Kenshiro Gushi // Ep 80 // Discovering the Winning Formula in Formula D

Welcome to Episode 80 of the Asian Hustle Network Podcast! We are very excited to have Kenshiro Gushi on this week's episode.

We interview Asian entrepreneurs around the world to amplify their voices and empower Asians to pursue their dreams and goals. We believe that each person has a message and a unique story from their entrepreneurial journey that they can share with all of us.

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Kenshiro Gushi (also known as Ken Gushi) is an international competitor in the sport of drifting. Youngest successful competitor in both the D1 Grand Prix of Japan and the Formula Drift Championships when he was 16 despite not passing his driving test at the time. Career highlights include multiple top-3 Series finishes in the Formula Drift Pro Championships, Exhibition-class win at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, Toyota LBPCR Pro-Class win. Current member of the SAG union, performing on-screen stunt work for multiple automotive manufacturers.

Pro Career

Ken’s pro career took off in 2004 when Formula D had made its way to Road Atlanta. This event would be the start of what was to become the world’s biggest professional drifting series

A few weeks after Road Atlanta, Ken won the $10,000.00 Winner-Take All International Drifting Shoot-Out at the Road & Track U.S. Sports Car Invitational (30 April 2004 – 2 May 2004), part of the Mazda and Yokohama-sponsored event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca at the age of 15. Here at the infamous circuit, it hosted its first-ever professional drifting competition, where 14 teams/drivers competed for the right to take home a $10,000 cash prize, the largest jackpot in drifting history in the U.S.

At 21, Ken and RS-R USA pioneered the beginning of a Pro-Drift campaign with Toyota’s Scion Racing brand. Fast forward 15 years, Ken is now a factory works-driver for Toyota Gazoo Racing.

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Transcript

Intro: (00:00:00) Hey guys, welcome to Asian Hustle Network Podcast, My name is Bryan. 

And my name is Maggie 

And we interview Asian entrepreneurs around the world to amplify their voices and empower Asians to pursue their dreams and goals.

We believe that each person has a message and a unique story from their entrepreneurial journey that they can share with all of us.

Maggie: (00:00:23) Hi everyone. And welcome to the Asian hustle network podcast. Today, we have a very special guest with us. His name is Ken Cheryl. Gushi also known as Ken Gushi. He is an international competitor in the sport of drifting. He is the youngest successful competitor in both the D one grand Prix of Japan and the formula drift championships. When he was 16, despite not passing his driving test at the time, his career highlights include multiple top three series finishes in the formula drift pro championship. Exhibition class when at the Pike’s peak Hill climb Toyota LBP CR pro class, when he is a current member of the sag union, performing on-screen stunt work for multiple automotive manufacturers today, Ken is now a factory where it’s driver for Toyota. Gazoo racing. Ken, welcome to the show.

 

Ken: (00:01:12) Thanks for having me guys. It’s a, it’s actually a real pleasure to be here with you guys, given that you guys have provided a. Pretty decent platform for us Asian Americans to showcase who we are at. Tell our story. So thank you guys for having me.   

 

Bryan: (00:01:28)  We’re super excited to have you on today. And before we get started, do you want to know, like, can I hit Ken? And I went to the same high school, shout out to high school, increasing an interview. Notable alumni is so let’s hop right into it. Tell us what your childhood is like. Want to hear more about it?

Ken: (00:01:45) Yes. So, um, I’ve actually had quite the unorthodox upbringing. And, um, you know, when you guys hear stories about, you know, their Asian parents bringing up kids, uh, most of the time you hear you’ll hear them say, you know, like they wanted me to be a [doctor, lawyer, dentist, uh, whatnot. Um, in my case actually had none of that. And. My parents had me when they were extremely young. They were both 19 and 20 with no college education. They graduated high school and, um, you know, and they’re there. I was so being young parents, they didn’t really, I guess they didn’t really know where to start and everything was kind of just like, you know, learn as you go and do as you go type of a story for them. So, um, at the same time, Their parents never really forced them to do anything they didn’t want to do either. And they had more of a very free-willed lifestyle and, uh, childhood growing up. So that was sort of their take on child upbringing was to just let them do what they want, let them figure it out, figure it out themselves and not force them to do anything that they didn’t want to do. So. Um, that was my childhood. Um, but my dad was heavily into automotive repair and motor sports, same time. So I can remember as far as I can, I was always following him around the house garage with, uh, with my one piece jumpsuit that they bought me pretending to be a mechanic. But I was always following my dad around with a tool, a wrench in my hand, a hammer screwdriver or whatnot. Um, so that’s all I knew as my childhood. Um, It goes back as far as I can remember. All I know, all I remember was just following my dad around the shop or the garage, um, wanting to help him out, wanting to work on cars, trying to just be like him. And he was really just the biggest hero to me and my inspiration. And I just wanted to be exactly like him, um, to go a little before that I was actually, um, born in Japan, Okinawa, Japan, and my family moved us here when I was a little over. Two years old. So my sister and I have a younger sister, but we were both born in Japan. Uh, we moved here as, you know, a little, pretty much a little babies, um, and then went back and forth to Japan a couple of times, but, um, My whole family is Japanese. I mean, we’re, we’re all really heavily Japanese. So Japanese to the point where inside the house, they had a rule where I couldn’t speak any English because they were afraid that my sister and I would soon forget to learn, forget to speak the Japanese language. And they didn’t want my grandparents having a hard time communicating with us. So that golden rule of speaking only Japanese in the house kind of stuck all throughout and it’s. Been so long in that custom that now it’s so awkward to speak with my sister in English or anything outside of Japanese. So I, in a sense that was a good thing, but that also helped me retain my Japanese culture and the lifestyle. And, you know, I guess kept the family bond because we all were able to communicate together. Um, The reason why my parents moved here in the first place, or my grandparents moved the whole family here in the first place was because, um, my grandfather is a very successful karate master. He’s a teacher. He passed away, unfortunately, but he was, uh, invited to come to the States to teach karate. And, uh, he didn’t want to leave the family in Okinawa. So he said, Hey, let’s, uh, let’s all pack up and go stateside. My dad at the same time had a goal of running the Pike’s peak Hill climb, um, international Hill climb in Colorado Springs. And I’ll get to that a little later because I was also a part of that story too, but it was like, yeah. All right. All right, let’s go to America. You know, you do your karate, want to get into motor sports and do rally racing. So we all moved out here. My grandpa and my dad were teaching karate. Um, and at the same time, Uh, they opened up a copy coffee shop when we moved here. So this story is actually kind of crazy. My grandpa’s family friend, or we call them uncle. He sort of convinced my grandpa to open up this coffee restaurant. And, um, of course we didn’t know his lick of English came here. My grandpa, my grandma and my aunts, uncles, my dad were like, okay. All right. So yeah, we bought this building. We have this. Kitchen coffee, coffee stand. Now what, like how do we even start a business, open a business. This is a whole new experience for all of us. So without knowing any English, you know, my uncle or that uncle, that my grandpa knew hired his kids who were already native English speakers to help us out work at the coffee shop. But this whole time, it wasn’t like he was trying to help us out. He was just trying to. I guess check my grandpa into buying this building, um, and spending all this money that we soon we’re going to run out of. So we came here with some decent money, but it turns out this uncle was taking all the money from us. And then we went, broke, like really broke. So we all had to move into this one house, uh, or I think it was like a three or four bedroom house in Monterey park, but there was like eight of us living in one house. And then, um, my dad said. No, I can’t do this anymore. Like I got to get out of here. So he quit that coffee house, which was soon to disappear soon to be gone. Anyways, he quit that coffee house and started working at this automotive repair shop called, sorry, auto and East LA or, um, I guess it’s borderline Monterey park, but it was East LA. Uh, and then that’s where his automotive career started. Um, he became a mechanic at that shop. Um, 10 years later, after working there, he opened up his own shop called Kusha auto in San Gabriel. And that was like three blocks away from Gabrielino high school. Um, but we were there for, I think 12 years before he sold that location, ended up buying a story auto, the first shop that he started at, so bought that shop out. And then, um, just last two years ago, he sold the shop and retired, but. Oh, well, that was my dad’s story. And my racing career actually started when I was, um, actually let’s go before that. My driving career actually started when I told you guys earlier, but, um, at eight years old he had me helping him move customers’ cars around. And these customers obviously don’t know that I was doing this, but I was moving around around the shop because, you know, we were short-staffed so. I would go to the shop with them, try to learn the art of mechanics and then, um, help my dad out, um, moving cars around and then even some mornings he would wake me up on a Saturday morning, like, Hey, Oh crap. Okay. What drive me to drive me to the shop. Oh, okay. Eight years old, nine year old kid driving a car on the street, driving my dad’s to work. I said, all right, take the car home. So I would drive the car home and then go back to sleep. So that was one my Saturday mornings look like. Um, yeah. And then when I was like 10 or 11, we finally went to do some real motor sports racing. So my dad was a huge rally car fan or rally is when you take a car and you drive as fast as you can up the mountains. And these are all professional events. So these are closed the roads, um, professionally timed, there’s a star finish line and you race up the mountain as fast as account or these stage rallies. So we went to a few with his prepped out rally car and he let me be the co-driver of those races. So the closure co-drivers when you have a passenger seat. Navigator reading the stage notes to tell the driver, okay, what trends are coming up next? So I was in the passenger seat, you know, reading stage notes to my dad. And then one year I was like, you know what, why don’t you drive this one? So I ended up rally racing or started rally racing at the age of like 11 or 12. And I wasn’t supposed to, because when you register as a driver, you have to provide, you know, your driver’s license or motor sport license for any sort of credential that, you know, says your. Safe to drive or old enough to drive, but he, he always had this mentality of like, well, I don’t really care about anything. Just do what you want to do. So he put me in the driver’s seat, like, all right, go. Let’s, let’s go. So he read the stage. And as I raised up the mountain with no driver’s license, that’s where my racing story began. Um, and then. When I was about 12 or 13, um, I mean, there’s a very, very popular animated series in Japan called initial D I don’t know if you guys have heard of it. So yeah, it’s basically the story of a kid helping us dad out. And he’s delivering tofu in the middle of the night with no license. Um, and he turns out to be the fastest kid on the mountain because he drives us Corolla every single morning, delivering tofu, helping his dad’s business. Also, I started watching that and my dad’s like, Hey, Like that story kind of. That’s me, dad, you’re the kid helping my business. I was like, Oh, that’s kind of cool. What does he do? He goes out and buys a Toyota Corolla. That’s like the same exact car they used in the animated series. And then, um, well of course, instead of delivering tofu, because we had no tofu delivery service, we ended up driving to a desert or a dry Lake bed called El Mirage, dry Lake bed. And that’s only like an hour and a half North of LA County. So we would go there pretty much every weekend, just practicing how to drift. So that’s where we were like, Hey, drifting’s kind of cool. It’s cheaper than rally racing because we don’t have to build a full on race car. You know, we can just take our Corolla to the desert and, you know, mess around. So Dawn’s back in 2001. And then, uh, around 2002, 2003, This Japanese drifting organization called Don JP or Dion grand Prix decided to host a driver’s search event in the U S. And so when our local. Drug fanatics heard of that opportunity. They’re like, Hey Ken, you know, there’s this, uh, Jorge GTG. T’s my dad’s nephew ADT. There’s this drifting event coming to LA soon. And the organizers, Don JP, like, do you guys have an interest in it? And I was like, yeah, sure. Why not? Let’s just try it out. So we ended up competing and then of course the registration process, I was like, dad, Hey, what are we going to do? But like asking me for a license, he passes me this driver’s license. Oh, it was as employees, driver’s license, let’s write down the driver’s license number. No one will know whatever. So that I wrote his name, his driver’s license number. And, um, I competed under his name. I forgot his name, but then we ended up taking like the top three spots on the podium. Like we had gone through a top 10 and like, all right. Um,  or whatever his name was. I think that’s you, you know, you gotta go up there. I’m like, yeah, that’s me. Oh yeah. Come on up. I do you look awfully young, like, what’s your story? I’m like, Oh, I’m so about that. I’m actually, you know, like 13 years old, that’s not my name. And then they’re like, Oh, how did you, what, like, you’re not supposed to be doing this, but then they ended up liking that story that I was so young doing so well, the strivers search. So then, yeah. So then they’re like, okay, well, yeah, they made this whole thing about like being the youngest, drifter and D won grand Prix at and whatnot. So that’s actually where my pro career started. And then at the same time, like all these. Automotive aftermarket manufacturers like, Oh, drifting, what’s this drifting thing. And this is mind you way before fast and furious or way before Tokyo trip. So no one really knew what drifting was, but they saw the hype and they saw the potential of how big pro drifting can become. So all these companies wanted to get into it all of a sudden, like, you know, Yokohama tire, Falcon tire, real Torah, all these brands were like, I want a piece of it too. Like let’s hire or less sponsor all the drivers that were there at that event. And try to get the young kid that kangaroo she could. So being this young 13 year old kid, I’m like talking to these multi-million dollar corporations about sponsorships, about representing their brand. And I had like zero experience working with like these adults. And, um, honestly I had like no, no real direction. So then most of the time my dad was helping me out with, you know, negotiating deals and sponsorships and whatnot. Um, but yeah. Yeah, it was just a crazy time to be around cars because drifting was so new. Um, and it was just a hype thing. You know, when you and grand Prix brought over their drivers from Japan, everyone was like, Oh my God, that’s like tiny, which nobody cares. Like these are all like superheroes that we watched as kids. When they, when we borrowed like rental DVDs from Japan option video one night. And these were the drivers that were on TV. So I’m like idolizing them, like star struck, Oh my God. I could drive with these guys and compete with them. Um, and so, yeah, it was just crazy. Um, my story actually in between is quite long and, um, let’s just say fast forward, 20 years, I drive for Toyota, Gazoo racing or Toyota motor sports North America. Um, and I’m still doing it. So it’s, uh, It’s pretty wild to see that I’ve come full circle, starting in a Toyota Corolla and the desert. And now I drive forward to it, a motor North America and their newest tier supra.

 

Maggie: (00:16:00) Yeah, that’s amazing. Wow. I, yeah, I mean, I was going to kind of like, kind of bring up my questions one by one, but you kind of went through the story, but I loved how you kind of encapsulated everything altogether. And I love how, like, care kind of like carefree your dad is kind of just like forcing you to use someone else’s driver’s license and being like, Hey, try this, try that, you know, and that’s the kind of mentality that like pushes you to try new things. So. I love that.

 

Bryan: (00:16:27)   I love that story. I had no idea, Ken, you know, I just knew this popular guy in high school that it wasn’t popular at all. And when you drove really fast cars, like when you were crawling, like the Prince of drifting or something, all of us like, well, who’s this Ken guy, you know? And I remember like having one class a year where we were picking on roll call sheets or on school. Oh, I was a TA or something. Yeah. We were both TAs during that year. And then I’m like, Oh God, it’s Ken. You’re like run fast all the time, but I can remember that. And I had no idea that like your backstory. And so now, like this is like 15, 16, 17 years later, what was he really considered? The Prince of trifting yeah. Who he was all like all the Asian girls are like, Oh my God, that’s 10. Yeah, it’s time. I wasn’t comfortable my sexuality yet. I’m like, I don’t know. Now I’m only I’m shit it’s getting, you know, messing around, but yeah, we’ve heard it in different podcasts, your dads reasoning to move to the U S so was pretty spontaneous as well. You know, he kind of just took the whole family and move from Okinawa to, to the U S pursue this dream. He quickly talk about that real quick. The reason why he moved from Japan to the U S

Ken: (00:17:40) yeah. So, um, He was a big time fan of this race called the Pikes peak international Hill climb. And that’s based out of Colorado Springs. Um, but it’s basically a race where you have, you know, a start line, uh, 12 miles of mountain roads. It’s a climb up the mountain roads, um, 156, six corners, um, goal. A 9,000 feet altitude to 14,110, which is basically two miles into the sky. Um, and it’s, America’s second boldest race after the Indy 500, but, um, Going back to his rally racing roots. Like he, he’s the guy that loves going sideways and just making the cars do what they were designed to do. So spinning, spinning, spinning around, you know, doing reverse funny drifting. Um, but in Okinawa, Japan, he was actually doing a little bit of autocross or like Jim Connor racing. And motor sports scene in Okinawa at the time was really tiny. If not, it was non-existent. So he just wanted to get out of that bowl. And when my grandpa gave him this opportunity to move the entire family States, I guess the key, yes, I can probably achieve the dream of racing up the Pike’s peak Hill climb. So then when we came here, obviously like it wasn’t easy for him to build up a race car or even a shop. So he had to work his way up and finally. His opportunity for his came in 2007, um, to go up the Pikes peak international Hill climb. Um, the crazy part is dispersed opportunity that he got, he was like, Hey Ken, why don’t you run it? Like, why don’t you drive the race? Like, are you sure? Like, this is our first opportunity we have at doing this race. You don’t want to drive? I said, no, I want you to reset. Um, and so I did 2007 June. Uh, we took his 2000 Subaru Impreza. That’s been, that was converted to a race car. He, he spent one whole year building it, uh, and when we bought it, we actually flew to Seattle, drove it back down, um, and he still had loans on it. So it was a loan. Oh, yeah, it was a, and he was still making payments as he built it up 2007, race comes up and the race itself is a week long. So we have like practice days and then qualifying, and then the main races on Sunday. So till Sunday we were doing good. We were like holding up our times that qualify and we’re great practice times are great. Um, and that year they still allowed a co-driver. Um, so basically the driver, you know, reads reason, navigation or stage notes. There was another guy who was basically a veteran of that race. And my dad was like, Hey, instead of having me as a co-driver, let’s put him through for practice only. So for practice runs, he was my co-driver. Then it comes race state. And then my dad’s like, okay, I’m going to be a co-driver for the main race, because I want to be a part of it too. So I’m like, okay, let’s go. So it comes to race day. We’re at the starting line. I’m like really nervous because you know, this is the only chance we have. It’s a one chance race. Basically you have one shot to make it to the finish line from the start line. And there’s about a hundred competitors. Wow. 60 of them are. Cars and the rest are motorcycles or quads. So then our time comes up, not the star line, like really nervous. My dad’s like, are you ready? Let’s do it. So the start line, the flag goes down, we’re going up the mountain. And then, um, two miles into the race or the Hill climb. I fly off, like I literally fly off the mountain and we crashed. Like, we crashed really hard. Like I basically fly salts fast off the mountain, over a ditch. I land on top of a tree line, break the tree in half. And that’s actually what saved us from hitting another gigantic tree. Yeah. So then as I look back, I’m like, what the hell happened? Like, why did I fly off this corner? But the last thing I remember is my dad saying, Oh shit, before we flew off until this day we argue my dad and I both argue about what exactly happened that day. I tell him that he misread the stage note. So that corner, it was supposed to be fast, right. Right-hand corner uphill, and then a. Sharp left-hand corner. So you’ve got to get heavy on the brakes and then turn left to hairpin. It’s very slow. He didn’t read that part of the stage. No, all he read was a fast five, right. So I’m going hauling us on a right-hand turn. And then he doesn’t say anything. I’m like, okay. But I see a U-turn sign coming up so that. And then the last thing I hear is, Oh shit. And then we’re off the mountain. So yeah, he still had loans on his car payments. We completely wrapped it. We DNF the race. I didn’t get to finish. I’m like, man, dad, like that’s kinda your fault. You didn’t read that, right? No, I did. And listen. So then till this day we argue the cool part is. He spent a whole nother year rebuilding that car the very next year, he went up and ended up winning a third place and the time attack class, which is crazy first time up getting on the podium and he, uh, was able to do it. So it was kind of like redemption for my mistakes. He was like, you know what, I’m going to show my kid what’s up go the next year. And he ended up taking a class podium and put that same exact card that I managed to fly off the nonsense.

Bryan: (00:23:13) Well, let’s start off by saying wide. You’re saying pretty dangerous right

Maggie: (00:23:16) on your boat.

Bryan: (00:23:19) It’s so cool hearing like the, the proximity of age with you and your dad. Cause they had you so young. So, you know, quality’s like less than a generation away and it’s for you guys, like become really good friends. I really like hearing that story.

Maggie: (00:23:31) Yeah.

Ken: (00:23:34)  All we’re creating much like rivals were competitors. Yeah. At one point he was actually competing in the formula drift championships while I was also competing. And. No. There were many times where I would line up against him during practice. I’m like, man, I did not want to lose to my dad smoking. We always have that competitive nature was that, are

Maggie: (00:23:53) there any points where people were saying like, Oh, you know, going to your dad and saying like, Hey, your son is getting a little bit better than you. How do you feel about that?

Ken: (00:24:01)   I think everyone knew from the start that I was always better than my dad from the get-go.

Bryan: (00:24:09) Yeah. Do you want to talk more about your mindset and learning from the States and reflecting a bit? Right. We understand that racing is really, really dangerous, you know, and that mentality, every time you go to a track or you putting almost your life on the line and pushing your cartoons to the absolute limit, to get the performance you want, like what kind of preparation do you, do you have before these races? Or how do you practice or how do you practice your mindset? Because. Yeah. I feel like that’s a big element on what you’re doing right now is your mind.

 

Maggie: (00:24:39) Yeah. And how much would you say is like more of the mental strength part and then how much of it is more of like talent and skillset?

 

Ken: (00:24:46)    So throughout the years, my mindset has actually changed and, um, again, going back to when I first started at 13, I was so young, naive, like I had zero experience in this field of professional motorsports. So, at the time I felt like everything was sort of handed to me. Of course, I didn’t need to negotiate with, you know, my sponsors or other brands of companies that I represented. So I felt like my mindset at the time was very, you know, of course being so young, I was very immature and I felt like, you know, I felt like I was god because like, maybe I was like, hh man, I have like this natural born talent. I’m competing against guys that are three times my age, I kick ass and sort of, I guess, cocky like maybe too cock in a way. Um, the advantage I had was that I started earlier than all these other, other competitors. So that’s the time I was better than them. Like, I was definitely a better driver, but the sport of drifting was so new that there was so much progression to be made. And after it was pretty much like every single event or every round, the other drivers were like making huge progress. Like they were getting way faster, way better, but I was staying stagnant. Um, because I had that cocky mentality. Like I don’t need to practice. I’m good enough. Um, well it turns out like I was, I was good, but then they were getting better and better. Their cars were getting faster while I was making zero progress. So then, um, I didn’t realize that I had that sort of like that very very negative mentality, until I was about 17 or 18 when I was heavily sponsored by a huge automotive manufacturer. And that was motor racing, but I’ll get back to that. But my mindset was so, um, I guess it was toxic for a professional athlete because like I had no desire to get better because I thought I was good enough. So that kind of bit me on the ass a little bit and made me realize that like holy shit, all these guys are getting way better than me. Um, and I’m not winning anymore. Like I’m not winning my rounds. I’m like losing it a first round of kind of competition. Um, and so I had to change that and that’s when I started to realize like, okay, I need to really focus on my driving and kind of put away this whole, like fame outside and like really get to work. Um, if I want to stay alive in this industry, because it’s a very cutthroat industry. Um, our job, we like, we don’t have job security especially in motorsports. Like one year we might have a contract making tons of money, you know, doing all these competitions the next year, your sponsors might drop. You’re like, Oh, well you didn’t perform last year. So we can’t really expense you anymore. Like, we’ve kind of moved on to another driver. So I realized that a little late. And so I had to like really put in work to make sure that these sponsors were still interested in, um, my character and my likeliness, my talent. Um, and so that changed my mentality changed then. Um, but from about 17 to, uh, when I was supposed to 2016, so 30 for that period of like maybe 13 years, I was a, I would call myself a higher driver. So I was the driver, the race car driver, that company is hired to drive. So basically there’s a team owner, so there’s a team and then they would pay me to drive for them. So the car, the team. Belongs to someone else. I just fly in, put my helmet on and compete during the weekend, but my helmet take my helmet off. Fly home. That was it. Wow. So that’s a paid driver. Um, in 2016, I actually opened up my own company, Ken Gushi motor sports corporation, and, uh, initiated a team owner slash operator slash driver. Operative. So then I became a team owner and that’s when, again, my mentality changed once more. So this was actually recent. So 2016, um, instead of just focusing on driving now, I have to focus on. The entire operation. Right? So paying my team, the logistics of transporting my race car, my race equipment, um, scheduling photo shoots, you know, designing the car livery, uh, designing my race car suit, and then timing all that scheduling. So all of a sudden, not only do I have to focus on driving and performing at the top level. Also have to focus on that. Okay. When do I need to finish my car to make it on time for round one? Or like when do I schedule an appointment to get my car shot for this media company? And so, uh, they say, or, well, this is a fact, but more sports is a business. Like the entire operation is a business, right? One, you have to keep your sponsors happy. Like you have to always continuously find ways is to be relative in the scene because. Like, if you’re not providing them any content or like any sort of reason to sponsor you, then why would they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to, um, put their logo on your car? Right. So then, um, then I had to change my mindset into a business mindset instead of like an athlete, because we call ourselves not just drivers, but athletes, but instead of just being an athlete, like how do I change my operation? To be a little bit more attractive to the sponsors. So Toyota for Toyota, for example, um, Toyota is actually interesting because they’re very heavy into, um, being multicultural, right? And of course it’s the perfect place to talk about it, but they allocate their athletes to different organizations with different media companies to represent Toyota as a brand. So I do a lot of, um, Meet and greets, or even like not podcasts, but like talking seminars and whatnot. Um, for crowds that are heavily Asian, Asian, American API, those set up those types of communities. Um, and. Also when the whole BLM movement happened last year, Toyota was huge into it. They were very active into, you know, promoting social equality, justice and whatnot. So, um, they’re very good about stuff like that. And, um, the reason why I say that is because then I get to like find reasons to attract, you know, Toyota into like finding a.Justifying costs to sponsor me. So basically I told them, Hey, look, I’m Asian American. Like I can cater to this group, but then different types of groups, but then they’re like, Oh yeah, you’re right. Like, we can use you for like different things. And that’s how it kind of like find reasons to stay relative within the company within Toyota. But not just that, like other sponsors, like if I don’t have a reason for them to sponsor me like a body kit, Then there’s going to be like, what, why would we waste money on him, money on him, or like products on him. But then if I tell him like, well, okay, the car that I’m building is actually going to be in this like TV show, this commercial. Um, and then I’m going to talk with like, are going to have to start like a video program with like, like likes of like some cane, you know, Han from fast and furious. So then like I changed my mindset into finding reasons for them sponsoring because before it was just like, okay, well I’m just pro athlete. Take it or leave it. Right. So that was my most recent Mindshift into becoming more business oriented as a team owner operator. And not just as a athlete with driver. Yeah. Interesting kind of complicated, but yeah, it’s a whole business model that goes behind motor sports.

 

Bryan: (00:32:24) Right. Okay. But relatable.

 

Maggie: (00:32:25) Yeah. Yeah. So it sounds like when you were younger, a lot of these sponsors were actually reaching out to you because they were seeing your name more often. Right. But now, you know, kind of how to like negotiate with the sponsors and from a like business oriented standpoint, kind of negotiate with them to see if they would be willing to be sponsors based on these like one, two, three factors, right?

 

Ken: (00:32:46)    Yeah. And also, also. Because I’ve been in this industry for so long, like more than 20 years. Right. Um, people get tired of seeing the same thing. Like people get tired of seeing the same, Ken Gushi like, Oh, it’s him again. Like we already saw 20, 20 times already past 20 season. I’m like, what’s new. So then you have to continuously find reasons to be, I guess, relative in the scene. That’s the sad part about motor sports is that most. Kids nowadays, I say most because not all, most kids don’t have an interest or don’t even show an interest to go get their driver’s license. Like I know guys, I have friends with kids that are reaching the ages of like 16 and 17 age and ask them like, Hey, are they driving? No. Why not? Can’t they get their license might be, but they don’t need to, like, they don’t want to, like, they have absolutely zero interest in cars. And I think it’s because like, They have more interest in like, you know, computer gaming, cell phones, social media, whatnot. So motor sports itself is kind of dying. Like it’s a dying breed. Um, and the age, age group within Motorsports and the audience just continues to get older and older and older every year. So yeah, in that sense, it’s hard to, uh, stay relative and today’s world.

 

Bryan: (00:34:06) Well, when, when we have kids and you have kids, we’ll make sure they’re into motor sports, keep the sport alive,

 

Ken: (00:34:10)   bring, bring them my way. I’ll teach them. I’ll be drifting.   

 

Maggie: (00:34:14) So at the age of eight, two, we’ll send them to you. When they’re eight years old, seven year,

 

Bryan: (00:34:21) you can’t, it’s not my kid moving your car around there in the shop. You know, he’s in kindergarten, right?

 

Ken: (00:34:30)   No, I didn’t have a license in high school. Right. Did you know that?  

 

Bryan: (00:34:32) Yes. Yes. I heard that before. Yeah. I wasn’t sure it was real or not. Yeah, it’s real. Um, like get your license and now you’re one of them. Do you think someone else’s license.

 

Ken: (00:34:48)  This is actually quite embarrassing, but I didn’t have a license throughout all of high school and some parts of college. So now imagine having to go out on dates, I would have my parents drive me to pick up my girlfriend and I tell my dad, Hey dad, you can drop us off at the mall or the movies or something. It’s like, all right, whatever. But you have no choice because, you know, obviously I didn’t have a license. I’m part of the reason why it didn’t have a license is because of my dad not to get a little bit more into the story. Um, When I was 15, my dad had had a customer that was into drifting. He wanted to learn how to drift. And he knew that I was doing the stripping thing. So he asked my dad like, Hey, do you think I can borrow your son for a night and have him teach me how to do donuts? Like, Oh, it’s a private parking lot. He’s not going to get caught. Don’t worry. And my dad’s like, are you sure? Like he’s not gonna get busted by the cops or something. And he was like, yeah, don’t worry. It’s a private lot. No. There’s no one that’s going to see us. And my dad’s like, okay, fine, go ahead. So then this guy, I think his name was Walter or something. I hated the guy, Walter. I hated the name, Walter, because of them, but he takes me out to this parking lot in the city of industry. And uh, at first I’m like, all right, Walter, show me what you got. Like, show me what you’re doing. And I’ll point out what you’re doing wrong and I’ll show you how to do it. So he’s trying to do donuts. Nothing’s going right. And like, he’s just like a mess, man. I’m like, okay. All right, let me go at it. So I hop in a driver’s seat. I do literally half a turn. And I see lights flashing. There’s like constant busting into the lot and almost slabs into our car. He has his gun. John’s like, get out of the car, put your hands up. Like, Oh God, here it comes. So obviously I shut up the car and my hands are in the air and I’m like, Hey, Hey, like what do we do, Walter? He’s like, uh, I don’t know. I thought this was a private lot. Like license and registration. Well, obviously I didn’t have one. I was only like 15, I didn’t have registration. So he pulls out his license and he gives up and he’s like, yo, sorry, officer, this is my car. He was just teaching me how to do donuts. I’m like, why would he be teaching how to do donuts in a private lot? So I got busted short story is I got busted. I got written up for no license, no insurance, reckless endangerment, reckless driving past curfew, trespassing. So I got here with all those, um, went to court, pay like a huge fine, and then they’re like, all right, I can, you can try it. Like, we’re going to take away your, your driving privilege until further notice. I’m like, great. I kind of get my license the next year. And, you know, being. A professional driver. That hurt me a lot. I got hurt me a lot. I couldn’t drive to school. I couldn’t take girls on dates. It just sucked. So then come when I was 16, I built a whole new race car. And at the time I sponsors a car crash. Like we got no time to go testing. Like, can you just drive it around the block or something? I’m like, okay, whatever. So I take out my like super illegal race car onto the street. I’m like testing a steering test and a handbrake and I do one spin turn. Right. I obviously do a drift around one corner. Trying to go back to the shop? Well, I do one splinter and I see lights behind me again again. So I get busted like the cops like rushing to my car. I pull them to the shop garage. He has his gun drawn, like license, registration, and like officer, I don’t have a license or registration. This is a pro car. And I got busted again. I didn’t have a license. It was illegal, super legal race car on the street. My dad was there. He was like, Whoa, that’s my son. That’s my son was like, I don’t care. You weren’t driving a getaway from the vehicle. So then I went to court again and then they’re like, well, this is your second offense. Like you really can’t drive anymore. So then my license driving privilege was taken away for at least three years. And I finally got my license at the age of 19, which means I was well into my college years. So guess what? My mom had to drop me off at college every morning. Fascinating makes a lot of sense.

 

Bryan: (00:38:51) I had never seen your car in high school, in a parking lot. I don’t know. Are you sure that’s a great story, Matt. That makes more sense for them back then and be like, okay. Super drifter guy. Where’s his car, his car parking lot. Um, but I’m kind of curious too, like just stepping back a bit. When you talked about running your business, running your team, though, how important has your team been for your success? You know, you said your dad is a huge part of that, but obviously we watch F1 racing on Netflix. Which is pretty great series by the way. Oh yeah. Yeah. And we were just like, wow, like there’s so much that happens behind the scene with team and the stress and their face and the looks, not just the driver, you know, like how has the team been so integrated and part of your success?

 

Ken: (00:39:48)  So in any form of racing or motor sports, the driver and the performance see on truck is only like maybe 10%. Well the entire picture. So a lot of the operations have been behind closed doors behind the garage. Shutters and team teamwork is extremely, extremely, extremely crucial. Um, team prep work, um, you know, organizing your team and each team member, knowing their role plays a huge difference when it comes to like repairing on-track damage. So teamwork is. About 90, 85, 90% of what actually goes down on the track. And that’s what determines your success on and off the track. Um, a lot of times drivers don’t show much appreciation for the team, but they’re the ones they’re basically like the backbone of what we do on track. And they’re the guys that prepare the car for us, make sure that, you know, the hoods. Completely closed tire pressures are right. The lug nuts are torqued down. The cars fueled up. Nitrous tanks are open glasses clean, even down to when it rains. As I get into the car, they’re the ones that are there waiting with a towel, wiping down my shoes because I can’t be driving. You know what shoes? So it’s huge. I mean, the role they have in the team is as what makes a winning driver separate from those that never really get to see the podium.

 

Maggie: (00:41:18) Yeah, that is, yeah, that’s really interesting. Um, I do want to ask this question just because it’s with like Asian hustle network and, um, regarding like Asian representation. Um, what’s your perspective on Asian representation in the racing community? Is it too little and how has it changed over the years? And. Uh, for, for Japanese Americans, especially, or Japanese, um, like how many do you see in the racing community? Because I know that there’s, you know, the drifting, um, you know, dripping, it’s like pretty popular in Japan, but do they very often and do they actually stay or do they go back to Japan?

 

Ken: (00:41:57)  Um, so in the motor sports, especially drifting, like you said, drifting is very popular in Japan, but. The fact that his drifting started in Japan, that’s where drifting came from. So, um, Japanese car culture has always, always, always been widely accepted in the American drifting community only because that’s where the roots are. Um, it started on the streets actually. So it was kind of like a, like a very rebellious outlawed form of. Motor sports. Um, and then when it became a professional sanctioning body, um, with the UN grand Prix, which is a Japanese organization, um, they were considered, or Japanese drifting guys were considered like legends. They were like the forefathers of drifting. So Japanese representation in drifting is huge. It’s always been huge. That’s where it comes from. Um, and you know, people respect that. I think people still respect. Yeah. The fact that this came from Japan and that’s why we have terms like JDM, Japanese, domestic market, but it’s yeah, it’s, it’s widely accepted, but if you go to like different racing bodies, like NASCAR at first, it was like, like, what are you Asians doing here? When Toyota first got into NASCAR more than 10 years ago, Ford, GM Dodge, although excited, like Toyota, like they’re never going to make it. And that scarf is just going to get their ass chewed and they’ll, they’ll leave right away. The crazy part is Toyota is the most American auto manufacturer today. There’s no other manufacturer that’s more American than Toyota. There’s five plants that produce most seven plants that produce all American made vehicles that comes out of the entire Twitter lineup. Camry, Sienna, uh, Highlander was at one point or still at one point. It is yeah. Still made here. Um, Avalon, all those cards are made here in the United States, 100%. So to come to this point, like Toyota had to fight their way into, you know, being accepted in NASCAR when they started winning, um, people were still like, no, that’s flawed. They must be cheating and whatnot, but then they never stopped winning. They continue to win a NASCAR and then people start to soon realize, well, wait a minute. This Toyota Camry that we drive, it’s like 100% made here. Like, why are we bashing down so hard? They just didn’t like the fact that it was a Japanese company being represented and it all American motor sport sanctioning body. Right. So now it’s accepted actually. Like if you go to any NASCAR race, walk through the parking lot, there’s a ton of Toyota Tundras, Tacomas, Camrys. You’ll see in a parking lot and. A huge, huge, huge fan base. And following that follows the brand, the brands, athletes that compete representing Toyota. And so. It’s more accepted today than it ever was. And that’s kind of, but it should follow, like you said, formula one earlier. Um, there’s always been some sort of Japanese representation in formula one for one, the manufacturer Honda is an engine supplier for teams like red bull, um, alpha tare and David had their own. Formula one team document. They Toyota also had a formula one team back in the late nineties, early two thousands. And so Japanese representation in the pinnacle of motor sports has always been there from the, I wouldn’t say from the start, but from the early days of formula one today, uh, for the first time in, I forgot how like seven years or something, we have a Japanese driver then alpha Atari and formula one, uh, he’s 20 years old. But very young rookie that made it into formula one. I graduated from formula two last year, but you keep Sonota is a Japanese driver competing in formula one. And again, formula one is like the top, top, top level of motor sports. So, um, last year we had a Thai driver in formula one, Alex Albin. He was a driver for red bull. So, um, it may not seem like much, but there is Asian representation in all farmers and motor sports. Um, rally racing. Toyota’s huge into rally racing. Um, even prototype racing, you’ll see Japanese drivers, um, come equal way. I see he’s a driver for a Toyota and they’re a hypercar Lamont’s program or? Yeah, like what other series was there? Even like off-road racing, there’s some sort of. Japanese manufacturer representation. So it’s not that rare. Um, now going back to my series, there’s three of us, Japanese drivers, um, that are, uh, you know, basically Asian backgrounds. The funniest story is, um, none of us are like American American. Like we were all born in Japan. We, we came here to compete in drifting. I mean, I, I I’m pretty much American because I was raised here. Um, but I’m still a Japanese citizen. Um, so. There’s three of us, Japanese and formula drift. Um, and every year, like, you know, some drivers come and go, I mean, you asked earlier if they come and stay for the series, but a lot of the times they come here, you know, do it, do what they want to do, like compete in front of the trip and then they go back. Um, one other Japanese driver, di Yoshihara he’s been in formula trips since day one with me. So yeah, I mean, There you go. If that answers your question.

Bryan: (00:47:30) Yeah. That’s awesome. Nikki can, I guess like the second to last question would ask is like, what are your, what are your goals for the rest of the year, 2022? Like what’s next for you?

 

Ken: (00:47:41) Um, this year for 21, our season actually hasn’t started yet or. Starting in just over two weeks now. And I’ve been hustling to get my car ready. It’s nowhere near done. So, yeah, right after our conversation here, I’m going to go back to the shop and get on my car. But the goal this year is to. Well, actually, let me, let me go back. The goal every year is to obviously make it to the championships, win the championship. The closest I’m going is second place in 2015 overall championships. Um, but yeah, every year the goal has been the same, you know, just perform to the best of my abilities. Um, but at the same time, make sure the sponsors are happy. The fans are having a great time and just, just enjoy life. You know what I mean? That’s been, my whole thing is like keep enjoying it because the moment I stop enjoying or the moment I see. Started to question whether I’m still having fun. It’s probably the date that I should probably reconsider my career. Um, so yeah, just, you know, just go out there, perform to the best of my abilities and. Uh, fun, uh, moving forward. Uh, let’s just say like five years down the line, obviously, as an athlete, we have a, like an age range of when we should start looking into, you know, moving away from the actual driving aspect and maybe taking on the challenges of, you know, running a team and hiring and drivers. So that would probably be my next move. And I’ve already started my company. I’m running my own team now, naturally it would be to shift away from the driving portion and hire a 20 year old young kid, maybe a 20 year old Japanese kid, put them in my seat and pay him to represent my brand well. So it’s was just making room for the next generation. I think my time is coming up soon. I mean, I’ve been in it for 20 years now, so you gotta make room,  

 

Bryan: (00:49:20) been an inspiration for all of us, man. Thanks.

 

Maggie: (00:49:33) Awesome. So we have one last question for you, Ken, and that is if you could give an advice to someone who’s trying to get into drag drifting, or just racing in general or motor sports, what advice would you give them?

 

Ken: (00:49:50) I get this question a lot. And the number one question I get actually is like, how do I, I got sponsored. Like I want to be athlete. Like I want to get paid to do what you do. Um, and I always tell them, like, if you’re only looking for ways to get sponsored and make a living off it, then I think you’re trying to do it the wrong way. Like they have to enjoy what they’re doing first. And if you’re passionate about what you do, you know about. Racing drifting and not, not even just passionate about anything you’re trying to do. I think the money and the success will follow. And if it doesn’t, then you were obviously not passing it and up to continue pursuing success in that field. So just add finally, you know, like drifting is a fun sport, um, spy, cheat tires, lock your to buy a car. You don’t mind crashing and just have fun, just be passionate about it.

 

Maggie: (00:50:37) Yeah, well, that’s good advice. I think so that advice can, and how can our listeners find out more about you online?

 

Ken: (00:50:44) Uh, I mean like everyone else and their moms nowadays, I’m all over social media, Instagram, bad Cancun, mushy. I have a YouTube channel following my every day or every other day activities, Twitter, Facebook, all that crap. Ken Gushi.

 

Maggie: (00:51:01) Well, it was awesome. Having you on the show today can thanks so much for sharing your story.  

 

Bryan: (00:51:05) I appreciate it.

 

Ken: (00:51:06) Thanks for having me.

 

Bryan: (00:51:08) And great connecting you again after all these years.

 

Ken: (00:51:10) Yeah. SGV in the house. Thank you guys. Appreciate it.

 

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