“Cars of Japan” get the much-deserved spotlight at The Mitty

Photography by J.A. Ackley

Are Japanese imports the Rodney Dangerfield of historic racing? Some might say so, although, they’re arguably prettier than the famed comedian.

The red-headed stepchild,” Datsun 240Z driver Greg Ira says of how some view Japanese imports. “They take a backseat in general. But if you notice, whenever the featured marque is Nissan or cars of Japan, you get a huge turnout.”

Greg Ira.

Case-in-point: The Mitty, sanctioned by Historic Sportscar Racing, at Road Atlanta. This year’s featured marque, Cars of Japan, drew 40 cars to the event.

The Mazda Heritage Collection brought its 767B prototype and the RX-7 IMSA GTO.

While those certainly garnered an incredible amount of attention, the 1983 Mazda GLC of Geoff Koteles got its fair share of looks, too. Dive into the GLC’s history, and you realize the historic value of the “good little car.”

Geoff Koteles (right).

The chassis was fabricated by John Collins,” says Geoff. “He was the chief mechanic on the ’67 GT40 that won Le Mans with Gurney and Foyt driving. My dad was really good friends with Dan Gurney–they went to college together. [Dan Gurney’s] All American Racers designed the suspension geometry on this car.”

[A 1983 Mazda GLC Race Car From the Glory Days of IMSA]

Honda was also represented, with two Preludes owned by Don Ondrejack. The cars raced in the IMSA Firestone Firehawk Endurance Championship.

They were both championship-winning cars,” says Don. “They were given [by Honda to then team owner] Mark Hein to race in the series. They’re simple. They handle good. And they’re very reliable.”

One of two Honda Preludes owned by Don Ondrejack.

The majority of the Cars of Japan grid was made up of Datsuns and Nissans. Rob Davenport brought a Datsun B210 that exemplified why that is.

These Datsun B210s dominated C Sedan and SCCA racing from 1974 to 1979,” says Rob. “The B210 was one of the most successful cars in racing. My father, Dick Davenport … his first national championship was in 1971, in an Alfa Romeo GTA Junior. The Alfa became less competitive when the Datsun 1200 showed up and later the B210. He swapped the Alfa for the B210. In ’77, ’78, and ’79 he was the national champion. And this was the car.”

Rob Davenport (left).

If the 1970s seems like ancient history, let’s fast forward to the 2000 Nissan GT-R driven by Todd Treffert. It raced in what is now called the Super GT series, and is believed to be the only series car in the world owned privately that’s still running. While the GT-R lacks ABS or traction control, some might feel it’s still a tad too modern.

It depends on how old you are,” says Todd. “My dad looks at it and is like, ‘I don’t that thing,’ because it’s more modern than he is. He’s driving a 1960 Vette. As you get into the younger crowd, they appreciate it. The car was in the video game on PlayStation, Gran Turismo, so they recognize the car from the video game.”

The Nissan GT-R driven by Todd Treffert.

The crowd surrounding the Cars of Japan exhibition class on the grid did seem younger. That included the drivers, too, such as 17-year-old Eric Gregory who brought a 2004 Mazda Miata. His goal in participating was simply get more seat time. However, Eric got additional enjoyment by being surrounded by the other classic cars from Japan.

I love them,” says Eric. “All my friends love them. We have a good time with them. It’s fun to see them on track.”

Eric Gregory (right) with his 2004 Mazda Miata.

The love affair with cars starts young, and from the crowd that the Cars of Japan exhibition seemed to attract, it may have introduced many new fans to historic racing.

The crowd surrounding the Mazda RX-7 IMSA GTO in the paddock.

The Nissan 300ZX driven by Jesse Prather that's flat-towed to the grid by a Datsun pickup.

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crankwalk (Forum Supporter)
crankwalk (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
5/1/24 3:08 p.m.

I didn't see a booth this year. Were y'all undercover?

J.A. Ackley
J.A. Ackley Senior Editor
5/1/24 5:00 p.m.
crankwalk (Forum Supporter) said:

I didn't see a booth this year. Were y'all undercover?

Correct - we didn't have a booth, but we were roaming around the paddock. As always, if you do see any of us in Classic Motorsports garb, feel free to stop us and say hello. We enjoy interacting with our readers.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
5/2/24 10:22 a.m.

When we were involved with the Mitty back in the day, we highlighted Japanese cars, with a big focus on BRE. Fun event. 

crankwalk (Forum Supporter)
crankwalk (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
5/2/24 4:35 p.m.
David S. Wallens said:

When we were involved with the Mitty back in the day, we highlighted Japanese cars, with a big focus on BRE. Fun event. 

I remember since those were my Datsun days. Also the skid pad G contests on Sundays were fun. 

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