Import Racing was a predominantly Asian American lifestyle that became so popular and mainstream, that by the early 2000s, it was reported the scene consisted of 42% Caucasian Americans (source: SEMA '02). From the years 1997-2000, Z.Team Yossi's, most active Team Represent era, the Import Racing market grew 300 percent to $1.25 billion dollars. Climaxing with the 2001 film, The Fast and the Furious, reaching global blockbuster status (Total US Gross: $144,512,310), it was evident that Z.Team Yossi achieved its uniting goal of making history in popular culture. Import Racing continues to resonate to generations of enthusiasts and hobbyists alike.
Our goal since the beginning in forming the car club has been to pioneer the Import Racing sub-culture into the mainstream. Our club was the social and creative outlet for our young adulthood and served as a vehicle to create a meaningful impact that could be shared collectively. Some of our members have translated this passion to the $3 billion dollar import racing market. For example, Fine Line Imports in Santa Rosa tunes high performance AWD vehicles and Jonari in Burlingame supplies VIP style body kits and parts from Japan. ZTY holds a special place in our heart and we use the website as a yearbook to share the collective memories. Although we have moved on with our own families, work and independence - we hold dear the many memories that were created through the bond of ZTY.
Z.Team Yossi's Team Represent era was three years '97-'00 and ultimately inspired the Fast and the Furious, the film hit movie theaters in 2001. From 1996-2003, ZTYs car culture and its flagships were published globally in newspapers and magazines, such as: Guardian Unlimited UK, Super Street, Super Street 2001 Calendar, Sport Compact Car, Import Racer, Turbo, Import Tuner, Tuning Concept, TMR, Street Racer, Street Legal, Kineda, The Golf UK, Performance VW UK, European Car, MAX Power, MAX Speed, Euro Tuner, Honda Power, Hot Rod Honda, Performance BMW, SXY/Showoff Magazine.
Z.Team Yossi made a name for itself at car shows throughout California with titles such as Best Crew and Team Represent at: L.A. Auto Show 2000, SEMA Las Vegas, Import Showoff, SEMA/Nopi 2001, SEMA Import Auto Salon in Pomona, Shoreline Showoff, Showoff EXC, Battle of the Imports, Hot Import Nights, Hot Import Nights Mega Show, Hot Import Daze, Goodtimes Autorama, Import Jam, Jingle Jam by Asianscene, All Import Nationals, Import Fest, Extreme Limit Auto Fest, Import Saga, Import Showdown, Import Auto Vibe, Euro Showoff, Import Revolution iRev
In 1999, three years after forming, Z.Team Yossi was recognized as a tour-de-force in creating the import car scene culture and subsequently became an integral focus in the University of California, Berkeley, Masters Thesis, by UC Berkeley CAL Ph.D, Susan Kwon: "What's the Story Behind All Those Asians in the Import Scene?"
From First Car Club on the Internet to International Fame: Guardian Unlimited UK, an international newspaper in print and online, published an article, "Speed Addicts", before the release of the film, The Fast and the Furious (Cohen, 2001). The author claimed the film's storyline and character elements were derived from Z.Team Yossi and its female squad of groupies (with all due respect), the Yossi Hunnies.
"Drag-racing teams may not actually be populated by shiny-pated hunks like Vin Diesel or tough beauties like Michelle Rodriguez, but in other ways the film got it right. Diesel's chief rivals are a tough oriental gang; the real-life Z-Team Yossi, led by the fearsome Tai brothers, are one of the most successful drag-racing teams in California. Shaun Tai has got his nitrous oxide-powered VW Tessa under the 10-second mark in various official meetings, while the Yossi's group of sexy 'Hunnies' are there to bring some glamour to the all-oriental team wherever they race." (Will Hodgkinson, The Guardian, September 8, 2001)
Question and Answer with Wilson Tai of Z.Team Yossi
The reason for asking these questions is to satisfy my curiosity on how the import teams keep their team and foundation strong. I see Z.Team Yossi as one of those strong teams. Don't get me wrong, in South California, the import scene is very, very, big. So no matter what, I think there would just be more people fixing up their rides and representing. It seems like most of the well known crews start out as close friends and then grow. My questions are aimed at finding out answers from someone experience being the founder of a strong team. Your answers will be a big benefit for someone like me who is trying to keep a crew strong - Chris Surjadjaja of Team Kaotic
Wilson: Yes, ZTY began with a hypothetical name, "Yossi." Shaun came up with "Yossi" and I changed the name to Z.Team Yossi because I wanted "Z" to represent speed and "Team" for the crew we were going to try to build from the ground up. I was looking at the Mugen logo and saw the layout: name/logo/name and we used the Chinese/Japanese elemental character representing "fire." The exact design of the fire symbol happened thanks to Shaun who had a friend in Santa Rosa that was into Chinese calligraphy. To this day, people mistakenly confuse the character with "R." We had no contacts in the import scene - until we met Mark Arcenal of Meccagraphics in Santa Rosa's RevSports car show. There were less than a dozen cars and Mark was making stickers back then for car crews and shops such as RevSports. I still remember his old slammed yellow M3 with E36 17" wheels.
Correct. Shaun took the position of president of ZTY for the sole purpose of adding a type of foundation or organizational leader. In fact, he did everything until I decided to focus exclusively on the public relations aspect of ZTY in '98 - one of our biggest years in terms of representation and growth. That year's efforts put ZTY on the map. I implemented the official website and that in itself earned ZTY a spot in the limelight on the international level. Goodtimes Motorsports was a large reason why we were known in Northern California. Import Showoff (Southern California) brought their show to Northern California for the first time and we came out with so many cars (19 flagship cars) and models (12 Yossi Hunnies) we took home TEAM REPRESENT - it was a big deal to me personally at the time and I think that rewarded the team members with positive attitudes and a strong confidence. There was a point that ZTY was taking home trophies at every show - and a long run in which we took home BEST CREW consecutively one after another. It was a lot of fun.
We began in 1996 with the average age of 19 years amongst the team members. That said, as time progressed, members relocated due to work or school and cars were sold or new projects were started. Members stay, cars change - it's a fact of any club. No car is ever finished, but many get close with magazine features and multiple trophies/titles - when an owner is satisfied, the owner will move onto a new project. That has been the case with a number of members.
Even though Shaun is the president of ZTY, it doesn't make him anymore "authoratative" than any other of the members. There is definitely an advantage to having a leader type figure in any organization. In the end, we are all teammates and we depend on each other for feedback, comments, ideas, and suggestions. As leaders, Shaun and I shared all of our contacts and hookups with manufacturers. For example, when Shaun got sponsored by Nitrous Express, he shared the contact with John H (Eclipse) and Ken (Supra) - both were sponsored immediately. That is what teammates are for - to help each other out.
Shaun does an excellent job as president. We have been very lucky to have a base of dedicated and loyal team members. Even though we have different opinions, lifestyles, and backgrounds, we still flow as water when we come together. If there is a subject disagreed upon, a symposium of sorts will be held on the subject.
It varies. It depends on how many shows we have at our resource. It can be as many as two per month to as long as bi-monthly. Sometimes a phone call to specific teammates can justify skipping team meets. Our team meets are more based on BBQ fun than serious meetings. Our team is focused on the fun factor of participating in the import scene. Why continue if we don't have fun? I would say ideally, team meets before big shows are a must.
Good question. When we first began, we did lots of things wrong. One of them, was bombing random cars with fliers or hittin' up random enthusiasts. We were just trying to get the name out, because we started with nothing. Shaun and I started in Santa Rosa, but when I moved home, I started hitting up the Bay Area and San Francisco. The internet helped us find members as well - one example was Tum (Integra). I found his car feature online and started reading his personal website at Stanford. He seemed like a fun guy, lived in the Bay Area, and I thought he'd fit in great with the ZTY crew - so we corresponded via email and soon after, he was at a team meet in person. Today, I receive multiple emails regarding membership. I can answer right now that our membership roster is full. However, the best way to get answered to by any team would be to send a full profile on yourself and your car. It's not just about the car, but it's equally important to find out about the owner.
The cars listed on the team site are the Flagships. Some members while building their projects do not sport ZTY stickers because they feel they have to fit a high standard. It's all about personal preference. I personally always have a ZTY logo on my show car but I can see that if one doesn't want attention, then the logos can come off.
Add luck, chance, and stroke of genius. Mix together and pray that it will all work out. It really helped that ZTY began early on - November 1996. The import scene and car shows were just beginning in 1996. There were a lot of crews, but they were crews rather than teams. The difference being that crews were a group of friends exclusively, where as teams were more a group of enthusiasts set out to own at car shows or on the streets. ZTY tried to merge both together and it worked relatively well. We are more of a car team than a crew because we have members from all sorts of backgrounds with a common interest - import racing. I'd recommend quality over quantity. It's natural to think that bigger is better, but that is not the case when it comes to successful car teams. Find common similarities amongst team members and gear your goals towards those similarities. It just takes time, and more time. Finally, there are no weak teams, only weak leaders.
Thank you for your questions Chris, I wish you best of luck with your crew. See ZTY at www.zteamyossi.com and for more on ZTY lifestyle, check out my personal lifestyle site www.racingmix.com - Wilson Tai
What's the Story Behind All Those Asians in the Import Scene?
By Susan Kwon
It started as a joke, to write a research paper on "rice rockets" for my graduate seminar class while I was at Stanford. I mean why not? My professor was so old, he couldn't care less what we wrote about. I've seen the Asian guys and girls hanging out at AMC Mercado Movie Theaters in Sunnyvale and In-N-Out Burgers in Milpitas with their souped up Honda's and Integra's. Being from LA, I knew something about "Imports" but never did I imagine that the Import scene could be so deep. So what started as a joke developed into my master's thesis. Who would have ever thought that you could get away with writing about Import cars for your master's thesis at Stanford?
This article is a small part of my thesis. I present the Import scene as a unique Asian American youth subculture. I bring out the ways in which "Asianness" is asserted-a claim to Asian influence and origin of the Import subculture. My interpretation of the Import scene comes from hanging out with a specific car team in the Bay Area, which I will keep anonymous. I also attended many of the Import car shows in both Los Angeles and the Bay Area and visited many of the related websites.
It is important to look at the Import subculture, made up predominantly of Asian American (including Pacific Islander) males from 16-25 year of age in a larger context of youth culture in the United States. The act of modifying the look and performance of the car has a long history in American culture. You have your white males and their "hot rodders," who modify, race and drive American cars (or "muscle cars") such as Mustangs, Chevrolets, and Impalas. You also have Latino males with their "low riders." This Import subculture shared among many Asian American youths may be viewed as an extension of a larger, male dominated, car-based cultural phenomenon. Yet, the members of the Import scene will argue that it is uniquely Asian in its origin and influence.
The history of the Import scene is not one uniform story, yet most concede that its genesis is in Los Angeles. Ken Miyoshi, one of founding members of the Import scene and of "Import Showoff," the original Import car show, traces the history of modifying Japanese cars to the early 1970s. According to James Romero in The Los Angeles Times, it was also in 1970 that young Latino males did the "unthinkable" by modifying Japanese cars, which were considered "utilitarian at best." He notes it was not until early 1990s that observers saw Asian American youths visibly "cutting down their Imports as much for lowriding as for ground hugging performance."
Contradictory to Romero's history, Miyoshi notes that it was mainly third generation, Sansei, Japanese Americans in the Los Angeles area who started fixing up their Japanese cars. In the 1980s, groups called Shoreline and Paradise made up of Japanese American males from Gardena, a city in the Los Angeles area, modified their Toyota Corollas or "paradise cruisers." They followed the style of "souping" up cars in Japan by referring to Japanese car magazines and ordering car parts from Japan to modify their cars. The Import scene gained a wider audience and recognition in 1988 when the first Import car was featured in a popular car magazine, Sport Compact Car.
The influence of Japan upon the Import scene is a huge component of the construction of this subculture. Miyoshi said "Japan sets the trend for the current Import scene." He described how Asian American youths in Los Angeles, who cannot read Japanese, will actively seek out places that sells Japanese magazines so that they can look at the features of Import cars and gather ideas. Hence, just as the first group of Asian American males looked to Japan for ideas and parts, the new generation of youth is doing the same. According to Miyoshi, there are racing subcultures in Japan that is similar to the Import scene here. He states that hashiriya most closely resembles the lifestyle of the Import car subculture here in California. The members of hashiriya lifestyles includes "souping" up their cars and engaging in street races on one particular main highway in Tokyo.
It is arguable that the Import scene is Asian in origin and influence although many members do not share an Asian American background. The Import scene is not limited to California, rather it has spread nationwide with large followings in the East Coast and Midwest. Yet, there are explicit ways in which Asianness is asserted in the Import scene. Most evident is the conscious choice to purchase and soup up Japanese cars. The act of owning and buying a Japanese car is an act against the dominant white American ideology and patriotism. The slogans "Buy American" and "Made in America" are still strong today. Furthermore, buying a Japanese car [in 1980s] was considered downright unpatriotic by those sympathetic to the American auto industry; by the early 1990s however, polls showed that most American consumers believed Japanese cars are better engineered and more reliable than American cars.
Another manner in which Asianness is asserted is the conscious choice by members of Import car teams to have an Asian name (usually written in Chinese) or to make it sound Asian. For example, some notable team names in the Bay Area are Z. Team Yossi, Team Hokori, Jetspeed, and Gridline. The stylization of the Roman alphabet to resemble Chinese characters are evident in Import car magazines and fliers for Import events. The Import subculture also shares the sexist overtones of other car cultures with female models posing on top of cars in magazines and at car shows. Notable however is the use of mainly Asian American models and not white models that dominate our media today. These examples are explicit displays of Asian characteristics in the construction of the Import subculture.
One explanation for an obvious assertion of an "Asian" identity is the formation of a pan-Asian American ethnic identity in the presence of racism towards minority groups in the United States, especially those of Asian origin. Discrimination against people of Asian descent has historical roots dating back to the mid nineteenth century when Chinese males came to act as dispensable laborers for the emerging capitalistic ventures in the United States. Despite the heterogeneous population and history of Asians and Asian Americans in the Untied States, we are continually racialized as one homogeneous ethnic group. The "model minority" myth equates the success of some Asian American communities to all people of Asian descent as having achieved equal class and social standing in the United States, masking the inequalities that remain. The persistence of institutional discrimination and the act of lumping all Asians together make it difficult to contest the perception of Asian Americans as one happily assimilated population in mainstream American society. Although many people of Asian descent who were born and raised in the United States do not identify with their Asian heritage and consider themselves to be American, they are racialized by the larger dominant society as Asian, nonetheless.
A pan-Asian American ethnic identity is evident at different levels. One is within the smaller showcase and racing crews, organizations made up of mostly Asian American males who form a social peer group based on common interests. Some teams are specifically formed on the basis of ethnic groups, such as all Filipino, Chinese or Vietnamese car teams. Participation in activities that make up the Import subculture, such as attending Import car shows, entering your car as a member of a car team, racing in drag races, and interacting with other Asian American youths with souped up Import cars, helps to construct and affirm a sense of a pan-Asian American ethnic identity.
Asian American youth may be drawn to this subculture to bond with others of Asian descent and to contest dominant society's image of what it means to be an Asian American youth. I interviewed David (not his real name), the president of a car team in the Bay Area who was drawn to the Import scene because it rejected common notions of all Asian American youths as smart and successful. He said:
I know a lot of Asian kids that play [tennis]. But you know what I'm saying, they are always stereotyped, Asian people, to be smart geeks, with glasses, tennis and piano, that is kind of like, it's not really cool. You know what I mean? That is why the Import scene was something cool that everyone could do. That's like a main thing. Like I said when I first started off, it was like, a lot of Asians are into it, it's fun.
This is in direct opposition to myth of Asians as the "model minority." David's conscious decision to create an Import racing crew and partake as a member of the Import scene is a radical break from dominant characteristics that are attached to Asian American youth identity. The Import scene acts to unite many Asian American males in an activity that promotes a different image of Asian American youths than "smart" or "nerds."
The ways in which a united pan-Asian American identity is utilized is a complicated issue, for on one hand, (as seen by David's comments) being part of an Asian American Import subculture is an act of defiance against dominant perceptions of Asian American groups. On the other hand, conceiving the Import subculture as one bounded group that reflects Asian American youth identity is misleading. Anyone who has been to an Import car show, drag race or been on the streets knows that the Import subculture is not made up of only Asian Americans. Rather it includes people of all races. Furthermore, we know that there are many different types of racing crews and teams. There is also the emerging presence of female (or "girl racers") members in the subculture. There are inevitable conflicts and contradictions among racial, class and gender lines, which I do not have adequate space to explore here. Hopefully this article stated the importance of the Import scene as a meaningful American cultural phenomenon that consumes the time of many youths.