After a record 36 back-to-back runs in the Dakar Rally, Yoshimasa Sugawara has decided to hang up his racing hat for good. The Hokkaido native holds dual Guinness records for most consecutive starts, having participated in his first Dakar Rally in 1983, as well as most consecutive completions in a race where only one in five make it to the finish line, a 20-event streak from 1989-2009. In recent years, Sugawara has also been the oldest driver in the backbreaking race, and at 77 years old, it’s no wonder he’s retiring.
Sugawara began his racing career in 1965 campaigning a Honda S600 in the domestic Motorfan Combined Rally. Over the next couple of decades he would rack up 59 domestic races under his belt, but Sugawara’s true passion was rally raids, extreme long-distance enduros spanning several countries at a time.
His pre-Dakar career highlights include a 12,500-mile 1977 campaign in a Honda Accord from Karachi to Lisbon, and crossing the Sahara Desert from from Algeirs to Abidjan in a Suzuki Jimny 1000. Having read about what was then called the Paris-Dakar Rally in a motorcycle magazine, Sugawara thought he’d turn up on a Honda bike. “I didn’t understand the regulation at the time,” he said in his official Dakar profile. “I even showed up at the prologue carrying a spare tire on my back.”
After two years competing on a Honda motorcycle, Sugawara piloted a Mitsubishi Pajero from 1985-91. In 1992 he began a decades-long partnership with Hino, which had in the previous year began campaigning the Hino Ranger (or Hino 500 in some markets).
Though giant, rectangular boxes seem an unlikely basis for racing machines, the Hinos became known as “Little Monsters” for the dogged fights they’d put up against even larger trucks in the over 10-liter category. For reference, these medium-duty trucks today generate up to 750 horsepower and 1,700-plus pound-feet of torque from turbocharged and intercooled inline-6 diesels displacing 8.9 liters.
Sugawara has brought home seven class victories for Hino, and in his nearly four decades competing, has only failed to finish seven times. The official Dakar Rally website calls him a “living legend.” Last week, Hino released a brief video honoring the man and his accomplishments.
Reflecting on his career, Sugawara had these heartfelt words to offer:
I have been racing the Dakar Rally since 1983, and my collaboration with Hino Motors began in 1992. It was fascinating to be able to race in settings of such epic scale and travel around the world while doing so. I was captivated by the diverse range of people and cultures that I had the good fortune to encounter. Every year, I simply continued to hold the mindset, “The finish line is the start line of the next rally,” and before I knew it, 36 years had flown by. Words are not enough to express my gratitude for the support that I have received from countless people over the years, without whom I would have not been able to keep going.
Though he may be retiring, the Sugawara name won’t be absent from the Dakar Rally. His son Teruhito began racing along his father in 1998, first as a team mechanic and then a navigator. He began driving his own Hino Ranger in 2005, and took his first class victory in 2007, beating his dad. Since then, the junior Sugawara has logged nine consecutive class wins at Dakar. Looks like the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Images courtesy of Hino.