The Landmark 2004 D1 Grand Prix USA Event…


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You likely won’t see these photos exist anywhere else anymore. If you can secure an issue of Super Street back in the summer of 2004, you might see some of these, but for the most part, a large bulk of these photos do not exist in digital form anymore. Actually, most of them probably never even made it online. I can’t recall how in-depth the Super Street website was back some 14 years ago, but its not anywhere near what it is now, with its catalog of content. You can even pull up the digital article that they put up for this event back then and the photos do not even work. They don’t exist…

But… I’m lucky enough to have good friends and one of them is Jonathan Wong, is does have a very deep collection of digital content that he secured while he worked there back in the day. Luckily for all of us, he saved most of it. Some of these photos may or may not have been used, most of them haven’t. Just because print magazines only had a limited number of pages for features and events, and as such, a lot of photos never make it to print. I recently procured some of this content that he’s collected for himself and he was kind enough to let me dig around to see. I thought it would be perfect to re-introduce “The Archives” series that was once a very popular section of The Chronicles now in 2018 with one of the most significant events to ever happen in the North American automotive tuning community. That event was one of two very important ones that helped to usher in the era of mainstream drifting in this country. That event was the D1 Grand Prix. Prior to 2003, it was a domestic drifting event series held in different parts of Japan…ONLY in Japan. In wasn’t until they decided to hold an exhibition event here in California did they leave their footprint in our storied car culture. The first event was an exhibition event. D1 Grand Prix wanted to see what they could do in North America, knowing that drifting was starting to become quite popular on this side of the world. There were smaller events going on and even Ken Myoshi from Import Showoff fame was hosting “Drift Showoff” events. D1GP wanted to expand here in our country and the exhibition event was massive. Though I wasn’t fully aware of what drifting truly was back in 2003, I was familiar with what D1GP was just based on glancing at Japanese car magazines at my local Mitsuwa market. When my friends and I found out that D1 would be coming to the U.S., we made sure to buy our tickets to experience it for ourselves. The first one was great, it was our first time being introduced to so many of these popular Japanese drivers and meeting up and coming American drivers. It was an opportunity for many of us to see some of these cars we had only seen in magazines prior and being able to witness an S15 Silvia for the first time, or many of the other incredible machines assembled by such great Japanese tuning shops as Signal Auto and Top Secret. This was the stuff dreams were made of. They even hosted a car show within that event and we brought our cars out to showcase, soon realizing that our cars were complete trash compared to these Japanese tuning legends. We got to meet guys like N.O.B. aka Nobuteru Taniguchi, Keiichi Tsuchiya, better known as the ‘Drift King’, Nomuken, and so many more. It was crazy… The first exhibition event in August of 2003 shattered attendance records at the Irwindale Speedway. I think over 10,000 people showed-up that day to watch Katsuhiro Ueo take the win in his AE86 Trueno.

D1GP was so happy with that event that they returned a few months later and not only would they return, they loved California so much that they made the next event the first round of the official D1 Grand Prix Series. It was a big fucking deal.

The second event held on February 28, 2004 was a huge one. Bigger than we ever expected, even bigger than 2003. The singular moment that many of us who were there will remember for pretty much the rest of our lives was when the ultimate underdog, Yasuyuki Kazama, or who we came to know simply as ‘Rodeo Kazama’, took home the win over the much-favored, famed driver Nobuteru Taniguchi. No one expected him to take the win amongst a field of such highly-competitive drivers, but he and his green S15 Silvia did just that. To make things even more interesting, Kazama was representing Kei Office, a famed tuning brand in Japan owned by Keiichi Tsuchiya. The win, the embrace, and the tears….man, you can’t make that stuff up. It was such high drama at that time that no one had experienced before. No one knew that drifting could become that impactful, especially considering people were just barely being introduced to it. We all fell in love with drifting that day. It was such a pivotal event that its success in the States ultimately led to the creation of the Formula Drift series. I guess you can say that had these two D1GP events not happened here, there would be no Formula D…

Times have changed obviously, as you’d expect, given that it’s been nearly 15 years since. But man, I still remember this event like it happened yesterday. Years later, I got to know some of the guys like Daijiro Yoshihara and Ken Gushi who were barely getting deep into that motorsport in those days. Crazy how things unfold. Drifting is obviously not nearly the same anymore in North America. You can say that Formula D has been met with much success but it doesn’t capture that same feel that the D1GP had back in the day. The driving was amazing, the vibe was even better, and well, let’s be honest, the cars were WAY cooler. Style was such an important element back then. Now it’s power, power, and well, more power. I really miss those days. I miss seeing cars from Top Secret, I miss seeing the HKS S15, Ueo’s AE86, Nomuken’s Blitz ER34 Skyline. All of it… I miss. Even the electricity and vibe of just being there. It’ll never be the same again. But today, we get to relive it. For those who weren’t around back then, you have no idea how important these photos are. Again, they probably didn’t exist online until today. And this is like 2% of what the event encompassed. There was so much more that could have been captured. It is actually one of those events that I wish I could travel back in time to so I could capture it myself. I didn’t even shoot back then or had an inclination to become a photographer. Without these photos, all I had were memories…

Before we begin, I should add that these photos came on one single DVD-R from my good friend Jonathan Wong. He shot many of these photos, but going through them, there were obviously two photographers used. I would love to credit them with their work but the secondary camera that was used didn’t even have its date properly set so the photos, when put together, were completely out of order. I only went through and processed them with current technology to clean them up and to give them a very specific look. I apologize if I butchered your work. There could be a possibility that Jonathan used to separate cameras that day, but since the photos looked so different, I can’t say that that was the case. I’d have to confirm with him. Half the photos were shot with an old Canon D60 and the other with a much better Canon 10D. Yes, these were shot before the days when a Canon 5D was even in existence. That’s how old this shit is, lol. And they still came out pretty amazing considering. Again, it is very possible these were shot by two people. I want to say the other was Wes Allison, another photographer working for Super Street back then, but I cannot confirm. I just merely acquired the photos, edited and processed them, and put them up here for the world to see. I think it’s a real shame that there aren’t more photos from this event in 2018, but unlike sex tapes and old pornography, some things really do disappear on the internet after some time. Sadly, it is important photos of automotive events.

I want to extend a huge thank you to my friend Jonathan Wong, who was kind enough to let me have these photos, as well as many many other photo sets that I have yet to even look through. I’m happy that I can be a curator of this type of content because it is important to have. Enjoy and if you were at this event, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section or in the Instagram post I will be making about this event. Also, share it if you could because I’m sure many people would like to see it as well. This isn’t typically the content I would post since I don’t cover much drifting stuff these days but I think people would appreciate it.

And now…let’s jump into our time machines and travel back to February 28, 2004….The D1 Grand Prix 2004 Round 1 in Irwindale, California…

Photos by Jonathan Wong & ???

Post-Processing by Joey Lee

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An overhead view of the car show display area. I’m sure many of you guys who remember this event had your cars there. Try to spot your’s because you probably still remember exactly where you parked that day…

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Ken Maeda and the UpGarage AE86 Trueno…

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One of my favorites from that day was this VeilSide S15 Silvia piloted by Hisashi Kamimoto….

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And the VeilSide Racing S15 wouldn’t be complete without the Andrews Racing V wheels…

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Hubert Young and the Motorsport Dynamics/Falken Tire S14 didn’t make it past qualifying after a pretty violet encounter with the wall…

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Atsushi Kuroi in the strawberry-faced RPS13 180SX from Signal Auto/Tanabe….

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Sorry, the name of the driver of this AE86 Corolla eludes me at the moment but I believe this was a Silk Road car…

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Rodeo Kazama and his Kei Office S15 Silvia….

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I also was a huge fan of the Cherry Blossom livery on that S15…Just a great looking car overall….

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Kuroi in one of the more recognized Signal Auto builds of that time…

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A young Daijiro Yoshihara wrecked the Pacific Rim S13 during the first round of competition, making impact with the same wall that destroyed the Motorsport Dynamic S14…

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Signal Auto signature splash graphic was one of the more copied designs back then for people who just waned to copy something cool and plaster it on their non-drift cars…

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One of the more interesting competitors that day was Ryouji Takada and his Daihatsu Charmant, which pushed about 158 horsepower but looked super cool and random against the likes of a Top Secret S15…

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Speaking of which, here is the famous Top Secret S15 with gold chrome livery and all, driven by Ryuji Miki…

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Ueo won the exhibition round of the D1GP series when it first landed in the U.S. Always one of the better looking Japanese drift cars with the signature Cusco graphic and Yukes logo…

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Close encounters of the wall kind….

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Sparco Racing/ M-Sports RPS13…

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This photoset didn’t have very many photos of Yoshinori Koguchi and the Falken Tire S13 unfortunately…

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Hideo Hiraoka and the Espelier/DROO-P AE86 Levin…

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Hiroshi Fukuda and the BN Sports 180Sx…

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More VeilSide goodness…

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Kazama straightening out after his run….

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Kuroi and the Signal Auto 180SX after some slight wall damage….

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Pretty cool to have so many photos of Takada and his Charmant. Sadly, a few years later, he passed away in a scooter accident…

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A young JDM Wong with some friends…

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The famed starting grid at the Irwindale Speedway, now famously known as the U.S. “House of Drift”…

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Parade lap and driver introductions…

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Kazuhiro Tanaka and the Team Orange/M-Sports S15 Silvia…

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Yoichi Imamura and the APEX’i FD3S RX-7…

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Ken Nomura and the Blitz/URAS ER34 Skyline…

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Nobuteru Taniguchi and the HKS Performance/Vertex S15…

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Hisashi Kamimoto and the VeilSide Racing S15….

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Rhys Millen and his GTO alongside Miki and the Top Secret S15…

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Miki saluting the crowd of 10,000+…

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Kumakubo reppin’ the American flag with his giant APC decal…

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Samuel Hubinette back when he was driving a JZA80 Supra from Jaspar Performance…

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Kuroi telling people that “One More Time” is gonna be a thing that they’re gonna hear for the rest of their lives at U.S. drifting events in the future…

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Kazama saluting the crowd holding his Kei Office umbrella…

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Nomuken and Kumakubo lined-up during the announcement of the next round of competition…

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Kazuhiro Tanaka vs. Imamura from APEX’i…

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Miki looking great in the Top Secret S15…

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To this very day I still have a scale model of this car in my shop bathroom…

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Fantastic capture after Miki destroyed his rear bumper…

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Miki vs. Millen…

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Kuroi and the Signal Auto RPS13 with paint by SHOW UP…

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Love the M-Sports S15 aero and the huge opening for the front-mount…

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NO. ONE. BETTER.

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Taniguchi vs. Gen Terasaki and his AE86 Levin, another great looking car that I wish we had more photos of…

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The guys at Super Street really loved Kuroi’s 180SX…

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Kazama vs. Kuroi…

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Nomuken and the URAS ER34…

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Nomuken vs. NOB was pretty epic, with Taniguichi heading to the finals to face Kazama…

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The grit was added if you were wondering…

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Before URAS aero got super weird…

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Kazama vs Kumakubo in the final four…

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Kazama leading…

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Kumakubo with the lead and Kazama following CLOSELY…

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Kazama would ultimately take the win to face Taniguchi in the finals…

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Nomuken was and is always a character. Here he was scaling the fence and getting the crowd pumped-up…

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Samuel Hubinette and Rhys Millen…

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Epic shot of Taniguchi…

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The prize…

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Keiichi Tsuchiya saying some words to the crowd….no one understood him…

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The come down and relief after the win…

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Kazama with the first place finish, Taniguchi with the second. Taniguchi also finished second during the 2003 exhibition run against Ueo…

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It was definitely an emotional roller coaster for these guys, who traveled across the world to showcase something that they were truly passionate about to a crowd of 10,000 not knowing what to expect…

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The thrill of victory from someone who no one expected to win…

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And such great emotion displayed by Kazama. Unfortunately, he and Tsuchiya had a huge falling out some years later and Kazama faded a bit into obscurity…

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…but on this day in 2004, he was a champion….

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And that, my friends….was the 2004 D1 Grand Prix in the U.S. It would later be followed that year with an even bigger event that coincided with the introduction of Super GT in the U.S. This joint venture was announced as a USA vs. Japan exhibition series that would be held at the California Speedway in Fontana. That too was an amazing event. Maybe I have photos of it, I’ll dig around. Thanks for looking folks and I hope you enjoyed the leap back in time….

Categories: Coverage, The ArchivesTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

17 comments

  1. I missed ”The Archives”. One ? can you bring back Blanca LOL……….Please

  2. Oh man, the memories. Thank you so much for sharing these photos, and thank you to Jonathan for providing them!

    The HKS/Vertex S15 is still one of my favourite cars ever and cemented my love for them as well as Super Advans.

  3. Thank you and JDM Wong for doing this. You have no idea how many fond memories this post brought back for me. It was because of these events and your work that I still have a passion for Motorsports 15 years later. And agree with the above poster, the HKS S15 is one of my favorite cars of all time.

  4. Thanks for this Joey, and Jonathan, I could feel the emotion from Kazama and Tsuchiya embracing one another. Wonderful additions as always.

  5. Amazing work Joey! Thank you for putting the time and effort into sharing this. It is greatly appreciated by MANY people!

  6. I have some photos I took at the December Super GT/D1 event. They were taken on a crappy point and shoot digital camera of the time though, so probably nothing worth sharing, LOL. The Super GT event (GT Live I believe it was called) was my first “big” event I ever went to in So-Cal. I drove my stock S13 all the way down from Oregon to attend. It was epic! I wish FD was like the old D1 events, I’d be more into it for sure. FD nowadays is quite boring.

  7. I remember this well, super epic event that shook the entire North American car culture scene. It’s a bit somber to think that some of these drivers that were here are no longer with us today. I have to say Ueo’s AE86 had a much bigger impact on me than Initial D because it was real.

  8. Damn that brings back memories…awesome display Joey…

    R.I.P. Kuroi-san

  9. Awesome memories dam I actually remember some of those pics in the mag

  10. Oh man, this is such a good story to tell, suck an epic event from back in the day…BTW I still have a gif of the pacific rim car hitting the wall. https://thumbs.gfycat.com/RegalFocusedLeopard.webp

  11. Awesome, very nice to see these somewhere other than just in my head! Definitely was an event to remember…

  12. There is a good documentary about Rhys and him building the GTO as it released in the US in 04 with the new body style from Holden. It’s all about him building the car to make it to the event and a lot of coverage of the event. Just in case you were looking for more pics and such. I remember watching it after the event. Pretty cool.

  13. The driver in the Silk Road AE86 was Kawabata! And Kazama and Tsuchiya are in good terms according to Kazama’s step son! He stopped competing in D1 because of the schedule with Rodextyle but also of course with the power war that’s happening still. He says he likes watching MSC and Drift Kingdom but not D1GP (possibly that he likes D1 Lights).

  14. Seeing these photos really brings back memories, thanks for sharing them! Also Kawabata Masato was the driver of the Sillk Road AE86, this event was right before he starting driving the TRUST S15. I also have a copy of the Rides episode where they following Rhys Millen building the original GTO for this very event if you’d like!

  15. If I remember correctly, Kuroi died from a scooter accident while Takada died from a loading accident. If not, please correct me!!

  16. Wow! Thank you so much for this!

  17. There seems to be a lot of photos missing towards the end….

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