Every single day, there are cool things happening at race circuits all over Japan — this isn’t exactly news, I know — but, among the mind-bogglingly long list of D1 Grand Prix rounds, low-key track days, vintage racing events, time-attack sessions, and all the rest, some dates on the calendar simply stand out.
One of those events is Black Mark Day. Held annually in late spring (before this place gets just too damn hot), Black Mark Day is the brainchild of the crew at N-Style Custom, a highly-respected body shop and occasional drift team from Gunma Prefecture. Black Mark Day is hosted not too far from N-Style’s home base, in the next prefecture over, Tochigi, at one of Japan’s more famous drift venues, Nikko Circuit. It promises casual track-day vibes combined with a much higher quality of both cars and driving, and it always delivers.
I had been to a drift day at Nikko before; in fact, that was the first track day I ever drove at in Japan. Back then, there were maybe 40 cars and plenty of space to set up your pits, and, for some reason, I expected the same this time as we pulled off the expressway and onto the service road that leads to the facility … How wrong I was. The place was absolutely and completely jammed with people and some of the coolest street-drift cars in Japan. I had forgotten that this wasn’t just some day put on by the local drift team; this was a big deal on the calendar, and drivers had come long distances for the chance to pedal among some of the best amateur drifters in the area.
A few minutes after we arrived, it was all action, as Hideki Nagahama from N-Style organized and waved the first group out onto the short but tricky circuit. From what I could tell, there didn’t seem the need for a class system based on skill, as everyone’s driving was on point, so, instead, the groups were put together loosely based on the type of car. Full classes of S-chassis with the odd C35 thrown in the mix, followed by a massive train of anything with a howling JZ under the bonnet, then on to a full class of Subaru drift cars, and on it went. The action never stopped as cars hit the track, and each other, throughout the day.
Bigger events in Japan like this one seem to bring out a lot of interesting vehicles, and it was great to see cars like the famous SR20-powered Toyota Platz pulling off the gnarliest backwards entries into very fast double-apexed first corner, or to listen to the sweet sound of Makoto Nakamura’s 2JZ-powered monster pink Toyota Crown Majesta as it laid down a smokescreen through the sweeper.
The best thing about events like Black Mark Day here in Japan, though, is, sure, it’s an important and anticipated day for drivers, but there’s no competition — it’s simply a local track day but with more cars, better organization, better driving skill, and much bigger crowds. It’s N-Style’s ability to tread this fine line between big-time-event and local-day-out vibes that gives Black Mark Day a festival (matsuri) feel to it, perhaps helped along by Nikko’s tight confines and natural amphitheatre setting — due to the sheer walls on one side and the expressway on the other. No one was taking themselves too seriously, and everyone was enjoying the constant action on and off the track.
It’s this mix of factors — attitude, atmosphere, quality cars, and great driving — that makes a good track day great. Now all we need is a bunch of Nikko-sized circuits here in New Zealand, so that we can do the same.
01: Black Mark Day saw a full class just for rear-drive-converted Subarus, of which there were at least a dozen — WRXs, Legacys, and Foresters of all generations. Some of these guys seemed to fight their cars pretty hard, but it was still one of the most entertaining classes to watch.
02: While most people stick with the tried and true chassis, it wasn’t too uncommon to find something a little weird going sideways, like this SW20 MR2.
03: Nikko is famous for these drop-offs, which line the track (RIP, every bumper that’s ever gone near them). This particular drop, on the outside of the sweeper, provides for some pretty spectacular driving if you’re keen enough to hang the back out far enough.
04: ZX chassis dominate drifting from Tokyo northwards, whereas they’re much harder to find down south in Osaka and Nagoya, where the Silvia is king.
05: This R32 would have to have been one of the toughest cars on track. It wasn’t especially tidy, but the super-wide stance and the brutal way it was driven just made you think ‘f**k yeah!’ every single time it ripped past.
06: This insane Toyota Platz has been around for a while now, and it’s still going strong. The car runs a full Silvia driveline, all shortened and tweaked to match the tiny Toyota body. Despite its humble ‘my-sister’s-first-car’ looks, the SR20-powered weapon was producing the best entries on the day — displaying huge amounts of angle, speed, and smoke.
07: Believe it or not, this is the first SXE10 Altezza I’ve spotted drifting in Japan
08: Who says super low and super cambered can’t drift? This guy seemed to be having huge fun in his C35 Laurel.
09: There’s just something about a big-boy sedan laying down some tyre, and Black Mark Day certainly didn’t suffer any shortage of JZXs, Crowns, Aristos, or Laurels.
10: Despite their size, Toyota Crowns are a popular choice here, due to their cheap buy price, and the fact that the 1JZ-GTE engine was factory specced in the JZS170 Crown Athlete V model