nowhere Japan standing on a platform by myself hoping that the train schedule I looked up wasn’t some historical artifact from the past.
I mean, there’s no place to even purchase a ticket. Sure as shit, and lust like always, the train shows up literaly the second it is supposed to. Nothing has been late the entire time I’ve been in Japan to this point, not the taxis, buses, trains or planes. I hop the train and realize that you pay when you exit the train and the conductor records where you got on. This was really efficient for a small line as the station I had become accustomed to in Tokyo were absolutely crazy, but still possible to navigate for a complete gaijin. 6 stops later….
I am so close I can smell the race fuel, at least in my head I can. I exit the train alone to find a closed and empty station. I walk through and find a group of older Nipponjin having a conversation before they got started with the days activities. This was by far the hardest conversation yet between being way out in a rural area and that older Japanese have typically not studied English during their school years. I called it a wash, said thank you in the most polite way I knew for them allowing me to take some of their time and headed off. The only way this was going to work was to start mapping out each street individually until I was able to find some sort of transportation to the track, which I couldn’t really explain how to get to anyway. A taxi business was acquired a short time later but I could see through the window that Sundays schedule started at 7:30am. No biggie considering that there could have been no service at all! Sure as the sun rises, at 7:27 a man goes driving past looking at the station and the guy who obviously is not from around here. By 7:29:55 he has his key in the door, on time. I waited a little longer for him to get his vehicle check done, warm the car up and organize his office. Then came that whole conversation thing where I hope to God that I don’t accidentally push someone to their edge trying to understand what I’m saying. After a couple minutes he has the idea that I definitely want to go to the Motegi Twin Ring race circuit. I double up with another passenger and we head off. Now, understand that I don’t really know where I’m going. When the two guys in the taxi finish their conversation and the guy next to me starts to sing what sounds like an old Japanese soul tune, I get a little uncomfortable. When you see the kind of movies we occupy ourselves with in the states you can understand my apprehension. But alas, we make it to the track and I am again, alone.
The information office is closed, I see no one and hear pretty much nothing. The parking lots had vehicles in them on the way to the main track entrance so I wasn’t too worried. Things got much better when I found this…
What I would estimate six flights down and two flights up the other side felt like a 5k! The bag is starting to exert more pressure than I think it should and the humidity this far in the mountains is straight out of control. I walk this distance to find the entrance to the pits blocked off. I can see people walking around and getting ready so I’m not discouraged. I don’t want to just go around the barrier and potentially piss someone off so back it was. Damn stairs, ughh! Luckily, I spot a guy that has what looks to be a pit pass around his neck. I ask him if he knows how to get to the registration counter for another pass. Again he’s super nice, but he literally back tracks everywhere I have just been. That’s right, I was too shy and flustered to tell him I had already walked under the track to find the entrance blocked. Stairs, again. He did however bring me past a row of lockers where I decided it would be a good idea to drop off everything except the camera. I forgot the Porsche magazine I had bought the weekend prior in the bottom of the bag but I was so relieved to have that 40lbs gone that I didn’t care. Still, where am I going? I head back to the main road and start walking.
It’s worth a shot to find the semi-trailer entrance as that has to lead to the pits. I keep walking the main entrance road passing a few parking lots when I stumble across some win, some serious win.
By now I’m a little recharged even though I feel like I could pass out at any moment from all the walking and no food. Having found the entrance for the race teams, I take a chance and start walking through the tunnel. On the other side I can definitely tell that there is a race going on and my blood starts to pump much harder.
After a mile or so and what felt like a decent hill, I arrived at the entrance to the pit parking area and everything I had travelled so far for. Race time! A stroll around the parking area revealed a few things but made some others more confusing.
I saw a group of people heading up to the observation deck and decided to follow. From there I could tell that there were a few RWB cars in attendance but no Stella.
After the observation deck I had a chance to walk through the pit areas. Sure enough in the sixth or seventh pit I wandered into, there they were…
It looked like absolute mayhem as I found out that this was a party for Rauh Welt customers. Nakai-san had built five cars and invited his customers from all over the world to come and jam on them for 12 hours! Not only is it enough to have one of the illest (pun intended) cars on the planet, you’re also a part of one really cool club of racers.
This was a full on free for all with RWB guys from Thailand, USA, Japan and I think New Zealand. Early on I saw Mark Arcenal of Fatlace/Illest and had a small conversation with him. It was really comforting to hear another English speaker. From there on out things were a blast as I got to see how things were the same yet different at a club track day. Also getting to meet the owner of Mayday Garage and RWB’s in-house tuner Gary, I had considered this trip to be a success. At least when I come back I should be able to line up a visit to RWB HQ and catch some close ups of Stella, a car that changed a lot about the way I do things. Still though, I had to meet Nakai-san and ask him for a picture, something to show to myself and remember that nothing is impossible with determination.
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!!!! Apparently, Nakai-san loves Arizona and has trained at Bondurant like I did. His English was surprisingly good. The only video I had ever seen of him was subtitled in English.
If you’re a friend of mine and you get some shwag from Motegi, know that you are very close to me. I couldn’t explain in any words the emotions, confusion, frustration and shear anxiety I went through to have this experience though it was worth every second. I showed myself that I truly am car crazy.