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HIN representatives gave Miyoshi a proposition. He recalls the conversation: "We met at P.F. Chang's at the Irvine Spectrum, where they sat me down and said, 'We're getting a lot of momentum. We'd like to buy you out, or, if you refuse, we're gonna take you up.' It was the most insulting thing that's ever been said to me."
Miyoshi describes how he sees his event compared with HIN. "It's like if you were to compare soft drinks [such as] Coca-Cola and Mountain Dew," he says. "When you see a Mountain Dew commercial, it's guys with a motorcycle jumping off things and doing crazy stuff, while Coca-Cola is the classic. It doesn't need to be flashy. It's the original. Nobody can take away from the original."
Foot traffic at Import Showoff eventually started dwindling. The core group of fans began graduating from college, entering the 9-to-5 world and starting families, while more car shows popped up across the country. "It was just so saturated," Miyoshi says. "People were like, 'I don't need to go to this car show because there's one next month anyway.'"
He had to come up with a new idea. At the time, he'd been traveling back and forth to Japan. While there, he encountered guys who'd drive out to the open ports or mountains and drift, putting their cars into slides. "I call it automotive ice skating," Miyoshi says. "You're trying to lose control without losing control. You're standing on the guardrails, and cars going 70 mph will come inches away from you. It's crazy."
Back home, while there were guys who would drift illegally on Mulholland Drive in the Santa Monica mountains, Miyoshi wanted to turn the motor sport into a real competition. He connected with pro drivers in Japan and brought them over for an event he called Drift Showoff at the Irwindale Speedway. It would be a major departure from Import Showoff, a pure automotive competition. "No booty-shaking, no nothing," Miyoshi says.
That first event in 2003, Miyoshi says, was "mind-blowing." "At first, there was a small line, and then as the competition went on, you could see people calling their friends, saying, 'Hey, you gotta come to Irwindale. You gotta come to Irwindale.' Pretty soon, there was an hour-and-a-half wait to get in." Falken Tire Corp. signed on as the title sponsor. "Everyone said it would be the next NASCAR," Miyoshi says.
But it never was. Troubles unfolded in 2008, when the economy plummeted and Falken pulled its sponsorship. Others did, too. He wasn't sure if Showoff would continue.
"I thought that we were of value, but everyone who wanted to support me just completely turned away," Miyoshi says. "The industry just completely forgot about the grassroots movement." He was annoyed at what the scene had become, claiming everyone was "ready to jump on the next big thing" to make a buck. He was annoyed at the Fast and Furious films, which he says "never portrayed our lifestyle."
"From the get-go, it was distorted," Miyoshi says. "From the legendary orange Supra to the white Jetta—those were cars from our car shows. It was corny. [The actors] were saying, 'Oh, you gotta put nitrous in, and you gotta squeeze.' They tried to use the lingo but some of the lingo was completely off. They were talking about parts off a Nissan when what they were looking at had nothing to do with a Nissan. For the guys who were actually in the scene, I think they would say it was very insulting."
Miyoshi decided to take his family back to Japan and "reset" himself. He and his wife had their first son, and he realized he needed to put family first. "I was the doormat so often that I became numb to it," he says. "I got to the point where I was like, 'Fuck it. Fuck it! I'm just gonna do my thing, and the people who appreciate it can appreciate it.'"
But as he sunk into a shell, he began to have a realization. "The problem was that when I said, 'fuck it,' I turned from the enthusiasts, too," Miyoshi says. "I'm one of the only people who can become the ambassador of the history of the import scene. The new generation doesn't know how it started. And if you don't know your past, you can't know your future."
He decided he would come back, quietly. He started a Facebook page called Showoff94.com (and will soon launch the actual website), on which he posts photos of old magazines, fliers and photos of the scene's early days. There's Miss Import Showoff 1998 Linda O'Neil sitting on a Powerban Integra and the original "swagger wagon," a mustard-yellow Honda Odyssey Turbo by Mommy C of Team Kosoku, a group that's one of the greatest influencers on the JDM car trends seen today.
It seems to be re-sparking a fire. One commenter wrote, "I remember when people actually built their own cars and fabbed [them] personally. Nowadays, [they] just buy one new car and order parts and slap 'em on." Another expressed, "Often Imitated, Never Duplicated. O.G. right there. Thank you for everything you've done for this industry, Ken Miyoshi."