If you've been following drifting, you've probably heard of him: a young Japanese kid drifting an AE86 Corolla before he was even old enough to have a license. Taught by his father, this rebel upstart would tear up the canyons, taking down older challengers, and making a name for himself. In case you were wondering, no, he isn't a fictional tofu-delivering Manga character, but rather Ken Gushi, the Toyo-sponsored Formula D drifter.
Campaigning a Ford Mustang for the past two seasons, this year he's going back to his roots in a completely new ride, our cover Scion tC. You can say he's turning Japanese and yes, we really think so. As Ken is about to embark on his Initial Ds, we sit with the wunderkind-turned-pro to talk about his Takumi days, his worst crash, why he prefers a coupe to a hatchback Corolla, and his idea of a perfect drift.
So you are the youngest to ever drift in both Formula D and D1?
I was the youngest drifter. Now there is a teenager who is trying to take away my title. But its OK, he's not seeded! I still have my crown [laughs].
Who would that be?
Patrick Mordaunt. He's a talented kid with a bright future.
How old were you when you first competed at an event?
My first competition was Option's Ikaten Drift Competition at Irwindale Speedway in 2003. I was 16 years old, without a license, and I managed to finish in the Top 8.
How did you first get into drifting?
I got into drifting when I was 14 years old. My father was always into motorsports, specifically rally racing. Initially, he wanted me to pursue a career as a rally driver. He would take me out to a dry lake and teach me the fundamentals of car control. We eventually found out about the Drift Association events at Irwindale Speedway. In the beginning, it was just a few of us into drifting who never had a venue to practice at. We'd use the parking lot and have fun.
So no Mt. Akina and tubs of tofu in the car?
[Laughs] Actually, I have stories of some Initial D-like experiences.
Please elaborate on the Takumi references.
When I first started drifting, my father and I would drive up to the canyons late at night. We would drive through a single corner continuously and practice drifting.
This of course was completely legal, correct...
[Laughs] Let's just let it all out on the table: I was unlicensed, uninsured, and of course, uneducated, but hey, everyone's got to start somewhere. Now, we have the privilege to practice drifting under professional supervision in a safe environment thanks to organizations such as Drift Pro, Just Drift, and Drift Buffet. But in my days, track time was expensive and drifting events were limited.
Any close-call stories during your underage days?
Many! When I used to work at a second-hand wheel store, my boss owned a first-generation RX-7. It was beat up, but it ran like a champ. He would let me take out the car for a "test" run around the shop so I could give him feedback. One time, I went around the block to the designated "drift-turn" and I slid the car full-speed into a pole. The car stalled there with a broken axle. I called my father who was waiting for me at the shop and told him what happened. He got his truck from the house and came to my rescue. We managed to drag the broken car back to the wheel shop, but the police came almost instantly looking for the party responsible. Since I was underage, my dad told me to go and wait inside the shop. He ended up taking the blame.
And that would be the last of your wild police chases?
This other time, I took my competition-ready S13 240SX out on the street after I finished installing my new turbo. I was drifting recklessly when I saw the dreaded red and blue lights in my rear-view mirror. I knew I was in deep trouble. He pulled me over and asked for my license, registration, and proof of insurance when all I had was the registration. I ended up getting a ticket, going to court, and paying a huge fine.