Better late than never ~ My experience at Chiba Damashi 2013

Back on the 27th, well let’s start on the 26th.  A Friday, long after school had ended I was back at home twiddling my thumbs and dilly dallying on the internet, wasting time, and in spite of the excitement waiting for me just around the corner on the weekend I still hadn’t gathered my tools and dropped them into a bag.

I say it that way because when you’re so focused in thought about important things, whether they be getting laid, (is that always important?) cleaning your room or drifting for that matter, sometimes you tend to want to do little from what actually is needed to be done. Well in my case, its probably one of my weaknesses.  Additionally, I was enlightened recently on the matter of thinking faces which seem to be in the very serious category.  A good friend of mine who goes into deep thought frequently told me recently he often catches passing Japanese girls off guard as he power walks through the city.

Anyway, I got fed up with myself being pathetic on the internet and organized my SD cards and my multiple camera platforms and stuffed them neatly into my tiny camera bag and nodded off to sleep after setting my obnoxiously loud alarm.

I woke around 10ish, I think, and while I slept charged all my batteries and so after quickly stowing them away I went on a brief errand to Kawasaki for a few rolls of film and other goodies.

Then it was off to Chiba! Yeeeeaa!

Sobu Express, you are one of my most favorite non-living objects.  Riding you is only the start to a plethora of good memories.  Yes!  I successfully succeeded in making a sexual train reference.  Heading out to Chiba always feels much longer than it does on the way back.  Unlike the train; returning home while driving offers a completely different experience.  In a car the long journey back always seems a lot shorter, well in my traveling experiences at least.  But at least I’ve grown to appreciate traveling.  Traveling in Japan is awesome; when you have the money to do so haha, because frankly its expensive as hell!  However, the problem for travelers outside Japan is more less of a problem than for the natives.  The subsidized bullet rail system and freeways that aren’t free are just one of the problems that Japan has to work on in the future.  We still love you though Japan! Don’t worry!

I got to Funabashi early because I left early, naturally.  There isn’t much traffic on the perfectly tuned rail systems of Japan aside from suicide.  I had time so I meandered through the station and down the street to a popular chain Gyudon shop, filled my stomach with the biggest serving of available beef bowls, Tokumori, and devoured that shit!  Those beef bowls, they seem to increase in flavor and attractiveness as the hunger in your stomach rises.  For the life of me I find it so hard to eat them when I’m only a little peckish.

I stepped out of the Gyudon shop and started on back to the station.  I stopped at the signal to wait and was soon swallowed up in a group of girls, also heading to the station.  I enjoyed their company as I walked back to my waiting spot.  You know how guys like to mentally undress girls.

The crowded roads cleared and Daichi in the ever so flattering Moblio managed to get to the station.  Man I was pretty happy after braving the unexpected coldness the particular spring night in Chiba had brought, I was more than ecstatic to hop quickly into the car, which I might mention, was filled with drift spares so I ended up sticking my bag into a wheel before getting into the front seat.

Finally it felt like I was syncing back up to the groove of Chiba.  I think it was partially due to Daichi’s laugh.  Because he and I are always laughing at everything.  One of my best friends.

We arrived at Hanashima Bankin, as we usually do and right away, before even parking the car, Daichi says, “Ohhhhh, the Cresta’s out!”  Sure enough, just across the lot it sat in all its sparkly red glory.  He rushed to park the car, and then ran over to the Cresta and almost immediately started piecing it back together.  I cracked open the door and squeezed out of the car and after greeting Hanashima-san I began to snap a few shots.

However, it wasn’t to long before I put down the camera and helped out as well.  We all worked steadily until Kazuma pulled up in his slammed Odyssey and I took a break to catch up.  One of the Hanashima locals stepped in to help Daichi find some missing bolts and attach other things.  Yuuji and Naoki also showed up a while later and I put on some working gloves to start changing tires with them.  As well as Naoki, some volunteers helping out Hanashima run Chiba Damashi were in the paint booth with us sorting out numbers for the cars.  I watched them go all the way past the 90s and into the hundreds.  It seemed like the event was going to have a good turnout.

After his errands Shacho also showed up and we kept on changing tires, swapping turns and maintaing a good rhythm.   Full Fanta Force!

I got a call from the HighTopFade and the Shirtstuckedin who were on their way to Mobara and wanted to know if it was cool to stop by and hang rather than stopping in early at a Manga Kisa.  I consulted the guys about my friends.  Time pasted quickly and soon enough they had arrived as well.  The small Alto barely making it into the driveway.

It was an all out party with people taking pictures, fixing cars and chatting.  Or fighting sharks..

After everyone was ready we switched to roll out formation and pilled into the cars full of tires and tools, and with the small Alto squeezed in the middle, as to not get lost, we accelerated into the night to pick up Yuuji’s car.

We stopped at a small conbini for some snacks, which of course turned into a mini photo shoot.  Gas stop, another photo shoot  and then after picking up Yuuji’s car and a long drive we finally pulled over to rest at a big MiniStop.  Big MiniStop, oh the irony.  We let the other two white boys give the countryside of Chiba a gaijin light show with a bunch of fireworks.

I think this photo alone speaks for it self but I prayed a patrol car would not come, for we would have been for sure arrested for disturbing the peace.

Grabbed a snicker bar to keep my stomach fueled up and slammed on the gas.  Snickers should pay for that line, and I’m sure we could work out some drifting slash snicker bar collaboration with Team Fanta.  Now that would be cool!  In for the long haul through the back roads all the way to Mobara.  That was around 3.30am.  We arrived at the closest conbini to Mobara Circuit and pulled in for a sleep.  A sleep that was cut short about 30 minutes later when we received a phone call that the gates had already opened.

When we arrived a little more than a quarter of the lot had already been filled, and it was just passing 4 am.  Holy shit! It felt so good to be back though, “welcome home” I thought to myself.  Most of the team unpacked their stuff while I walked around snapping away.

While we were heading to Mobara, Daichi kept telling me he was pretty nervous to run right after finishing the whole transformation.  So after working, worrying, driving, and then unpacking, he quickly fell asleep in an awkward, “leaning out of his bucket seat like a drunk salaryman in a train” position. (right after this photo was taken, haha)

Meanwhile Casey had caught up to me and we wandered through the lot.  Shooting some film, digital and sucking down my liter of 7/11 orange juice.  I need to add that after Park’s recommendation I’ve had craving for 7/11 orange juice on multiple occasions.

Soon after talking with this crazy cat from Funky (who also nailed me with an airsoft gun last time I was at Mobara, haha) I headed over and sat down in the car to rest a bit.

I had only sat down in the car for a few minutes before Casey came over and called me out, “Come on pussy; don’t go to sleep now, get out and shoot with me!” he yelled in his Aussy accent.

“Okay okay, I’m coming,” as I sighed pulling myself out of the car.

I told him I wanted to shoot from above the track so we headed up to take some landscapes as well as snap a few iPhone pano’s before returning to the now half sunlit paddock.

Daichi was still sleeping in an awkward position when I came back so I left him to his deserved peace and went and talked with Yuuki from Sexy Knights.  He had just arrived and was attaching his Illinios plate to his front bumper, and then as we talked he moved to the rear bumper to fasten up his custom Rookies plate.  All the small intricate personal additions without a doubt add to the cool factor of Chiba Soul.

Casey was walking around with me, listening attentively to my conversations in Japanese.  He told me later he was stoked to just be listening.  The guy is awesome to be around.  Definitely helped me rekindle my passion for photography, or at least digital.  Until then I had kind of dropped off the radar in that sector sticking mainly to film.  We kept pushing each other and it felt really refreshing.  Like tasting my Dad’s spaghetti with that rich tomato sauce thats just so savory and bursting with the flavor of hours of slow cooking on a stove, so good that after not eating it for a year your mouth starts to hurt because it is so excited to taste it.  Thats how it felt, rediscovering my taste for digital photography and seeing things in different flavors that I hadn’t tasted before.

Side note: Now after rewriting this and looking back, I must have been absurdly hungry, especially for my Dad’s famous spaghetti. But it runs with the story so I ain’t changing it.

Casey wandered off for a while and I sat down with Yuuki, his wife and one of their friends.  We broke down into a double language exchange lesson as I rested in the doorway of the registration office.  I helped him with pronunciation and certain difficult aspects in English while he guided me through the tricky forms of Japanese sentence structure.  We continued back and forth until the sun finally started warming up the rough asphalt.

It was nearly time to go and I grabbed a Grape Fanta and weaved my way through the cars lined up all ready for the first run of the day.

For the first time at Mobara I stepped onto the islands in the middle.  The grassy peninsula was being carefully grazed with a light breeze and it was quiet but the crowd could still be heard chatting softly.  Then suddenly an explosion of six cylinders and four bangers shot out of the pits and the day was underway.

I warmed up my trigger finger on my DSLR and a few rounds later when the Chiba Damashi class had rolled out, I was ready!

Then some more guys came onto the track as media and for what ever reason, just didn’t get it.  In my point of view its okay to get in crazy spots and do your thing if its allowed but don’t’ go pushing the limits.  Especially when your a foreigner.  It’s not your track, or your home country so respecting the rules should be in your upmost regard if you plan on coming back.  It seems, as many other senior photographers have also noticed; the DSLR’s rise in popularity and affordability in recent times has seen the increase in senseless and unintelligent photographers also on the rise.  Whether people realize or not, there are manners when it comes to photography and it is not something that should be taken lightly.  Especially on that day most of the semi-professional media that attended, if not all were foreigners. Of course myself included.

 

Well we have to move on, and so we did. Daichi in sleek JZX 90 Cresta crawled out of the pits glittering in the morning sunshine.

Two laps in and I spot Daichi coming up the straight, the car looks so good as he clutch kicks into first corner behind another car initiating a small drift train.  Mid drift he slows down to compensate for the lead driver when without warning the most horrible noises I heard all day come from his direction.  Shredding metal, exploding plastic, ahhh!  Casey and I were both shocked.  Something had gone wrong with the trailing car and it had connected nose to nose.

As a result the car then collided rear to rear and in a matter of seconds it was over leaving us only with a completely battered car sitting directly in front of us.  Fortunately that wasn’t Daichi’s car but, we couldn’t help but feel his pain.

After all that work we had just gone through, assembling everything the previous night.  It wasn’t even my car but I felt so bad that my chest kind of tightened.  Like when you watch a fight and you tense up when the guy gets socked in the face.  Since I’ve moved to Japan it now occurs when I watch sumo wrestling as I eat ramen and sway in my seat like I’m dodging the grabs.  It was a sad reality check for all the drifters.   But, as sad as it was, soon after I returned to the paddock I met up with Daichi who, even as disappointed as he was; had a battle scared smile struck upon his face.

“…it can’t be helped, thats drifting” is just about all I got out of him as he got back in for round two!

What a champion.

Next are a few photos from the days heats before lunch.  Kazuma was waiting for the missile to cool down, or waiting in the pits to give me the finger.

It was about that time, that time you know? The time when you can’t hold out any longer for lunch, its just been way to long and you’re way past your limit.  For Casey and I, we still hadn’t slept, or eaten a decent meal.  Park on the other hand, 8 hours of cozy sleep in the Alto was doing him wonders.

We headed into the cafeteria and ordered.  I went and chatted with Team Enjoy members while I waited for my food.  I met some new faces and quickly forgot about my Katsu Curry until Casey came and got me.  I went to my table and ate it so fast that I returned back to the Enjoy teammates table, sat down on the floor, and finished talking.

There had been a number of large scale crashes and fender benders and the paddock looked a brit weary, like a worn squad of soldiers.  But as soldiers do, they pushed on into the twilight, setting their tires alight once more for the spirit of Chiba Damashi.  The last heats of the day ushered in a whole different attitude.  A lot of “no fucks given” and charging into the corners in long drift trains.

I swapped lenses with Casey to let him use my 70-200 again.  In return he handed me his 135 prime so I could give it a whirl.  It was supposedly broken but changing to something I’d never shot on proved to be a good challenge in the dying moments of usable sunlight

I learned quickly that with the 135 positioning myself at the right distance was very key.  At first I found it a little troublesome navigating through the crowd but it soon became very welcoming once I found a perfect spot.  Shooting with prime lenses really puts a perspective on your photography since it is fixed and really creates a window for viewers to peer into that I don’t see as much when I shoot from my variable zoom lens.

Cutting back to the action.  I was in the stands, near the end where the course marshal stands.  Clouded with cigarette smoke and chunks of tire I asked Moe-chan for a mask.  Embracing my inner Japanese.  Sliding through the entrance to the last straight and onto the long sweeper was small number of cars decently spread out.  One of the cars in that train caught a wheel in the dirt and slid slightly off track to a stop.  Fanta’s leader came into view a little ways behind him putting the yellow, highway patrol inspired sil80 through its paces.  He put on the brakes and tried to straighten out but it just wasn’t enough.  The little patrol car slid nose first crunching perfectly square into the rear corner of it.  He drove off with a buckled hood, bent front bash bar, mangled radiator and a folded corner panel that had seen better days.

Before the last set of heats I scheduled a GoPro session for Team Fanta’s brother team, Plus Alpha.  I got everything prepped and then got into the Tan 180sx that would be the chase car.  Unfortunately as this was taking place someone on track had blew something oil related and preceded to coat the track with a black trail of the good stuff.  It quickly turned into a 20 minute wait for all the cars in the Chiba Damashi class sitting in the pits.  Because it was such a big clean up I think the organizers pushed back the rest of the heats to be fair to all the drivers because at the end of the long wait in the parking lot, with the restless boys revving their engines constantly, we finally got to run.

On track; we soon realized there was literally a small chalk line around the track.  This wasn’t no ordinary line though.  There was a substantial amount of chalk in the line.  Similar to having a giant line of coke on the track waiting for some giant to get his high on.  So to clean up the track, everyone got straight to warming up their tires like it was qualifying for F1 pushing the chalk off the circuit.  Mobara turned into a giant baby powder cloud.  In the passenger seat I could barely breathe.

Once visibility cleared up to a reasonable level everyone jumped back on the throttle like kids joyriding in their parents Jag.  Plus Alpha definitely put on a good show for the crowd.  I got to witness some pretty amazing tandem runs in the passenger seat as I filmed.

When I got out of the car I’m pretty sure both me and the driver looked like we had just sat downwind of some kid spray painting for two hours catching all the overspray.  I brushed off my white hair and walked blindly over to base camp, set my cameras down and ran over to the wash basin to rinse out my eyes so I could see.

The last classes were on track repeatedly hitting foam as part of the game by the time I got back to the stands.  Before long the cars were sliding through a field of foam mines.  Some drivers opted to just play soccer with them instead.   It was basically a competition to tag the most foam as possible.

To conclude the end of the run Hanashima stopped on the last corner, everybody else followed and got out to help reposition all the foam barriers that had come unlodged.

Back in the paddock the relaxed and slowed cleanup reflected the good times the day had held.  It wasn’t over yet though.  A small awards ceremony was held, where the winners were doused with huge cones of water from above.  Totally unaware, the first 3 had looks of complete shock on their face when they suddenly became drenched in water.  Following that it became more of a game with all the winners and their buddys.   Running after them trying to soak each other.  Daichi, after all the days work placed second in his class and after receiving his award sprinted away as to not get wet.  Haha, of course he was laughing and giggling the whole time as well.  After most of the guys had packed up and the awards ceremony had ended Hanashima and Kobori san brought over the truck and held a Jan Ken Poi raffle concluding after hour or so.  Seriously one of the longest Jan ken poi’s I’ve witnessed.

Before we left I snapped this one of Casey with Asano-san’s 180sx.  One of his favorite cars.

When you ride with the organizers, you tend to stay till the very end.  And, that is exactly what happened.  Park had headed out earlier so we devised a plan to get both Casey and I back home and then said our good-byes, thank you’s and got in the car with Suppie.  Both Casey and I found it hard to stay awake on the way back.  Running on no sleep for nearly two days with an atmosphere full of such high tension really wears you out.

We went and ate Sukiya, and returned to Hanashima Bankin to meet park who had left to shoot some of this friends cars and then headed home.

 

What a weekend.

Many thanks to the friends and families of Chiba Damashi, especially Hanashima-san for putting on the event.  Until next time

 

Matt

 

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