I am freezing.
Despite wearing double thermals, a decent jacket, a bonnet, a neck warmer, a pair of gloves, and a heating pad in each pocket, I'm still shivering as I walk around this racing circuit in the heart of Japan.
Regardless of the single-digit temperature, there is a unique warmth in the atmosphere here at the Fuji Speedway, one that cannot be replicated anywhere else. It's a festival of one automotive brand, an event where their faithful troop over to witness a unique showcase of performance, speed, and automotive enthusiasm.
This is the NISMO Festival, and this year, it's better than ever.
Nissan is an automaker that has extremely deep roots -and a hardcore passion- for motorsport, and the NISMO Festival is the proof of that; NISMO actually means Nissan Motorsport. Think of the NISMO Festival like Cebu's Sinulog, but in this case, Nissan is the religion.
The Fuji Speedway is the venue, and what a place it is to race, especially with the iconic volcano in the background. The circuit just celebrated its 50th anniversary, having hosted many races from touring cars, the Asian Le Mans Series (ALMS), the FIA World Endurance Championship, as well as several Formula One Grands Prix, including the rain-soaked inaugural Japanese GP that decided the championship in favor of James Hunt over Niki Lauda.
Looking at the site map and program, Nissan has all kinds of activities lined up for their most loyal fans; I say loyal because it's a serious commitment to go to Fuji Speedway in this weather, and the traffic and long lines just to enter the circuit are by no means light. In fact, as you arrive, the automotive queue at the ticket booths is very long and is a sight to see especially with so many Jukes, Sunnys, GT-Rs, Silvias, Z cars, and more. This is a homecoming of sorts for Nissan, which is why it's odd to see some wayward visitors such as Lancer Evolutions, Subarus, and even Porsches, Lamborghinis, and Ferraris at the parking lot.
Behind the main grandstand are booths and displays of some Skyline GT-Rs from the Omori factory. They really look like they were stored in a time capsule all these years, appearing as brand new as the day they rolled off the factory assembly line. Pristine paint, ultra-clean engines, and extremely fresh interiors are the norm for the cars on this side of the main straight, and it's a real feast on the eyes.
Over at the paddock event area are the tents for cars that have seen far more decades and far more racing mileage on the odometer. It's actually the pit area for the Nissan classic car race, a series that features many cars that belong in a museum already, but they're still raced like they were back in their heyday in the '70s and '80s. And boy, do they look awesome with their small period-correct wheels (i.e. Enkei MoSport), wide bodywork (no Liberty Walk or Rocket Bunny here), and four-cylinder racing engines with either twin Weber or Mikuni side-draft carburetors. This is an old-schooler's dream.
Just beside the historic race pit area behind the paddock is where car guys go to spend money, as it's a veritable shopping festival/flea market with all kinds of parts (new and used), accessories, memorabilia, apparel, and so much more.
If you're not careful, you could end up clearing out your bank account (most of them only take cash) especially if you're in the market for diecast models of all of Nissan's cars as well as all of the Super GT race cars.
Tuners and parts makers such as Top Secret, Fujitsubo, Bride, Volk Racing, Uras, and many more are here, along with the factory racing teams and their sponsors such as Impul, Motul Autech, Nismo, and more. Personally I was drawn to the bright blue of Kazuyoshi Hoshino's Calsonic Impul Racing and wanted to grab a jacket, but it seems many out there had the same idea and they were all sold out of the bigger sizes.
But the main attraction is the gathering of many of Nissan's historic cars at the main paddock building, all of them brought over from their private museum at Zama. Think of cars like their legendary Le Mans racers, their competition models for the IMSA Sportscar Championship, and even Can-Am, as well as the many JGTC and Super GT race cars of the past. The scene-stealer, however, has to be the Hasemi Super Silhouette Skyline; an aggressively-kitted racecar that spoke very evocatively of the 1980's racing scene.
Many carmakers won't even bring out their historic cars from the safety and security of their climate-controlled museums, but Nissan not only brings them out, but they also run them at the Fuji Speedway. And that's the real highlight of the event.
For the whole day, the Fuji Speedway's main circuit will see one run after another, most of them are track days and fun runs for the car clubs of Nissan. Towards lunchtime and the afternoon, they will run several exhibition events such as the classic car races, the historic car run, as well as the Nismo GP or grand prix featuring their current race cars from all over the world. The Nismo GP includes cars from the Super GT (GT500 and GT300 cars) as well as the cars from the Blancpain Endurance Series. Hearing them run on the track and filling the hills with their exhaust-driven music is a treat for any car enthusiast.
Of course, these runs are all done in good -loud- fun, but that's the main atmosphere of the Nismo Festival. This whole exercise is one brand's exhibition of pure automotive enthusiasm and fun for the whole family.
If you have a passion for cars -especially for Nissan- then the annual Nismo Festival at Fuji Speedway should definitely be on your bucket list. Just don't forget to bring a very warm jacket.