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Speed is a drug. You could literally confuse amphetamine with going fast, that’s just the effect that pushing down a pedal has on humans. And in the whole history of mankind there hasn’t been a better way to administer that drug then now. Obviously most of us have been living with cars our whole lives but that hasn’t always been the case. It only became a norm from the latter part of last century. In some ways we have lost the thrill for speed because it is just so accessible, especially now when you can rent an electric car and go faster than pretty much anything ever made. A few good years back you actually had to work for it. You had to have a car that didn’t break down every time it scraped the redline. And there is one group of people that were most notorious about keeping their pedals pressed all the way down and you have most likely heard about them… Mid Night Racing Team.
Pretty much everyone that’s into Japanese car culture has heard of Mid Night Racing Team. And if they don’t know about the underground racing team specifically then they probably have heard of the manga series “Wangan Midnight” or the computer game “Midnight Club”. Both of them were directly inspired by the street racing team which is more widely known as Mid Night Club but as a lesser known fact is officially called “Mid Night Racing Team” or simply “Mid Night”. If you haven’t heard about Mid Night Racing Team at all then simply put they were a group of underground street racers.
Before going deeper into the story there are some things that need to be addressed about the team. Rumours. Firstly, the team was founded in 1982 (not in 87 or in the 90s). Secondly, they never disbanded because of a clash with the bosozoku (the team is still alive). The rumour was started by a journalist who had written about it in an article for an unknown reason. Thirdly, they weren’t anonymous “business men”. They were regular dudes with all kinds of different careers but the difference is that they weren’t afraid to take part in illegal street races during the night. Also, Smokey Nagata was never part of the team. There are a lot more rumours which are spread by some bigger car media companies because they used unreliable sources. Like the Wikipedia article that existed about the club but was filled with a lot of false information, original members tried to edit the article as well to make it better but in the end it got taken down.
Mid Night Racing Team was founded in 1982 by 4 founding members: Yoshida, Kato, Terazawa and Yamada. The most important of them for the team was Yoshida who also became the chairman of the team. But before starting the club Yoshida was part of another group called the American Car Club (ACC), that was in the late 70s and early 80s. During that time tuning big American cars was popular and they used to drag race and do top speed attacks on the highways. One of the notable figures of the car scene was the head of ACC, Koichi Okawa. He was someone Yoshida had big respect for and in the end they both had similar paths. After being in ACC for some years Yoshida decided to break off from the club and when he was independent he met with the other founders. The 4 founders went racing together to the highways and in the end decided to create their own club. In the early days of the club the average age of the members was only around 22-23 years old.
For extra context about the scene at the time it is suiting to also tell the story of G. Mitsunaga (not a member of Mid Night Racing Team). In the early 80s he was famous for his top speed runs. He used a DeTomaso Pantera with a chevy V8 in it. The person who tuned his car was none other than Masaru Hosoki from ABR, one of the most famous Japanese tuners and also NASCAR skilled Mario Rossi helped. Together in 1981 they were the first in Japan to officially go over 300km/h (307.69km/h, at Yatabe). That was a landmark achievement and became the benchmark for all the street racers and tuners to beat. Before that the previous record was 264.71km/h by a Trans-Am so it was a huge leap forward. Sadly though Mitsunaga died tragically in an accident a bit after setting the record. But this record was something that in a way inspired the next generation of Japanese racers and tuners and certainly the creators of Mid Night Racing Team who were all hungry for records as well.
Yoshida’s 930 Turbo/A wolf in sheep’s clothing
Yoshida and his 911 (1979 930 Turbo) have become synonymous with the team and is certainly the most famous car of the whole group. The appeal of Porsches at that time was very high for different reasons. One of them being the gentlemen’s agreement of 1977 that limited domestic Japanese cars to 180km/h, because it was a foreign car it bypassed that. Porsche was also a serious player at various sports car races like Le Mans which gave it a good reputation for speed and reliability. Since it was European it was also seen as something a bit more exotic. The overall build of the 930 was also very capable and packed great potential for tuning. Combining the light body with an air cooled 3.3L flat six engine and a turbocharger made the car go over 260-270km/h without breaking a sweat. The Porsche quickly became a top choice for serious highway racers.
Yoshida’s car did a top speed of 302.52km/h officially on a Yatabe test but the engine blew on that attempt. Yatabe was notoriously known for being a hard testing ground. On the highways it went at least 320km/h and maybe even faster. When accelerating the car sounded like a jet engine and it was hard not to notice it coming your way and zooming right past.
For the tune of his 930 Yoshida got help from Porsche themselves! He actually got it shipped to Germany a couple of times and Porsche mechanics worked on his car applying their racing know-how from building cars like the 934 , 935 and 959. Upgrading everything from the brakes to the steering wheel. Only thing that was left mostly untouched was the body itself with some additions to the front bumper to allow better brake cooling and also some NACA ducts instead of the rear side window. As a sign of a true street racer his speedometer was tilted 45 degrees to give a better view of the top speed and revs, that was quite common at that time. The interior was fitted with a roll bar and leather bucket seats, the dash was also upgraded with temperature gauges.
It is not clear how much money Yoshida poured into his project but it wasn’t cheap that’s for sure. In the end because of the swapped parts it looked like wolf in sheep’s clothing. A 930 turbo from the outside and a Porsche works race car in the inside. A monster of a car.
How to become a member of Mid Night Racing Team?
When you applied in the 80s-90s you were first tested, your driving skills were closely examined and if you weren’t comfortable at high speeds (200+ km/h) for an extended time or drive in an unsafe manner you didn’t stand a chance. If you drove well then you were first an apprentice. While being an apprentice you also have to go to all the meetings and you are given a pink Mid Night sticker and in the end of the testing period all the clubs members have to unanimously accept you. That can take up to 5 years and then you get the silver Mid Night sticker from the chairman himself. There were other special stickers as well like the windshield one and the full “Mid Night Racing Team” on the side which can be seen on some cars.
In very beginning of the club the process was a bit faster and didn’t take years but since the club got very popular people started to join the club just for the silver sticker and sometimes people would even put fake stickers on their cars. When that happened Mid Night decided to make joining the team harder and they also trademarked their name and logo because it was being illegally sold. Real members peeled off fake stickers from cars if they encountered them.
Nowadays they don’t test and examine your street racing skills since they don’t do that anymore but they still accept new members. You have to be extremely passionate for car culture and committed to the team. If you really want to join them you might encounter them at car meets or events in Japan.
Every Saturday the team would gather at Yoshida’s shop and then drive to the highway together. In the early days it was the Tomei expressway and around 1985 it was the Wangan (Bayshore route). The Bayshore route was a new stretch of expressway that stretched 60 kilometers on the coast of Tokyo and that is where Mid Night really got famous. They were the first ones on that road and invited other drivers to race them. Usually races took place between checkpoints and the length between them was around 10-30km. There were two types of races. Races inside their team, which were less serious and no one was kicked out if they lost a race. And races between rival teams or privateers (drivers without a team). When you raced a rival and lost you had to leave the club. But these races only took place when the chairman of the club approved it and usually they had pretty high stakes.
The route on the Wangan was from Narashino to Tatsumi which was around 25km long. If you wanted to race someone you would drive up the highway and then stop and wait for someone to line up next to you. As an unspoken agreement the race would start after both had lined up next to each other side by side. The highway was mostly straight but there were some corners as well which were passed through 200+km/h. Like the Overhead Bridge corner which is around 3km after the start and top speed is achieved before it and speed while cornering is around 260km/h. They raced so hard that every night they had to refuel around 2 times and a set of tyres would last a month. While racing there were also spectators watching you, sometimes even hundreds of people gathered on the sides of the road.
The twisty roads of Hakone TuRNPIKE
Even though most of them raced on the highways and straights there were some who battled on twisty roads as well. Like on the legendary Hakone Turnpike. 13.9 kilometers long twisty mountain road section which started 100m from sea level and ends over 1km above. It was raced uphill because that was easier on the brakes and a bit less dangerous, it had slow speed corners as well as high speed sections. The most notorious racer on that road was Kometani from Mid Night Racing Team. With the official fastest time of 5.55 and average speed of almost 141km/h.
Racing there was different, you had to be more skilled at car handling, because at some corners the car would be just 5cm from the guardrail. Before races Kometani would drive up the track and clean the corners himself with a broom to ensure that the car wouldn’t lose grip while cornering because crashing there could easily be fatal. Eventually Hakone battles became so popular that people would gather around at night to look at the spectacle but racers didn’t really enjoy that because it made it more dangerous, quite often they faked that they are going away and then come back in 2 hours when the spectators were gone to race, that way it was safer. Kometani raced with a 930 turbo, which wasn’t heavily tuned because in the corners too much power can be a disadvantage. He had around 260HP.
Funt fact: Kometani was very fond of this Porsche and even named his kids Carrera and Tabo (Turbo)
“What is needed is not horsepower, but the ability to accelerate in the corner.”- Kometani
Cars of Mid Night RACING TEAM
In the very early days there were some American brands represented in the club like Pontiac and Chevrolet which was logical since some of the members came from ACC. But as smaller, turbocharged engines became popular that also affected what cars were driven. In the mid 80s most of the cars were either Porsches or Z cars and some RX-7s but thrown into the mix there have been brands like Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, Lamborghini, Honda and Toyota.
One of the more popular models in the 90s was the Nissan GT-R. When R32 was released it proved to be quite easily modifiable platform that achieved great results and soon a lot of the cars in Mid Night were GT-Rs and friendly rivalry between the Turbo Porsche and GT-R Nissans began. Also notable is the fact that the current chairman of Mid Night Racing Team is Chief Product Specialist at Nissan – Hiroshi Tamura.
The original chairman and founder of the Mid Night Racing Team – Eichii Yoshida is not running the team anymore. The new chairman is Hiroshi Tamura. The club is still strong with around 30 people in it and actively taking part of different car events. Nowadays though they are not street racing anymore. Obviously now they are a lot older than at the start of the club and have families and careers and need to be more responsible. You can still spot some Mid Night cars on the tracks though going faster than ever amd they drive cars like the Nissan GT-R, Ferrari 458, Lambroghini Countach or Porsche GT3RS.
For everyone who wants to research the Mid Night themselves then there are Japanese magazines that have covered the team. Like AutoWorks and Option, some of the pictures in this article were also from these magazines and the scans were by Automodejapan. They have detailed pictures of the cars, which speeds they were doing and what kind of tune they had. For picture content there’s #midnightracingteam in instagram, original members use that hashtag to post about their cars. For other similar stories check out Auto Team Retro on facebook. And also don’t forget to check out Mid Night Racing Team’s official website: www.www.midnightracingteam.jp/.
Sources about Mid Night Racing Team: Carboy (1984), Option (1989),Auto Works (1994), Max Power (1996), Option (2009)