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Nismo Festival 2011

Around 32,000 flock to Fuji Speedway to see decades of Nissan racing heritage

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To illustrate the Nismo Festival experience, I thought it would be helpful to find some other event with which to compare it.  That is extremely difficult, because it’s as if the famed Goodwood Festival in England or the Monterey Historic races were assembled exclusively for one make every year.

Since 1997, the Nismo Festival has drawn an average of 30,000 Nissan racing and high-performance car fans to Fuji Speedway each December to celebrate the rich heritage of Nissan Motorsports. This year’s event, on December 4, was held under sunny skies and a light breeze, drawing 32,000 fans.

Fuji Speedway is located in the Japanese countryside about 100 km (62 miles) outside Tokyo, at the foot of one of the most recognizable mountain peaks in the world. Nismo Festival is a family event. Children 12 and under are admitted free, and families fill the paddock area and grandstands with fans of all ages.

On the track and in the paddock, cars from the Nissan Heritage Collection in Zama are combined with dozens of privately owned racing cars of the past and present. Most of them take hot laps and exhibition runs around Fuji’s 16-turn, 4.563 km F1 certified circuit to the delight of the fans.

Mount Fuji in the distance

But Nismo Festival is even more than that. Outside the grandstands, drivers participate in live talk shows.  Hundreds of fans pack the seats to hear from legendary Nissan racers.  Hundreds more gather to watch engineers from Nismo’s Omori Engine plant disassemble a racing engine while pointing out details and sharing tips.  Meticulously crafted model cars – mostly GT-Rs and Zs are on sale at dozens of stands. Racing attire, performance parts and accessories are available for purchase.  Each supplier company has teams of young women wearing coordinated outfits and holding signs above the crowds.

The parking lots were full of Skyline GT-Rs of all eras, along with Sylvias, Zs and many modified sedans, cubes and vans.

But the star of the day was Nismo. The line to shop for Nismo-branded merchandise snaked around in rows, Disney-style, while fans patiently waited to get inside the large tent. Nismo and Nissan shirts, hats and jackets were everywhere.

A contingent of flag bearers along the front straight waived a wide variety of vintage and present Nissan racing flags as the cars blew past. Other fans tied up banners displaying numbers and colors of their favorite teams.

Crowds gather around an engine

It was remarkable to see such passion for exhibition laps and tributes to earlier times.  At one point during the afternoon, many of Japan’s finest endurance and GT drivers parked cars they drove to victory in the middle of the track and got out to talk to cheering fans.  It is obvious the Japanese fans adore their racing heroes, and the drivers clearly love the fans and are amazed at their recall of racing history.

The highlight of the day was the “grid walk.”  People began lining up 2-3 hours before the start for the chance to be near their favorite current GT drivers and their cars. When the gates opened, the enormous crowd surged out onto the track and surrounded about two-dozen cars and drivers (above center) in a scene that I hope exists on video. There is a concern by some that younger generations in Japan have lost enthusiasm for the automobile.  You would never surmise that from the crowds at Nismo Festival. Without any panic or mayhem, thousands of young fans poured out onto the track, delighted to see their racing heroes and their cars up close.  Many took pictures and got autographs.

Datsun 210 Sakura and Fuji on show at Fuji Speedway

In March, the seas engulfed coastal Japan after an earthquake and created unbelievable hardship. Some are still struggling to get back to normal life. On this sunny day, it was a sea of race fans displaying a true passion for Nissan and their nation’s motorsports heroes that triumphed.

Steve Yaeger

Nissan Americas Communications

Cars, Heritage, Management, Motorsports

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