Drifting with Dai Yoshihara in the Mountains and It Was 100% Legal!

Photography: Sam Du

  • Drift Appalachia is an exciting new “Touge” event series inviting the country’s best drivers to legally drift on public mountain roads.
  • Organizers from Drift Indy and Backroads of Appalachia work with the local government to make street drifting possible, something that has never been accomplished on U.S. soil.
  • The third Drift Appalachia event took place on a two-mile stretch of a tight, twisty highway near Beckley, West Virginia.
  • With the support of Pit+Paddock, ENEOS, and Yokohama Tire, Dai Yoshihara trailered his 1,000hp competition-spec Subaru BRZ from California to participate.
  • In addition to Dai Yoshihara, several other retired Formula DRIFT drivers were in attendance, including Chelsea Denofa, Ben Hobson, Rich Whiteman, and Geoff Stoneback.

One year ago, I could barely tell you where the Appalachian Mountains were, let alone that a grassroots drift event called “Drift Appalachia” existed. My colleague Mike Maravilla was approached by Chicago-based photographer Brad Sillars that something really rad in the drift community was about to happen. It was just too hard to explain without proper media coverage. Mike ended up commissioning Brad to capture photos of the first two Drift Appalachia events last August and November, and the internet went crazy!

We’ve all grown up watching videos of illegal street drifting, from the “Touge” mountains of Japan to the canyon roads of California, but what Drift Appalachia had accomplished last year was unheard of on American soil: a sanctioned drift event on a public highway in the Appalachian Mountains! People couldn’t get enough of Ryan Tuerck’s tube-chassis Toyota Stout truck sliding gracefully through the gorgeous backroads of West Virginia. After that, it dawned on the Pit+Paddock team that we had to persuade our own pro driver Dai Yoshihara join in on the fun. Drift Appalachia was truly revolutionizing the culture of U.S. drifting.


Pit+Paddock has hosted the “Ride with Dai” ride-along experience for the last two years at events such as Formula DRIFT, Gridlife, and Subiefest. After more than 100 drift rides, we decided to give Dai’s 1,000hp Subaru BRZ a siesta from its drift taxi duties. The break worked out perfectly because it allowed Dai to be a full participant in the third Drift Appalachia event this past April.

Now, what most people don’t know is how down of a guy Dai is. For example, transporting his competition-spec BRZ from Southern California to the Appalachian Mountains is no walk in the park. Dai, being the man that he is, wasn’t just going to hire someone to deliver his drift car there; he loaded up the BRZ in a trailer himself with a full set of tools, spare tires, and a drum of race gas, then traveled 2,500 miles alone until he reached his destination. Dai’s willingness to power through across the country demonstrates how passionate he still is about drifting, even after retiring from the big leagues three years ago.


Dai was one of four Formula DRIFT all-stars on the mountain. Other notables included last year’s champion Chelsea Denofa, last year’s PROSPEC champ Ben Hobson, and the 2014 PRO 2 champion Dan Savage. Rewind the times to 2011, and that’s when Dai secured his world championship; however, all his accolades didn’t quite prepare him for what was to come at Drift Appalachia.

As a longtime fan and friend of Dai, I’ve never witnessed him so stressed out about an exhibition, but the dangerously tight and twisty two-mile stretch of road mapped out for Drift Appalachia was not the ideal playground for a Formula DRIFT-spec BRZ. Dai struggled to find a rhythm on the first day, as I watched him spin out more times than I could have ever imagined. But that’s what happens when you bring a driver to a putting green…

After the first day, Dai told me this, “Every run felt like qualifying at Formula DRIFT. High stress! I really wanted to do well, but it’s very dangerous, and there’s no room for error. The suspension isn’t set up for these roads, and I don’t want to be the one to ruin the event or my car.”


Dai and crew chief Chris Eimer bounced strategies back and forth and worked tirelessly to improve the BRZ’s spec for the next day, adjusting gearing, suspension settings, and tire pressures. Day One was chalked up as a learning experience, but on day two, you could see Dai really become more at home. It made me smile as it was these types of spiritual “Touge”-like roads where Dai learned how to drift back in Japan, and he hasn’t been able to drive on anything like this since he was a kid.

As we were packing up for the weekend, Dai told me that he would return to Drift Appalachia in a heartbeat, but with a much more suitable car for the tight quarters of the track. He hinted at finally getting his Civic Type R-powered Toyota AE86, which we’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed that we’ll see next year!


Aside from being Dai’s support animal, I spent most of my time hiding in the trees and admiring every run session. Drift Appalachia is a lot like watching rally racing. You have to hike and climb to find your spot, but unlike a rally, a session wraps up every hour, and the organizers give you enough time to relocate to a different vantage point.

I definitely felt some Zen moments as I laid in a pile of leaves, hearing and feeling all the elements of nature. When the cars aren’t running, the birds are chirping loudly, wind gusts rustle the trees, and there are moments when it’s so quiet, that you can hear the bugs crawling at your feet.

Once the radio announces, “Cars are coming!” the sound of SR, JZ, and LS engines roar across the hills. As the cars get closer, the screech of tires shredding the pavement overtakes the ears, and then you’re face to face with 20 cars sliding in unison. Simply unreal.

Drift Appalachia was not just incredible to experience in person, but it gave me a better understanding of how drifting was born on the Touge mountain roads of Japan. I’ve admired drifting at racetracks for decades, but this gives context to the artistry, style, and beauty that is drifting.