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Real Performance Mustangs Exclusive Interview with Tony Brakohiapa - Professional Mustang DrifterBy Scott Jensen / Real Performance Mustangs

"Never give up! Never stop believing in yourself even if people tell you different. Ask a lot of questions. Take notes! Learn from and get to know the guys and girls, who are winning, getting new sponsors, etc.  Drive or race as many different cars as possible. A great driver should have the ability to drive anything, anytime, anywhere! Never forget or disrespect the fans! Without them we wouldn't be here!...or have TV coverage! Don't forget to mention those who have helped you every chance you get...especially during interviews! Getting sponsors is one thing, but keeping them is the key! Always keep them happy and "in-the-loop". Oh....and HAVE FUN!!!  If you're not having fun...don't do it!  Life is toooo short!" - Tony Brakohiapa

Coming off his best season in 2009 as the highest placing privateer, Tony Brakohiapa returns to Formula DRIFT with new partner, Top Cover Racing - Sporting a modified, supercharged Ford Mustang, featuring special Tuskegee Airmen "Red Tail" livery to commemorate the P-51 Mustang fighter planes they flew in World War II.

Top Cover Racing (TCR) was launched in 2005 with the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen as its operational compass. The Tuskegee Airmen are the intrepid group of African-American U.S. Army Air Corps pilots and support personnel who distinguished themselves in World War II. Taking the name of the segregated base in Tuskegee, Alabama, where they trained, they were also known as the "Red Tails" for the distinctive paint scheme of their fighter aircraft. Compiling an exemplary record, they supported ground troops and escorted allied bombers and providing "top cover" on missions over North Africa and Europe. TCR includes direct descendents of the Airmen and the bomber crews they protected, with a number of original Tuskegee Airmen participating as mentors and advisors.

"I'm honored to be TCR's driver and their link to the Formula DRIFT audience. TCR has a diverse motorsports background and brings a wealth of knowledge to this year's campaign," said Tony Brakohiapa, Formula DRIFT professional driver. "The Tuskegee Airmen have determination, experience, and wisdom that we can all learn from. They have an amazing story that needs to be told. I look forward to being their "Red Tail" ambassador in motorsports, and bringing home victories in their honor."

RPM: It looks like your resume spans over 8 years, so what made you decide to start making pavement art with your tires and a 3,000 lb paint brush?

TONY: First of all, I want to thank you and everyone at RPM for this interview! I always look forward to reaching out to the Mustang community!

Well, I had been racing open wheel formula mazda's at the time.  I was also making contacts in the American Le Mans Series about doing some sports car racing. Some of those people I was talking with in the ALMS had mentioned drifting and how it was one of the newest, hottest motorsports coming up.   The intention was to go sportscar racing and drifting at the same time.  I did some testing with a team, but the ALMS gig fell off, mostly due to funding, but the drifting side of things took off.  The people I was working with knew Steve Saleen.  Steve liked what drifting was all about because of the street car nature of the sport.  Team X was formed and Steve built us a "factory-built" race car with a bit of factory support to go with it!

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RPM: So we already have touched on your 8 year racing career, what are some of the highlights in your eyes?

TONY: Well just some of the highlights were victories in open wheel and kart racing. Endurance racing has been great driving in the famously grueling 25 hours at Thunderhill.  Achieving the factory support from Saleen for the drifting championship.  Fighting inside the Top 10 and becoming the top privateer in the '09 Formula D Championship was great beating those factory supported drivers and teams on a shoe string budget!  Being a lead instructor for the Audi Sportscar Experience and Jim Russell Racing School has been great as it keeps my road racing skills sharp! I have also been fortunate to become a stunt driver for motion pictures and commercials believe it or not!

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RPM: So this is the question you were waiting for, are you ready? Ok so what are your personal favorite race tracks?

TONY: Road Race Track  - The track formely known as Sears Point Raceway ( Infineon)  Drifting  -  New Jersey also known as " Wall Stadium ". Tracks I'd like to race in the future...Spa in Belgium, The Nurburgring in Germany and Bathhurst in Australia!

RPM: What car did you drive as a stunt driver in the movie Fast & Furious Tokyo Drift?

TONY: Driving Bow Wow's Hulk themed Scion and the Volkswagen R32 was an awesome experience.  We had multiple copies of the same car just in case the scenes didn't quite go as planned...if you know what I mean!!

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RPM: Explain your nickname "El Presidente" which for those who don't speak spanish means " The President "

TONY: On the drift circuit in Mexico they thought I looked like President Obama,  and called me "El Presidente".  So my fellow drivers picked it up and started calling me
the same thing!  A good or bad thing depending on the current economic climate!

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RPM: Ok let us now talk about your loyal steed, your Mustang! How has it evolved over the years into the bionic pony it is today?

TONY: It started as a Team X Saleen S281 s/c car for 2 years. The car never really had the proper suspension or power, so we put in new coilovers, added some steering angle (50+ degrees) and added boost to the supercharger.  Man...that made a big difference! Foose rebodied it in partnership with Unique Performance/Foose. This is when Livernois Motorsports jumped in. We were able to get the engine upgrade on top of everything else to really wake up the 'Stang! Now it has a GT500 body done for Top Cover with the P-51 "Red Tail" Tuskegee Airmen Theme. Thanks to Enkei wheels, Exedy, Seibon, Cooper Tire, Eibach, etc the car dropped another 300+lbs and became a definite threat!  The current body style is my favorite, with the Saleen look second and Foose third. All look great, but somethin' about that GT500 kit makes it look more intimidating!

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RPM: You may not know this but we have an incredible fondness for Livernois Motorsports. What kind of monster engine did they build for you and how much horsepower does it put down?

TONY: It is a  Livernois Motorsports aluminum Stage 3 298 stroker with a Saleen supercharger at 15lbs of boost. It has billet 10% overdrive crank pulley by Innovators West. We also converted all pullies from 6-rib to billet 8-rib.  It has now evolved into a 550 rwhp ( ~ 630 flywheel hp) drifting beast that only weighs 3100 lbs.

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RPM: With your experience with driving exotics and high end makes like Ferrari, Maserati,  and Audi just to name a few. We are curious how does the Mustang
stack up against those amazing vehicles?

TONY: For drifting very well! The Mustang has a great chassis, amazing balance, and they have been proven in competition even on the world stage! The new 2011 GT is a sweet ride! The new 5.0 is a monster! The engine Ford should have made in the first place, but better late then never! The new Mustang is on par and in fact better then many of it's competitors domestic and foreign! For the money...no contest!

RPM: So if you had a crystal ball and you were to predict what was next or what you would like to do next what would it be?

TONY: Road Racing! I'm always keeping my eye out for the next gig.  24hrs of Le Man is the ultimate goal! I would also love to do Pikes Peak someday! They have a 2wd time attack class that my mustang would be perfect for! ( It may be all paved by then but hey its still Pikes Peak right? RPM )

RPM: One of the RPM founders is African- American and he has asked me if you had any advice for minority drivers looking to drive on a competition level?

TONY: Never give up! Never stop believing in yourself even if people tell you different. Ask a lot of questions. Take notes! Learn from and get to know the guys and girls, who are winning, getting new sponsors, etc.  Drive or race as many different cars as possible. A great driver should have the ability to drive anything, anytime, anywhere! Never forget or disrespect the fans! Without them we wouldn't be here!...or have TV coverage! Don't forget to mention those who have helped you every chance you get...especially during interviews! Getting sponsors is one thing, but keeping them is the key! Always keep them happy and "in-the-loop". Oh....and HAVE FUN!!!  If you're not having fun...don't do it!  Life is toooo short!

RPM: From Elias Bowie the first African-American Nascar driver to Charlie Scott who raced in Nascar for 13 years. To Bill Lester who raced in Nascar for many years and currently races Daytona Prototypes, and Lewis Hamilton in Formula 1. Also the Tuskegee Airmen that are represented by your team and in your cars livery. Do you feel honored by the pioneers who went before you and those minorities that are sure to follow your lead? How does it feel to be competing at the top level?

TONY: It feels amazing! In the end, for me, it's when you are head to head fighting against the best drivers, beating them, getting podiums and winning...that you know you are meant to be where you are!  I won't sugar coat it!...It's a huge emotional roller coaster. It will test you in ways you wouldn't imagine, but when you get that first victory...it's the best feeling!  I'm honored and humbled to be a racing driver in todays time.  God knows it's been more difficult for women and all different minorities in the past.  It shouldn't matter who you are or what you look like, but about your pure driving ability, talent, and experience that gets you the respect from your fellow competitors!

On another note...

I want to thank my team, sponsors, and friends and family for supporting me this season.  I would not be here, nor achieved my success thus far without them!  Glazier Ironworks, Barn Style Performance, Sam's Autobody, Toi Boy Productions, Tommy Pike Customs, Seibon, Exedy, Enkei, Eibach, Cooper Tires, Go Pro Camera, Sparco, Drift Emporium
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The RPM Team counts Tony as a friend and one of our own here. We encourage ALL of you to follow him as he continues his 2010 Formula DRIFT season, and into his other ventures. We wish him all the best and asked Tony if there is anything our great group here at RPM can do for him. Tony is regular guy with a regular budget, just like all of us. - Which means when things go wrong or need replacing, it's just as painful for him as it is for us all. Tony mentioned he is currently in need of a good wiring harness solution, and also a upgraded power adder. His currently Saleen SC is getting tired and pushed to it's limits, Tony could definitely use something along the likes of a KB Mammoth or even some turbos perhaps. If you have a relationship or own a company that could help him procure any of these for his efforts, it would be GREATLY appreciated !!! - The RPM Team