SBRS: Racing as a second language for Tojima

Seiji Tojima must really want to be a racecar driver. Who else would move to a foreign country, learn the native language and culture and still find time to develop race craft and skills? While other drivers commute, Tojima decided to adopt the ...

Seiji Tojima must really want to be a racecar driver. Who else would move to a foreign country, learn the native language and culture and still find time to develop race craft and skills? While other drivers commute, Tojima decided to adopt the United States as his home base from which to pursue his dream of racing.

In August 1998, Tojima moved to Los Angeles, California. There was one major problem. He didn't speak English, "Thank you" and "Hello" notwithstanding.

"I couldn't even order a hamburger at Carl's Jr.!" said the motivated Japanese racer. "Despite my inadequate English, I was more determined than ever to do what I had come to America to do -- race."

Tojima raced as soon as he arrived in the States, and like most beginners, his results were unimpressive, discouraging to say the least. Initially, his inability to speak English prevented him from lining up on the grid. He was removed from competition because he could not communicate with Skip Barber Instructors and Coaches, unable to understand critical race information or commands.

"Although I felt very disappointed, I began to experience the kindness and understanding of the American people. My newfound friends were able to cheer me up. I resolved to improve my English so that I could continue racing. I was more determined than ever to learn English."

In February 1999, through the use of an interpreter secured by the Skip Barber organization, Tojima was able to race at Fontana. And while his results were still short of expectations, he was pleased to have overcome the barriers that he did.

"The next season I went to Laguna Seca, but not to race. I went to hone my English. I attended every race just to communicate with instructors. My language skills were improving but I had a number of other setbacks including the loss of my car. I was a bit down, but Ryan Howe's father and Tommy Fogarty helped me out. Patrick Long gave me a ride every day and Corey Bonagofski gave me a lift back to L.A.in his car. By the end of the season, I had improved my English skills enough to communicate without an interpreter. I had also made many new friends."

2000 was a turning point for the young racer. He participated in the entire Western Regional Series. It had taken him almost three years to get to the point where he could contest the championship. It had been a difficult period, but one he feels was ultimately worth it. He continues to rely on the support of Skip Barber coaches and friends for encouragement.

"They were all there to congratulate me on one of my podium finishes. [For the record, Tojima finished third, behind some formidable competition in current Formula Dodge National Championship racers Tophie Stewart and Leonardo Maia.] I still have a way to go but through hard work and perseverance, I know that anything is possible. I feel like I'm closer to my goal of being a Champ Car driver."

-Barber

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