LIVING THE AMERICAN DREAM
AN INTERVIEW WITH A KIWI FD MECHANIC
NZ Performance Car: Hey, Jake. For those who don’t know you by name, could you please start off by introducing yourself?
Jake: What’s up?! I go by the first name my parents gave me, ‘Jake’, and the last name from the family is ‘Hakaraia’, but I’ll most likely reply to any name [laughs].
It’s fair to say that drifting is a huge part of your life — when did you first discover drifting and was it love at first sight?
I discovered drifting in NZPC magazine, to be fair. I was around 11 at that stage, so still pretty young. It definitely wasn’t love at first sight; I think I was too busy being in love with trying to be like Brian O’Connor or Dom Torretto when the first Fast and the Furious movie dropped in 2001, so all I wanted to do was be like them.
So, it was tribal vinyl and chromes on your Civic then? What was your first experience of drifting like?
[Laughs] Spot on! Watching but not actually drifting, was when I was 18 working at DTM Wheel and Tyre, where I still work at over the summer. They sponsor Kyle Jackways, and he invited me to a Stil Vodka NZ Drift round at Pukekohe. We went up to watch him and he ended up winning, from memory, and ever since then I’ve been really hooked and I thought to myself, “I’ve got to give this a go”. So, I pretty much blame him for this crazy love affair with drifting.
How long was it before you gave it a crack for yourself and in what car?
It was pretty quick, really. I bought an S13 with a RB25DET pretty cheap, which lasted a couple [of] track days and then the flywheel let go and basically wrote it off, so I got another rolling body and swapped everything over. That second chassis saw me all the way through two seasons of D1NZ Rookie.
Would you consider yourself a competitive drifter or do you prefer just heading out and smashing tyres?
Yeah, I would — I enjoyed competitive drifting when I did it, but it’s pretty stressful gig, and if anyone knows me, they’ll attest that I like to live a stress-free life, so, at the moment, I’m just enjoying heading out and smashing tyres.
In recent years, you’ve stepped away from driving and helped out some teams, swapping your time between New Zealand and the US, where you’re based in Las Vegas with Forrest Wang’s Get Nuts Lab Formula Drift Team — how did that come about?
American drifting was always something [that] I was interested in. I think, for most Kiwis, American drifting is something we aspire to be involved with. Back in 2016, me and a friend came out for Formula Drift Round 1: Long Beach, where I met Cameron Moore and Forrest Wang. The following weekend, we went out to Las Vegas, and, while we were there, Facebook came up saying there was a local event called ‘Vegas Drift’. So we went and checked it out, and, crazy enough, Forrest Wang remembered us from Long Beach, and he invited us to come hang out at the shop the following day, and that’s where our initial relationship started. When I returned to New Zealand, there wasn’t much happening for me back there. So I asked Cameron Moore and Forrest if they had anything going on that I could head over for. Forrest had enough help at that stage, but Cameron Moore openly said, “Yeah, pack your bags and come over”. So, late 2016, I spent two months with him and then the last month with Forrest. It [was] that last month with Forrest that set up what our relationship is today. I came back to Las Vegas in 2017 and spent the summer here, and, at the end of that time, Forrest was approached by Vapetasia to run a Formula Drift programme for 2018. He and the team manager Nick Dizon asked me if I was interested in joining the team for 2018, and I said, “Hell, yeah! ”
So, you just decided to leave everything here and chase the American dream. This is your second season in Formula Drift (FD) — what’s your role within the team?
Yeah, pretty much! I guess you could say [that] I’m a kitchen hand, if that’s the best way to explain it. Forrest is obviously the driver/fabricator; Kyle, who is our tuner, travels with us everywhere; Garrett and Jeff are the mechanics; and also [there’s] our team manager, Nick.
So, whipping up burgers and chips, or is there a bit more to it than that? Walk us through your typical race weekend.
FD America is run over three days. But we tend to spend four–five days at the track. You would roll in on the Wednesday and spend most of the day setting up your pit area, doing a wheel alignment on the car, and getting fuel and tyres sorted. This year, FD brought in a new rule where you only get 12 laps before qualifying, which, at that this level of driving, is more than enough. If they’re in the Pro class, you’d hope that you could get the car dialled within 12 laps — otherwise, you probably shouldn’t be there. Typically, we would do eight runs on the Thursday and four on Friday. But some of the guys are that good [that] they’ll call it quits after four–six laps.
Each night, we give the car a full once-over ready for the following day. On Friday, things tend to get a little bit more busier. They run ‘hot pits’ out on track, which pretty much means [that] you don’t have to bring the car back to your main pit, and if you look at Road Atlanta, for example, it’s about 4–5km from the start line to the main pit, which you wouldn’t want to drive back and forth from. You would normally leave all your tyres/tools out at the hot pit and basically be there all day. Friday evening, we would do the same, re-check the car over, make any necessary changes if we feel like there are gains to be had.
Saturday, we would set up the hot pit and take the car out there. The car pretty much won’t get back to the main pits till after Top 32, when we give the car another once-over. Forrest and the team spotter, Joe, will look at the battle tree for who Forrest will potentially battle all the way to the end and come up with set-up plans for each different scenario of drivers, so that, when it comes to the time, we know what we’re already doing to the car as soon as we know the result of each battle.
If all goes well and we make it to the end of the show, we are normally at the track pretty late, and we’ll clean everything up, and, on the Sunday, we will head to our next [competition round] destination … We try to do it straight away, so there is less driving to do next time.
Forest seems to be somewhat of a round peg in a square hole yet still competitive. What do you think is the team’s secret to having a competitive chassis but still keeping some swag in the tank?
It’s 100 per cent staying true to who he is and what he believes. He will openly tell you that the Japanese style was the influence of the way he drives. From day one, all he wanted to do was have a Japanese style of driving, no matter if it was just at a show or at a competitive level. A car reflects who you are, so when you look at all of Forrest’s cars, they are all slammed, with big dished wheels, good quality parts, and have some serious attention to detail. By staying true to himself, it draws companies/people to the programme who want to be involved with the team.
Who is his biggest rival within FD, the one guy he just can’t seem to shake?
As with most drivers, you would probably say their biggest rival is themself [laughs]. But I don’t think there is one driver who is his biggest rival; but, at the moment, it’s the world against James Deane. While James has only won one round this year, he is the defending champion and is leading the points with only two rounds to go.
How has the 2018 season been for the team?
We started off really good, with a second at Round 1 in Long Beach, then the following weekend at the Motegi Super Drift, which is also in Long Beach we got second again on both Friday night and Saturday night. In FD, we were doing pretty good up until Seattle, where we lost a motor due to oil-pump failure in qualifying and slipped from fifth to 12th in points. Then, at St Louis, we dropped compression in another motor in Top 16. Also, [at] Red Bull Drift Shifters last week, Forrest finished second, which was a good result! And we’ve left the car in the UK, so, by the time this gets printed, we will have competed in the Irish Drift Championship and Drift Masters, which is getting hyped up to be the biggest drift event in the UK.
How different is the FD landscape to D1NZ? Is it still fun and games, or is it all game face and ‘don’t look under my car or else’?
Nah, it’s definitely still fun, and we have a lot of laughs, as you could imagine! It’s drifting — there’s not too many secrets to the sport, and if you’re hiding anything, it is most likely something illegal. But, in saying that, FD is a lot different to D1NZ when it comes to the business side, so we’re not quick to jump under anyone’s car to lend a hand in the sense that it would almost be disrespectful. If you were to do that, you could look at it in a way that Team A thinks that Team B doesn’t know what they’re doing or they’re not organized enough, so Team B gets offended by Team A
So there definitely is the opportunity for me to run FD, in maybe 2019 or 2020
getting involved, so you just respect other teams. But if they ask for help, everyone will help. But, like I say, it’s a business more than a hobby with FD.
What are the US drift fans like compared with those back home?
The crowd is a big difference between the two countries. I find that us, as Kiwis, are pretty reserved compared [with Americans], so we will sit there and watch cars go past and not get too excited, but Americans especially are way more passionate, so they get really into it. One of the coolest things [that] I remember was when Jarod DeAnda got the whole crowd cheering and stamping the grandstands at Irwindale when James Deane won the championship last year, and it seemed like it was the whole of Ireland there. Very proud moment for them, I’d say.
We bet you’ve done a few miles in the US now — do you guys tow the rig round to round, or is the car in a large transporter and you simply fly from location to location?
Both, to be fair. For all the West Coast rounds, we will drive back and forth from Las Vegas, but, [for] the ones on the East Coast, we will drive the rig there, and it usually stays in the East Coast. It takes about four days to drive from coast to coast, with overnight stops, so we don’t want to be driving that back and forth. Normally, the day after a round, we pack up and drive to the next round, then fly back to Vegas. We used to haul three cars, back in 2016, when Alec Honodale ran with the team, but, this year, we[’ll] just take two cars — the S15 for main competition and usually the S14 that would go on display in the Vapetasia or BC Racing booth, but since that car is in the UK, we’ll take the Toyota Supra with us.
You must have a few crack up stories from the road; care to share any?
Man, I’m trying to think of some good stories [ laughs] — I can’t really remember any, to be fair. Normally it’s just the boys bantering and having a laugh at someone else’s expense, maybe over something they have done or did on social media.
Probably nothing PG rated then, we’re guessing. Who are some of the more solid cats in FD?
JTP [Justin Pawlak] is a solid dude! I spent over a month with him last year — went from Oregon then did Mustang week in Sturgis with him, then FD Texas. Kristaps Bluss is also good value! You’ll get some good laughs out of Piotr Wiecek. And can’t forget the Irish — James Deane and Dean Karney are also pretty funny! Faruk Kugay is a pretty down to earth guy, got a lot of time for him. Man, the list could go on, wouldn’t know where to stop!
Have you been able to do any drifting yourself while over there? Are we going to see your name in FD any time soon?
Hopefully one day you’ll see my name in there! When I drove the Get Nuts Lab S14 back at Street Driven Tour, we discovered that driving on the left-hand side wasn’t a strength of mine, so we’re currently building a Get Nuts Lab–spec right-hand-drive FD S14 Silvia … that by the time this has been released in the magazine will probably be finished. So there definitely is the opportunity for me to run FD, in maybe 2019 or 2020, under the Get Nuts Lab brand, but it’ll be Pro 2 — I want to work my way up and earn it to get to the Pro level.
Care to share any more details on the build?
It’s ya typical Get Nuts Lab S-chassis build, although the motor’s going to be pretty stock — [a] 2JZ pushing maybe 500–550hp [373–410kW]. [We’re] after something that’s going to be reliable, with a four-speed dogbox, Wisefab steering kit, three-way suspension — so we’re hoping for a pretty good platform to move into Pro 2 [with] if I can put a programme together.
A lot of young Kiwi drifters dream of running in FD — what advice would you give them, having seen it from that side? Realistically, what size budget would they need to compete, and is the sponsorship market very competitive?
It is for sure! And I’m very blessed to be given all of these opportunities. My first advice towards a budget is buy a plane ticket, come over, shake hands, meet people, and build relationships with potential sponsors. If you sit back at home behind a computer sending emails and proposals, you have about one per cent chance of picking up any sort of help; it really does nothing for you. The only real way [that] you’re going you get support from a tyre company also is [by] coming over and shaking hands — you’ve got to remember [that] they probably get five to 10 emails a day from guys all over the world wanting free tyres.
There are couple teams that only have a budget of US$40K, and they use a normal two-axle truck and enclosed trailer, so running cost is pretty low (keep in mind they live here, so it’s easier). Then I’d say the next step from there is US$80K–$100K, which isn’t taking into consideration the fact that you have to buy a tow rig and a trailer. There are also other drivers who have spots in their trailers and charge about US$20K–$30K for the year to haul your car around the countryside, which is pretty good considering that we spend about $25K on … diesel alone for the year to get our rig to all eight rounds. For the guys back home wanting to do it, I think finding someone else keen and going halves in a rig/trailer, then half everything else throughout the season like running cost / diesel / shared driving, etc.
If you’re looking at Pro 2 then you probably need a budget of US$40K, as it’s only four rounds, so you’ll be US$10K at each round. FD has restricted tyre brands down to two that you’re allowed to run, which [are] … Achilles and Nexen Tire, with a size limit for Pro 2 of 255[mm] wide. You’ll also have to petition for a Pro 2 license, which is US$1K, but D1NZ is a recognized drift competition, so I don’t think getting the license would be too hard for guys competing in D1.
But, in all seriousness, for the guys who want to run in FD Pro 2, sit back and look at what you’re spending in ive rounds of D1NZ and look at your options for America — it’s really not that much more. You have to remember, New Zealand is an island, so everything’s going to cost so much more, as everyone’s clipping the ticket on parts. GST is getting charged on top of GST, and, by the time we get parts in our hands, it’s blown out. But, in America, you’re getting it straight from the manufacturer. You’ll be surprised at how cheap the Get Nuts Lab S14 that we’re currently building at the moment is costing; there is no way [that] I would have been able to build it back in New Zealand for the budget we had.
If anyone back home is serious about running in America, I’m only a message away, and I’d be more than willing to help anyone, also.
By the same token, we’re sure plenty of pit crew members would love to go over and make a go of it. Are there guys making a decent living working for teams over there, and how hard is it to crack into?
Na, not a decent living, but once you’re on the road, everything’s paid for and [the] experiences of learning, meeting people, and making memories definitely outweigh trying to earn a decent living, if that makes sense. But there are always opportunities at every corner when you’re in the scene, so you just gotta make something of it when it arises. It’s not too hard to crack; you just need to build a relationship with the driver to the point [that] he trusts you’ll be loyal and able to deliver.
Cheers for your time, Jake, and we hope to see your name in FD real soon.
we spend about $25K on … diesel alone for the year to get our rig to all eight rounds
JAKE’S NEW ZEALAND-BASED C35 LAUREL WHICH HE HAS RUN IN D1NZ PRO