The Import scene, or the import racing scene involves import drag car racing, which became popularized in the U.S. after "hot rod" racing was introduced in the 1950s and 1960s. It is thought that import drag racing first started in the mid-1960s in Southern California with Volkswagen Beetles, and continued to gain popularity through the 80s and 90s with Japanese import brand cars, such as the Honda. In particular, young Asian American street racers in the California area had a great influence on its early development. With its rising popularity, street racing with modified Japanese vehicles became a great attraction to many Asian Americans, following the trend in Japan.
Different Accounts of its History
James Romero, in the Los Angeles Times, notes that young Latino males started to modify Japanese cars in the early 1970s, which was a revolutionary departure from the "utilitarian" funciton of such imports at the time. He also claims that it was not until the 90's that he saw Asian American males modifying their cars for racing and "low riding."
Contrary to Romero's account, Ken Miyoshi, one of the founders of the import scene phenomenon as well as the first car show "Import Showoff", claims that it was actually third-generation Japanese Americans (sanseis) in the Los Angeles area that started fixing old hand-me-down Japanese cars (I'm inclined to agree with Miyoshi on this; perhaps it's my Asian American pride kicking in, or just that it makes logical sense for a fad in Japan to land in the U.S. through Japanese Americans). According to Miyoshi, in the 1980s, groups called 'Shoreline' and 'Paradise' comprised of Japanese American males from Gardenia started to modify their Toyota Corollas, hence the name, "Paradise Cruisers." This practice of "souping up" their cars was largely influenced by what was happening in Japan, and many parts were imported from Japan to mimic the work of the mainland. The popularity of import cars, or imports, took off when the first modified Import car was featured in a popular car magazine, Sport Compact Car.
So is it Intrinsically 'Asian American'?
A scene from an import show, typically with a dance floor
There is still a question of the true origin of the import scene, and if you ask any Asian American they will say, of course, that its roots are indeed Asian American. True, modifying and racing cars has long been an American tradition in 'hot rod' racing but Asian Americans lay claim to the creation of the import scene subculture of reworking Japanese cars (which are, after all, Asian) and bringing their own flavor to the racing scene that is still big in Japan. Regardless of technicalities and anecdotal discrepancies, the Import Scene exploded in the Asian American community in the mid-1990s. In fact, market research reveals that during this period, 90% of the import scene market was consumed by Asian American males.
Founder of the original import car show, "Import Show Off." Miyoshi started off in the early 1990's as a DJ and a promoter at Asian American clubs in the Los Angeles area. He saw that the only space for young Asian Americans to showcase their "souped up" imports were in parking lots, and noticed that this "youth did not have a good atmosphere." He wanted to create a space where they could gather and "put music and imports together."
Founder of the first import drag racing event, "Battle of the Imports" in July 1990. This was a legal import drag racing event that departed from the dominance of Caucasians in drag racing. Many import drag racers had difficulties as street racing was both illegal and dangerous, and they were not allowed to participate in sanctioned drag racing events. Choi, a Koren American, was frustrated by the discrimination he faced when trying to race his import in local drag racing tracks. He recalls the drag racing scene to have been of mixed ethnicities, namely Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, and Caucasions until 1994, when there was a "tremendous rise in Asian American participants." Today, the "Battle of the Imports" is the largest drag racing competition in the country, and it led to the creation of the International Drag Racing Association (IDRA).