Off Road: Meet Suzuki Driver "Monster" Tajima
16 July 1999by David Treffer
Tajima is a professional, but not in the sport of football or rugby. Instead, he is one of the best drivers in the world in the sport of rally and hill-climb. You know.... hillclimb.... where racers find enjoyment in racing up the side of a mountain at speeds approaching 120mph while negotiating turns that aren't suitable for a donkey. Driving on the fine edge of perfection in hillclimb can be akin to dancing on the edge of a razor blade. Make a mistake and its a long, long way to the bottom of the mountain. Ernest Hemingway never wrote a book about the Pikes Peak Hill Climb but there is a related quote attributed to him. Asked about the definition of sports, Hemingway replied "Bull Fighting, Mountain Climbing and Auto Racing are the only true sports, all the rest are just games." In hill climb you get both mountain climbing and auto racing.
I was able to meet "Monster" Tajima during the 77th Annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Tajma hails from Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan. The fourty-nine year-old driver seemingly has been driving all his life. In reality, Tajima began driving at the age of eighteen in local Japanese dirt trials and rallies. Over the years, Tajimas reputation of agressive, but stylistic racing, became legandary in Japan. Put that together with his stature of six feet tall and you understand where the nickname "monster" came from.
I found Tajimas personality was like many drivers'. He was placid, easy-going and approachable outside of the cockpit. But when it came time to get ready to race a transition took place. Controlled agressiveness. To be a winner in motorsports you must have ultimate confidence in your skills, superior concentration and an internal drive to be the best. Tajima has all three. In the confines of his racecar, Tajima was making the transition to become "Monster" Tajima.
Tajima represents the Suzuki Motor Corporation in the world-wide hill climb competitions. This year he is driving the Suzuki V6 Grand Vitara. Tajimas association with Suzuki has been on-going since 1986 when he established the Suzuki Sports Company. Developing a business side of motorsports is by no means new. The difference is that Tajima approached it on a global basis. Suzuki, founded in 1920, is a global player. Their presence in the United States is only 14 years old. The market penetration for their automotive division is one half of one percent. It would be fair to characterize their market share as still in its infancy. Outside of the US, the Suzuki name is recognized for excellence in engineering. Tajima, being a global businessman, has applied his name and skills successfully. In Japan, he is a national hero.
The Pikes Peak Hill Climb begins at an elevation of 9,390 feet and finishes at 14,110 feet. Along the way the course has 156 left and right hand turns. I asked Tajima about the ability to remember the course. With a sly grin on his face, he pointed to his head and replied, "You see I have 64K of memory, standard equipment on Tajima." Not only a great driver but a very dry sense of humor to boot.
At this years Pikes Peak Hill Climb, a Japanese Television crew practically followed his every movement before, during and after the event. Tajima, ended the week-end by finishing second to his rival Rod Millen. Tajima, who had expressed his desire to break the 10 minute mark, hit a small boulder about half-way up the mountain. The resulting damage ruined the aerodynamics on his racecar. Tajima, like Millen, also had to contend with wet and windy (35-40mph) conditions as he approached the summit. Tajima, completed the run in 10 minutes 37 seconds. Tajima, did not make any excuses about the miserable conditions or hitting the boulder. Instead, he offered that he would return in the year 2000.
So watch out for Tajima next year. Something tells me that he will expand his memory between now and then.