For the veteran professional driver, Kenshiro Gushi, racing is a family affair. Ken owes much of his career and love for cars to his Dad. Their shared passion help propel Ken to become a professional drifter at an early age but not without sacrifices.
AA: To begin, your story is very familiar to immigrant Asian-Americans. Born in Japan immigrated to America to start a new life. How has living in the US changed for your family? Has it become more “Americanized” for better or worse?
KG: To be honest, I can’t recall life before the states because I was only 2 when I left Japan. For me, the American lifestyle is all I know. However, I can tell you that if my family had not decided to move across the Pacific, I wouldn’t be a pro racer. Okinawa, Japan is a very tiny island south of the mainland, where you can circle the island in roughly 3 hours. There are no race tracks in Okinawa. With that said, living in the US has given us more opportunities.
Sure I am Americanized, but I don’t forget where my roots are. I make it a point to stay in touch with my relatives and friends in Japan. Therefore I stay up to date with the culture and lifestyle in Japan. And I try my hardest to never forget the language of my home country.
AA: Your Dad sacrificed a lot for the family. What was his “American Dream”? Are you living the dream he had? A pro driver in America?
KG: My Dad’s dream was to move to the states to go racing and open a shop. He’s accomplished both. He opened his shop back in 1994 and raced up the infamous Pikes Peak Hill Climb in 2008. In comparison to that, I just happened to take it a step or two further and I took his passion and made it a career.
AA: Why do you think Asians are not well represented in the racing community?
KG: I believe that a language barrier might be one issue. For instance, being a professional in motorsports means you are very well equipped to not only take machinery to its limits but also be profound at representing and ultimately selling brands and products of those who sign checks. Having the skill-set is only half of the pre-requisites to being a professional. The other half is the ability to communicate, represent, and engage with consumers.
The stigma of “Asian Drivers”
AA: Do you think the stigma surrounding “Asian Drivers” undermine Asians who are looking to get into professional racing in the US? (Basically, teams may not hire you because they just think Asians can’t drive)
KG: You might get a better answer if you ask someone who is on the other end of the spectrum. As a driver, I would do anything to make it happen. In comparison, a sponsor/team, have their requirements. I just happen to be a Japanese driver who is still currently active (thankfully) in Formula Drift and know how to make things work so that I can continue to do what I love.
Similarly, another great example would be Dai Yoshihara who is one of my fellow competitors. He came to the US not knowing a lick of English. Today, he is one of the most successful drivers in the series. He worked hard to learn the language, learn the trade, all while having the skill-set to compete with the best. If the driver wants it, he/she will make it happen. Asian or not.
AA: Finally, this is kind of like the first questions but being Japanese and in a sport that originated from Japan, why do you think there are only a few Japanese drivers competing in FD?
KG: Currently, there are only 2 Japanese drivers competing in Formula Drift. Dai Yoshihara and myself. However, in the last 15 years or so, we’ve seen many drivers from Japan come and go. When asked why they left, it’s always a familiar response. They simply ran out of money or lost sponsors. Generally, costs begin to add up when flying an entire team back and forth from Japan to the US for each round. Successful drivers have built their foundation state-side.
I suppose it comes down to being committed. Most Japanese drivers can’t commit to moving stateside. One reason is that they lack the ability to communicate and feel overwhelmed.
Click here to learn more about Kenshiro Gushi.