Ask any enthusiast to make their list of the top 10 terrors on the circuit, and it’s a safe bet that no position would be offered to a full-size pickup truck whose platform dates back to the early 1970s. fact, you’d be hard pressed to find cargo carriers on the starting grid, even for the most upset racing fans.
And yet, nestled deep in the clutches of Japan’s sometimes esoteric automotive culture, there is the exception: a thriving group of boxing fans routinely putting Dodge’s less sporty car to the test on tracks designed for accommodate vehicles that are half the size and one third of their weight. Nicknamed the ‘Dajiban’ in the local dialect, these vans are the ultimate in grassroots motorsport racing – and a clear middle finger for compliance, auto or otherwise.
The antithesis of motorsport
It is important to stress how the Dodge B-Series Van (later renamed Ram) is for racing, or rather for anything other than a heavy straight-line task under full load. Introduced in 1971, Dodge’s workhorse was built on something the company called an “uniframe,” which merged a sedan-like unibody platform with a pair of scale channels underneath borrowed from a traditional truck.
The final result ? An incredibly low load floor and a tensile strength comparable to overcooked pasta, the latter frequently tested by its high center of gravity. Combined with its professional engine series, the largely immutable B / Ram series would run for nearly four decades, quietly commuting through airports, gobbling up gear at job sites, and disappointing families in search of minivans. who accidentally came home with the wrong Dodge.
Van Culture Redux
Indeed, the introduction of the Dajiban to the racing scene in Japan had entirely utilitarian roots. While it may seem unusual for there to be enough Dodge cruising along the island nation’s highways to achieve the critical mass required for full movement, Japan has long been fascinated by pickup trucks. In particular, it has historically imported models like the Chevrolet Ram and Astro in surprisingly large numbers. Some of these carriers are diverted to the craze for the customization of vans which values the American metal, but others are praised for their size and the growl of the V8 by mechanics and traders looking for something different.
It was this latter demographic of free-spirited motorsport fans that gave birth to the Dajiban in the pit lane. Frequently used to transport motorcycles on the track, legend has it that a pilot dared to turn in a few laps in his van for a laugh at the end of a running session. The sight of this beluga out of the water making its way through switchbacks and baffles was so mesmerizing it didn’t take long an entire group of carrier cetaceans regularly tested the high-performance waters.
How to prepare a Dodge Van Race
Understandably, there was only one step between the van antics and the modifications needed to remove some of the most terrifying handling quirks from the Ram pickup. Almost all Dodge vans found in Japan have a short wheelbase, as this is the only way to get them through the still narrow streets of small towns around race tracks (let alone park them), but despite their proportions. More manageable, these Litter Dajiban vans need all the help they can get to stay brilliant.
This is especially true if they plan to compete in the D-Van Grand Prix Race Series, which has been running intermittently for several years now. Hosted by Takuro Abe, it takes place on the Ebisu circuit, and it is here that the intricacies of Dajiban tuning are fully on display. Despite their stripped-down interiors, weight remains a major issue for the Ram, which means upgraded drivetrains (with additional cooling), bigger brakes, and coil-spring suspensions work hard to keep the rubber on the road. Some of these vans even feature carbon fiber hoods, all in an effort to reduce the bulk of their snub nose setups as much as possible.
Most Dajiban are fitted with 5.2-liter V8 engines which have been warmed up by vendors such as Abe himself (who runs a van oriented garage called Abe Chuko Kamotsu) and the late Dodgevanracing.com, which was run by Takahiro Okawa. Originally rated at 230 horsepower, with the right massage it is possible to overtake 300 ponies on the pump gas, increasing forward thrust while dramatically increasing the stress on the poor van’s caps. Mid-stroke adjustments are made all the easier by the fact that the Ram’s V8 is mounted almost entirely inside the cabin between the two front seats.
Missing the point is the point
How do they behave in the heat of competition? Despite the best efforts of their owners, the general consensus is that the Dajiban is an objectively terrible performing machine. That’s not to say they’re not fun, however; once the fear is dispelled, the thought of watching a pack of happy adrift hulks clash within the narrow confines of Ebisu also seems fun to watch. how it is to experience behind the wheel.
More importantly, the Dajibans are not meant to compete with their sports car rivals in terms of speed or handling, and any attempt to judge these machines from that point of view largely misses their existence. In a country where individual expression is often discouraged in favor of homogeneous cultural order and conservation Washington on the streets that have more kei pocket cars than crossovers, racing a thunderous American minivan is like spitting out your HOA by painting your front door purple and then setting your house on fire.
If the method of self-expression is imported, the real passion of the Dajiban crowd could not be more local. By focusing their attention on an unloved American offspring (and giving us a cute tribute to Hot Wheels in the process), the owners let their deconstructed monster flag fly in a completely original way, unique on any American circuit. Don’t confuse the medium with the message – remember, this is the same country that gave us the exaggerated styles of Bosozoku as good as Lamborghini is completely covered in flashing LED lights. If the cult of the cargo ship Ram van didn’t exist, these Japanese mavericks would be doing something else just as outrageous and caring just as little about what their neighbors think about it.
The Ebisu circuit was recently damaged by an earthquake that had a serious impact on the community and the facility, with a major landslide taking the track out of service. Donations to help rebuild the road route and implement disaster prevention measures can be done on the following link.
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