Seven Year Itch: Attending R's Day 2023 at Streets of Willow Springs, Part 1


Long-time readers may remember me posting about the very first R's Day back in November 2016. If you don't remember or weren't reading this blog back then – either of which is highly likely since that was a whole 7 years, one global pandemic, and one less GT-R in my possession ago – let me recap a bit. R's Day is a Skyline and GT-R-focused combination car meet and trackday event that's inspired by the famous R's Meeting in Japan. That Japanese event is a massive gathering of the country's loyal fanbase for Nissan's most legendary performance car and is organized by the aptly-named GT-R Magazine. It's held at Fuji Speedway every year, rain or shine, with massive attendance and plenty of vendors hawking their wares. American Skyline enthusiast Jack Yi wanted something similar here on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, so he came up with R's Day and the very first event was held at world-famous Laguna Seca Raceway on the Saturday after Thanksgiving back in 2016.

As luck would have it I was free that weekend and having always wanted to sample the daunting Corkscrew at Laguna Seca IRL instead of just with a Playstation controller in hand I immediately made plans for a quick R35-enabled trip to the Monterey peninsula.

I said “quick” but that's a relative term since getting to Monterey was a long 600 mile drive each way - in the end though, the event was well worth the effort. There were plenty of cool cars to see, lots of awesome Skyline and GT-R owners to mingle with, some great giveaways, and one amazing track that more than lived up to its fame.

I enjoyed that first R's Day so much that I was hoping to attend it again in the future but for various reasons that never happened – until this past November at least.

While the first event was held at Laguna Seca on the weekend after Thanksgiving, later versions would move to other venues and dates, most of the time not working for my busy schedule. While idly killing some time online in early November of last year I happened to find out the 2023 edition was back to the Saturday after Thanksgiving. With no work or other major plans scheduled that weekend the stars happened to align and last-minute plans were quickly laid.

Spoiler alert: Yes, it was a blast like the first event, so if you just wanted to know if it was worth going to you can stop reading now and go bookmark their home page for info on next year's event so you can attend:

No, wait! I'm kidding! Not about the event being fun, but about you not reading anymore. Please do read on. Us bloggers need our clicks after all. How else could I get ChatGPT to do a better job of replacing the trained monkeys I've been using all this time to make these posts?

Before we get to the event itself let me digress for a bit and talk about my choice of ride for this time around. Back in 2016 I took my R35 GT-R because a) it was modern, comfy, and had 800ish hp, and b) my only other GT-R at the time was my Nismo R32 which was kind of in a million pieces still. I made the presumably safe assumption that having a running car would probably help if I was going to do a trackday. This time in 2023 I still had the R35 but now my R32 was back together and my lovely purple R34 had joined the stable too in the interim. Having taken the R35 to that first R's Day I wanted to take something else this time and I was definitely in favor of the R34. Unfortunately the R32 would have to take a pass again since I had recently found out it needed new front CV boots so it wasn't up to a 600 mile drive with a racetrack outing in the middle. My friends and the logical, risk-averse part of me were wary of endangering my rare and well-preserved purple pride and joy at the track but finally I made up my mind after asking myself “What's the point of owning a GT-R if you don't drive it how it should?” And with that I prayed I hadn't thrown up any death flags or anything.

Come Black Friday I loaded up my gear into the R34 and while most everyone else was busy beating each other senseless for the last 50-inch Hisense at their local Wally World I pounded out the 300 miles through Southern California to the city of Lancaster – a place I'd never heard of before but is apparently famous for having a “musical road” that's great at annoying nearby residents.

I'll say this about the drive up to Lancaster, if you've ever wondered if it's fun to road trip an R34 GT-R, yes it is, except for the inevitable distractions from other drivers and from bystanders that range from pleasant to “Seriously dude, 2 Fast 2 Furious was NOT a documentary”. Oh, and note that R34s don't have cruise control so that's a bit of a drag on long highway slogs. Just a bit – in the end, you're still driving an R34 *wink *

I was a bit disappointed that I didn't arrive to see gaggles of Nissan's finest cars cruising the streets of Lancaster the day before the event but the Fairfield Inn parking lot did have a single silver R35 parked in front to let me know my people were in town. After dinner and a dip in the indoor pool it was an early lights out because I'd signed up for the trackday and that meant heading out before the sun was even up the next day.

I was familiar with Willow Springs from being a motorsports fan and playing racing games but I'd never been there before myself so I hadn't realized how confusing it can be for the newbie. With seven separate areas for various forms of racing it's easy to get turned around in the compound. I personally took a left turn at Albuquerque as Bugs Bunny would say and nearly ended up at “The Big Track” before backtracking and sheepishly following another car to the correct pitlane at Streets of Willow.

Over there a bunch of other cars were already setting up. I was quickly directed to a section where the Skylines and GT-Rs were being gathered separate from other Nissan models in attendance. There were basically three types of attendees at R's Day: ones who'd signed up to drive the full trackday, others who just wanted to do a leisurely parade lap (y'know for the old 'Gram and stuff), and still more people who just wanted to soak up the Nissan goodness and spectate.

I, maybe for lack of better judgment, had signed up in that first full trackday group. For safety's sake though – my R34's more than mine - I'd opted to join the beginner group rather than the faster intermediate or advanced classes. It seemed prudent too since despite doing more trackdays than I can remember my last one was years ago. Unlike the first R's Day back in 2016 where all the Skyline/GT-R drivers were all in one run group together, now the trackday portion was organized similar to a sanctioned event (like at a NASA or SCCA session) with groups based on skill level and a separate one for competitors in the time attack-style Nissan Challenge.

Goodies for trackday participants were handed out at the registration table and consisted of a swag bag from Tomei, a t-shirt from Tomei, and a set of race numbers to stick on either side of your car that proudly said “R's Day 2023”...and also Tomei.

Another perk if you signed up early was a second R's Day driver specific shirt. I didn't get one when I first went to pick up my swag bag but the nice staffer at the table told me to come back after registration was over to see if they had one to spare. I didn't forget and lucky enough they did have an extra one in my size left over! Best of all, this year's was a really snazzy number with an elegantly simple logo design on the front consisting of a taillight from each GT-R generation. Kewl.

After reg it was time to get set up so I busied myself unloading gear and prepping the car and my cameras, chatting with my neighbors and passersby in between. Around 7:30 am a
n obligatory driver's meeting  was called and then it was time for the festivities to properly commence with the advanced drivers going out first.

While waiting our turn to go on track there was plenty of stuff to check out starting with the huge variety of cars that had shown up. All seven generations of GT-R were represented in some form, from replicas of the early S20-powered R's to, of course, the latest R35. Here's a few that caught my eye:

Starting with the first generation of Skyline to sport the GT-R name, there was this gorgeous Hakosuka 2000GT-X, of course modified like many are to look like a GT-R. The owner mentioned he was looking for a buyer for the car and honestly if I had the garage space - and $80K burning a hole in my pocket - I probably would have taken him up on the offer. No, it's not a GT-R but those make even R34's seem cheap nowadays. Besides, a GT-X would be a better car to actually drive since it's not as expensive and a knowledgeable person once told me the regular L20 motor in the X is easier to drive and maintain than the more high strung S20. One day, I hope I'll get to see if that's true firsthand!

This other lovely example of the Hako was there too and it got bestowed the coveted "23" race number that Nissan uses on all its factory racers. There were a lot of great cars at R's Day that could have worn that number with pride but I don't think too many would have begrudged this fine classic Skyline that honor!

Hakos, especially clean ones, are a rare sight but even more of a unicorn is the succeeding Kenmeri generation of Skyline so it was great to see at least one of them make it to the event. This one looked great with just the right amount of drop and some nice Watanabes filling the wheelwells.

Although the “in-between” generations of the Skyline that weren't graced by a GT-R version like the fabulously '80s R30 have seen greater love in the States as time has gone by – and as the prices of the more famous generations have become progressively unattainable – sadly none of them made it to the event. Now's a good time to emphasize though that despite the “R's Day” name implying the event is all about the GT-R, all versions of Skyline as well as other Nissans are welcome to join the fun.

Of course, cars motivated by the legendary RB26 were thick on the ground, as well as a few cars with more blasphemous powerplants hidden inside – more on that later, which will be in part 2 of this series. I'm going to stop for now since this is already a longish post but be sure to come back soon for more on the festivities and naturally, all the awesome cars that participated. Until then, always drive safe!