This is Only the Beginning…: 2016 in Review

What a year. I don’t think this website has ever caused so much combined stress and excitement for me since I began blogging six years ago. Two trips to Japan, the first STL drift event, working with 326POWER, new product launches; the adventures and challenges have been non-stop but, as I sit here catching up on orders and emails from over the Christmas break, I can’t help but look back on what an awesome year it’s been for Street Track Life.

Back in February I returned to Japan for three weeks of travelling the country. Starting in Tokyo and working my way down to Hiroshima with my girlfriend, the trip wasn’t specifically geared around car sightseeing but, as these things tend to go, there were many car-related memories to be made on this particular adventure that saw us stay in eight different hotels in six different cities (including a traditional ryokan high up in the Kyoto hills).

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Having spent a few days in Tokyo, Yokohama and Nagoya, I found myself driving a gutless Mazda Demio hire car into the stunning Aichi countryside towards Motorland Mikawa, with my mind firmly set on witnessing the legendary A-Bo-Moon drift team in action at the annual R32-only drift event.

As we rolled into the car park while the distant soundtrack of angry RB20s and RB25 rev limiters reverberated around the surroundings, I literally ran up the short entrance road into the circuit’s pits to dive head first into the action.

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Nothing could have prepared me for the eye-opening experience that this drift event provided, let alone getting the chance to ride shotgun with A-Bo Satsukawa in his historic R32 Skyline around his favourite circuit while he drove as close as possible to his team mates. I came away from the day with a fresh perspective of drifting and the overwhelming realisation that this was the type of drifting I wanted to be a part of. As soon as we returned to our Nagoya hotel, I was immediately putting out feelers for an STL drift day that would incorporate the same vibes but, more on that later.

I’ve always hoped to witness some truly legitimate street drifting while in Japan but, being fully aware of the risks and complications involved, I had to face reality and accept that it probably wasn’t going to happen on this particular trip. I did, however, manage to make my way out to a large meet on the outskirts of Osaka at a motorway parking area.

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After catching the wrong train, ending up many miles south of my desired location and then having to try and convince a taxi driver who spoke absolutely no English (aside from “Manchester United!”) to take me onto the expressway and drop me at a service station, I eventually made it. Top tip: learn your “left” and “right” in Japanese before you travel, just in case! Without it, I’d probably still be trying to direct this particular taxi driver to my destination today.

It was pretty difficult to navigate the meet on foot, as it spread over multi-storey car parks on both sides of the expressway. Adding to the confusion, you could either park in the basement on both sides or on the respective fifth floors. To get to the other side, you had to take a lift, walk across a footbridge over the expressway and then take a lift back down. It was certainly a bit more more confusing than Hilton Park services on the M6.

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Cars came and went all night, from battered drift cars to pristine classics and exotics. A slight problem arose when I couldn’t find the pedestrian exit to the ground floor (technically, none of the car parks were supposed to be accessible by foot from people on the ground) so, short of jumping a 10m drop and not injuring myself, I was stuck and subsequently missed my train. Thankfully, a young chap in a JZX110 who spoke roughly five words of English took me back to my hotel, albeit at 4.30am and it was freezing cold by this point.

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Fast forward a week or two and we were in Hiroshima on a particularly dull rainy morning. Determined to explore, I popped into the hire car shop next to our hotel, grabbed the keys to a Suzuki Swift and pointed us in the direction of 326POWER’s Higashihiroshima headquarters.

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I won’t bore you with too many details of the visit but, suffice to say, getting to meet drifting OG Mitsuru Haruguchi and his staff while being given a tour of the workshop was truly fascinating. After hours of conversation, we had somehow reached an agreement that Street Track Life was to act as the company’s UK distributor. To say I was overwhelmed and excited at the prospects for the future was an understatement; I couldn’t wait to get home and get started.

Throughout the summer I worked hard to keep the STL shop full of interesting parts and merchandise while introducing the 326POWER range. I can’t thank my customers enough for embracing the brand and kitting their cars out with some of the company’s unmistakable products, along with those who have proudly sported STL merchandise.

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One of the biggest releases in the shop this year was the HM-Sports E36 Saloon aero kit. I always expected the kit to polarise opinion but it went down a storm and I was chuffed to see so many cars fitted with the kits at the Drift Matsuri event at Anglesey back in October. With the first batch of Coupe aero kits expected to ship in the next week or so, I can’t wait to see more BMWs out there pushing their style to the next level. A huge thanks goes to those who have waited patiently for their kits to be manufactured and delivered; it’s been quite a hectic operation to get up to speed with manufacturing, stocking and shipping large fibreglass parts.

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Towards the end of the year I returned to Japan once again but, this time round, it was no holiday. I met with the owners of a huge amount of companies and workshops with the goal of expanding the STL store even further. I still have a load of photos and features to post from these infamous shops such as Todoroki, Aslan and Five Mart/Osaka JDM, all of which will be posted in due course.

Despite the 40 degree heat, crazy humidity and an awful stomach illness, the schedule was relentless but I did get chance to enjoy some downtime at Meihan Sportsland, a track that I have always wanted to visit since catching the drifting bug. At this particular mid-week practice day, I was blown away by the sheer number of drifting legends that were there simply to keep their skills up. Thanks to my guide for the week, Eiichi Nakayama (himself an OG member of the infamous Tinker drift team), I got to meet a number of these legends, along with getting to ride shotgun with Takatori-san in his V8 powered PS13 Formula D car. I can safely say that this was an experience I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.

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Of course, I also returned to 326POWER’s HQ to discuss plans for the future with Haruguchi-san, along with getting to snoop around the workshop and take some photos.

After returning from my trip, it was time to set about putting the final plans together for the fast approaching STL drift event at Driftland. Unlike most events, my aim for the two days was simply for a small group of mates to enjoy a huge amount of track time together, honing their skills while having a lot of fun.

Driver numbers were kept to a bare minimum and the event wasn’t promoted in advance as I wasn’t particularly keen on attracting a large crowd; at the end of the day, it wasn’t supposed to be an all-singing and all-dancing drift event. Those that did attend though had an absolute blast and I’m extremely grateful for everyone’s kind words that followed. Everyone enjoyed themselves and that’s all that matters! I can’t wait to put the wheels in motion for what will hopefully be more similar events in 2017.

As if things with the site weren’t already busy enough, after listening to various podcasts for hours on end on long drives, I thought it’d be a good idea to give it ago myself. With the help of Alex of Low Origin, Josh of Graphix-D and Saule & Harley of V8illuminati, I cobbled together some audio equipment, setup a GoPro and we proceeded to waffle on about car-related topics for an hour or so. The response was overwhelmingly positive; so much so that I quickly set about getting a second episode recorded with the guys, which was released online the other week.

On a personal note, I haven’t had chance to do too much drifting with my C33 Laurel as a result of how busy I’ve become with the site during the last year. I have managed to attend a handful of Three Sisters drift days though, along with taking part in the aforementioned STL event at Driftland. If anything, I’m just extremely glad that the car remains roadworthy and that I can enjoy it pretty much whenever I want.

Finally, I’d just like to extend a massive thank you once again to everyone who has helped me throughout 2016 to get Street Track Life to where it is today. Friends, family and customers; your support has been incredible and I can’t wait to show you what I’ve got in store for 2017.

Ali

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