Nismo Festival 2016 at Fuji Speedway

Gathering of the Faithful

If you actually think about it, Nissan and NISMO form what is practically a separate faith in Japan.

Their leader is Carlos Ghosn, the charismatic executive that led Nissan from problems to profitability. Their ministers are the engineers, team principals, and the racing drivers that led Nissan to many victories in the JGTC, Super GT, and many more racing events the world over. They have idols known as Silvia, Z, and GT-R, and they have a congregation built on the loyal following of true believers numbering in the tens of thousands, perhaps even more.

Once a year, however, Nissan and NISMO hold a gathering of their faithful and it takes place under the watchful guard of Mount Fuji in Japan. They call it the NISMO Festival, and there is no automotive gathering quite like it in the world.

Nissan is an automaker that has extremely deep roots in -and a hardcore passion for- motorsport, and the NISMO Festival is the proof of that; NISMO actually means Nissan Motorsport. The Fuji Speedway is the venue, and what a place it is to race, especially with the iconic volcano in the background.

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 are very long, and is a sight to see especially with so many Jukes, Sunnys, GT-Rs, Silvias, Z cars and more; a homecoming of sorts for Nissan.

There are actually three main areas: the paddock event area, the grandstand event area, and the circuit itself. At the grandstand and the grounds behind it are some booths, but what catches the eye are the displays of Skyline GT-R's cars from Nissan's factory. By my assessment, they look like they just rolled off the line today, despite being about 20 years old.

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 70's and 80's. 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 die-cast models of all of Nissan's cars as well as all of the Super GT racecars. 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.

Here, you can may many of Nissan's official heroes like racecar driver Kazuyoshi Hoshino, the founder and team principal of Impul, the racing team that ran -and still runs- the Calsonic Impul GT-R. For JDM fans, you many know the classic Calsonic Skyline R32 GT-R. There are also the unofficial street heroes of Nissan like Kazuhiko “Smoky” Nagata, the (in)famous driver and owner of Top Secret that was known for illegally setting a record of 197 mph (317 km/h) on wet UK roads.

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 racecars of the past. The scene stealer, however, has to be the Hasemi Super Silhouette Skyline; an aggressively-kitted racecar that represented 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, they run them at the Fuji Speedway. And they run them in anger. Visitors can even buy a ticket for a Circuit Safari when the racecars are out on track; much like an African Safari, the wild beasts of Nissan run around you on the circuit.

Towards lunchtime and the afternoon, Nissan runs 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 racecars 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, an event unlike any other and something that should be on any car enthusiast's -and Nissan enthusiast's- bucket list.