Ryu Asada was loved. By his family, by his friends, by his colleagues, and by the 200 people that showed up with a week’s notice to celebrate his life. The venerated Hot Wheels and Matchbox designer was taken from all too soon by stage IV colorectal cancer last month at the age of 42.
Of all the events we’ve planned and covered here at JNC, the Ryu Asada Memorial Drive + Fundraiser last Sunday was our most emotional. We were there honor the legacy of someone who helped change the diecast industry, but also a close personal friend.
It can be difficult to get something like this right, especially with the weight of a great man’s memory setting the expectations. While Ryu often took his cars to SoCal’s nearby mountains, not every Hot Wheels fan is a die-hard touge driver.
The drive had to be something that everyone could participate in, with any type of car, so we planned a short 30-minute drive through El Segundo, home of Mattel.
We announced the event only a week prior, but Ryu had so many fans and friends that we quickly had to put a cap on the registrations at 120 cars (If you wanted to attend but were unable to, we apologize) to keep the motorcade manageable.
Our route started at Mattel design center where Ryu worked for 17 years churning out hundreds of toy car designs for kids and collectors alike. We also give our sincere thanks to the security and facilities teams at Mattel, all of whom were utmost professionals and an absolute pleasure to work with.
That morning, the parking lot became a small car show. It served as a bittersweet reminder that Ryu felt right at home in automobile gatherings, and we would often attend such events, talking about the interesting facets of various machines as we walked among the rows.
The event also served as a fundraiser for the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, a charity selected by Ryu’s wife Hazel. We designed the green R sticker after Ryu’s personal NSX, itself a tribute to a little-known Suzuka Circuit safety car.
Sales of the sticker ended up raising $1,691 for the charity, not including online contributions. As a bonus, Mattel said the would match the donation, so we’ll be handing over $3,382 to the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. We offer our heartfelt thanks for everyone who donated.
The Mattel team came out in full force, with Hot Wheels lead Jun Imai taking his personal Hakosuka Skyline out to one of its first events.
Mattel’s head of diecast Bryan Benedict showed up in his beautiful 1972 Corvette convertible, a surprise birthday gift from his wife.
Designer Brendon Vetuskey brought his raw metal 1967 Pontiac Firebird, a real life Hot Wheels car even before it was translated to diecast form.
Likewise, designer Alton Takeyasu drove his personal white Datsun 240Z, which a few years ago became a special edition convention collectible.
Matchbox designer Abe Lugo rolled in with the oldest car in the group, his stunning 1941 Cadillac Series 62.
Everyone in the Mattel family drove an interesting car of some sort, from a Meyers Manx dune buggy to VW GTIs and slammed Audis to Mustangs and Challengers to a Tacoma overlanding rig.
“Honda for life” was Ryu’s motto, and his love of Hondas was well known throughout the community. Scores of Honda and Acura owners came out to pay tribute to the man who helped canonize their favorite cars in diecast form.
Among them was Tim Mings, who finally got his N600 into the Hot Wheels lineup this year.
Kenji Sumino of GReddy had his B18C1-powered EF Civic, another car that Ryu helped immortalize in a Hot Wheels form.
Ryu’s other love was Subaru SVXes and was known in that community as well. Several owners came out to pay their respects.
Yuji Otsuka of Subaru Motorsports USA brought his WRX STI all the way from Las Vegas to attend the 30-minute drive, then turned right around and drove home after the event.
Several fans made their own Ryu tributes. This Infiniti G20 driver created a Ryu Asada sticker in the style of the original Hot Wheels logo.
One member of the Miata contingent with a Mariner Blue NA evoked the look of the Ryu-designed Hot Wheels version that came out in 2019.
With 120 cars, we had to split into two run groups. Our Touge California rallymaster Patrick Strong led the first group with his new Mazda CX-5.
Taking pole position behind the pace car was Ryu’s wife Hazel driving the yellow Honda S2000 they often autocrossed together. Ryu’s parents, having traveled from Japan, were right behind her in their black Civic, while other members of the family rounded out the lead positions.
Ryu’s Mattel family followed in their wonderful array of diverse vehicles, like a Hot Wheels collection come to life.
Chris Hoffman, who typically mans a checkpoint or two on our Touge California rallies, led the second group in his Honda Prelude, a car similar to the second-gen example that sparked Ryu’s love of Hondas.
After exiting the design center’s parking lot, the route wound its way to the Mattel corporate tower (seen here in the distance behind marketing director Ted Wu’s Porsche 911).
The route worked its way up past LAX and up through the beautiful Ballona Wetlands State Ecological Reserve, one of the few areas in the Los Angeles metropolitan area unmarred by urban development.
Patrick had the brilliant idea of having the route U-turn back on itself, so the Asada family could see the train of cars coming the other way as they headed towards their destination.
A beach along the California coast seemed like an appropriate place to finish the drive. Looking upon the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, we were reminded of how small we all are during our brief time on this planet.
But then some people have an outsized impact, and Ryu was definitely one of them. He helped bridge the car cultures of Japan and the US, bringing everything from Monkey bikes to Noppo cars to dekotora trucks to an American toy, a toy that’s subsequently adored by people around the globe. The same water that laps at our toes in El Segundo touches the ports of Osaka.
Grieving is a deeply personal process, and takes a different form for everyone. As much as we love cars, we never thought seeing a caravan of them would make our hearts swell. We want to thank the 200 people to came out to celebrate his life. Your presence was not just appreciated, but essential. As Hazel told us, Ryu would have loved this, and you helped make that happen.
We will have the R sticker available for purchase online. All proceeds will go to the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. If you do not want the decal but still wish to donate, please do so at CCAlliance.org and complete the form with “In Memory of Ryu Asada” (with recipient information optionally sent to RyuAsadaFamily@gmail.com).