Driver Spotlight: Jay Dubs

Photo courtesy of Derek King and his crazy good phone pics.

It takes a special kind of person to slide an old, underpowered car and still manage to rip with the big-power boys of Drift Indy. We’ve seen a number of KA 240s and stock power M50 and M52 E36s over the years that have managed, but one little Datsun 280zx and its driver, Justin Wantz, have been shredding for years and making a great case for an iconic chassis.

Justin, more commonly known as Jay Dubs around Drift Indy circles, has done a hell of a job of keeping his Datsun ripping, despite a few hard hits over the four seasons he’s been coming out. He’s a super solid driver, and an even more solid dude.

I hopped on a Zoom call with him to learn more about his drifting story and what keeps him whipping such a unique car:

*     *     *

How long have you been drifting?

This will be my fourth season actually going to tracks, my fourth season with Drift Indy, which is rad. But generally drifting, I've been doing it since I've had my license and it's not proper drifting, but I had a crummy Chevy S10, a ‘91 square body with the four cylinder, five speed, bald tires. It was beat to death, but whatever, and any time it rained or snowed, I was out there trying to get it sideways in parking lots. 

I worked at a Roosters for a while and we had a big parking lot and after close the lot was dead, so for like 20 minutes after work every night I’d do that. And, like pretty much every car I had, every chance I had, I was trying to slide a car sideways. But legitimately doing it, linking tracks, four years. So otherwise, I guess that was 2014 when I got my license. I think somewhere around there.

And then when did you get your 280?

So I got it, we're coming up on ten years ago. I think that was like late 2015 or early 2016. I couldn't tell you exactly, but that was the second car I bought. So I had that S10, and then I was looking around cause I knew I really wanted to drift at some point.

So I was looking for anything rear wheel drive, front engine and manual that was Japanese. I was always cruising around Craigslist and whatever and I saw the car at a dealership for 2500 bucks in Wilmington. And I was like, “Yep,” and I went and bought it the same day. So yeah, about ten years, give or take.

280ZX drifting

Here's a big throwback to 2021 and the early days of driving real events for him and his Datsun.

What was your first event with it?

So I did like Test ‘n Tunes in the car, and when I first started showing up to the track in that car, I had the old heads, the drag dudes that would watch, would be like, “Yo, you're going to ruin that. You can't drift that.” 

No one would really drift that, some other people said it wasn’t the best set up car, and it was like stock suspension, whatever. Had some wheels, you know, But it was completely stock. And so I was struggling. I could do the infield, but I couldn't do the entry. And I was trying to enter in third gear, counterclockwise, and I’d spin right in the skidpad, and then I’d just stay straight around the bank, but I could link the infield, so I kind of got in my head about it.

I was like “it's the car, it’s the car, it’s the car,” because, you know, I definitely know how to drive, right? Whatever. 

So I ended up buying Kyle Robertson's old blue 350. He drove it for one Street League, I think, and I did like three Test ‘n Tunes in that car, and I kept the Datsun during that and I was like, “shit, I can't have two drift cars,” but I did a clutch on the 350Z and it took me like a week to do because I did it myself and I was still figuring out how to work on cars at that point. 

So I took the Datsun to that Test ‘n Tune that week and I was able to link the track because I figured it out on the 350 and it's really not that different.

I just didn't know how to enter or where to enter and I didn’t know the flow of the track since it never was on a track. So after that, I was like, “Man, I don't need this fancy car,” and I got rid of the 350 and decided to just rock the Datsun.

*     *     *

How many times have we seen somebody start out in a tough-to-drive chassis or set up only to get a taste of something easier, like a 350Z, and then switch to that and never look back? That’s what I meant about it taking a special person to thrive with something like that old 280zx. 

*     *     *

What made you stick with the Datsun?

You know, that first Test ‘n Tune in the 350Z, I was able to link the track. Joey Ritter hopped in, I was making the same mistakes and he hopped in with me and said “alright, enter there in second, and later,” And I was like, “okay,” and then I linked it.

So I was running a wall at my second Test ‘n Tune in that car, and I mean, really realistically, if I stuck with that chassis, I probably could be further with my driving skill than I am now because I feel like I am somewhat limited by the car, but at the same time it’s been my car forever. That's a car I plan to own until I die, you know what I mean?

Even if it's rotting in a backyard, I have a lot of memories with the car. So, I couldn't keep both. So I was like “yeah, the 350Z’s gotta go, and I’ll just figure it out,” and so far, it’s been alright.

*     *     *

Jay Dubs’ Datsun started out its life in a factory blue, was resprayed red and is currently wrapped in that nice Bad Blood Drift brown. He’s the newest addition to the team, having joined last year when they were looking for a fourth to drive Vibes. They invited him and they ran some laps in practice to see how he fit in, and it worked out so they invited him to stay. A season later and they’re still shredding together, albeit down a member after Tyler McManus sold his E36.

Bad Blood Drift

These fellas keep their cars looking super clean. This was at the DISL Showoff earlier this year.

*     *     *

What events do you look forward to most each season?

So I mean, I've been really enjoying Street League, even though I haven't done the best, you know, because in my car sometimes it's just hard to keep up with people. A car with a little more power and angle, you know, they put out smoke and it looks better, and they can just drag me, so it makes sense that I only get so far, but it's fun. I also really, really enjoy just the practice sessions. I really like the layout at Kil-kare. It's just open, and everyone out there knows what they're doing. Every car looks sick. You don't have to worry about who you're driving with, cause they're all going to handle business. You can just be like “you want to go?” and they're like, “Yeah,” and you just bang out a sick lap. 

The whole practice day and the practice beforehand, that's some of my favorite part of it. Just the driving for everybody and seeing all the cars looking good and everyone is top level. I enjoy being able to participate in it because I'm very self critical. I don't think I'm a good driver, I always bash myself.

I’m like “I can do better,” because I don't want to blame the car, so it's cool that I get to drive with those dudes and be welcome. It's also cool because where else would you see a chassis like mine, in a pretty stock form, drifting in a competition?

And even though it's a fun comp, yes, there's a winner at the end, but for me it's about fun. So I really look forward to the Street Leagues. I haven't been able to do any this year yet, but I'm planning on at least making Corbin. 

But otherwise, No Star Bash is always a riot with the team, and I've always loved Halloween Bash because I like the costumes, all the skeletons hanging off the back of the cars and whatever. You know, fun events. I'm here for drifting for fun, you know? I do enjoy Street League, too, but at the end of the day, I just want to have fun and drive with the homies.

Datsun 280ZX, 240sx and e36 drifting

And drive with the homies he does.

How does drifting fit into your life? How much time do you spend thinking about it?

I mean, a lot. Like, I fall asleep watching drift videos. My girlfriend hates it. She'll wake up in the middle of the night to tire screeching, you know what I mean? Like you still playing on. And she's like, “Bro, really?”

Datsun 280zx drifting

But I mean, really since Need for Speed Underground Two in middle school, early high school,  drifting has been a big thought for me. I always enjoyed it so anytime I could be playing a racing game, I was playing it. It’s just always been that, once I get my heart set on something like that, I just kind of hyperfocus, and it’s still that way, which is kind of sick. I'm still very passionate about it. 

But, yes, I spend a lot of time thinking about and working on my car. Like, the whole reason I'm a mechanic is so I could drift, cause I'm not the richest guy, right? So I was like, “man I’ve gotta figure out how to do all this on my own,” you know? So that's why I said “okay, I'll go work at a shop and there'll be a tire machine. I can figure out how to do all that myself, and I can get takeoffs and scrubs from the bin.”

So there’s that, and all the homies that are always at the shop, you know, Ron [RD Customs] has a bunch of the other homies sponsored, too, now and I'm always talking to them and helping them with their car or they're helping me with mine. And the team, Taylor and Ian and Tyler, we’re always talking in our group chat about cars, so it's a pretty constant thing. My whole life kind of revolves around it, which is a good thing and also kind of a bad thing. 

Sometimes you’ve got to separate some things, but I'm trying to make a good balance of it. It's pretty much a constant for me, though. I'm always stoked for the next event, thinking about driving, wanting to drive more.

It's funny, I don't know exactly how many of these spotlights I've done, but I'd say at least like 60% of people have said Need for Speed Underground was an influence for them getting into drifting.

Yeah, dude! I mean, I was into cars, my dad had an old Beetle that I used to help him wrench on. I mean, I was like six and probably wasn't actually doing anything, but I thought I was doing something, right?

But he had that and he was always into hot rods and shit, so I was, too, but the second I found out about drifting and the Tokyo Drift movie, too, when I was in high school, the Keep Drifting Fun video, that was a big one, too, for me. That's what drew me in.

And then because of the hot rods, I really dig like, rat rods and stuff like that, too, so older cars have always been my thing. That's sort of the other reason I feel like my chassis suits me well because it's an old Japanese car, you know what I mean? It still kind of has that old style to it, even though it's obviously not an old hotrod.

I don't know, I just like cars. I always have, but the second I noticed that you could do something crazy with them like drift, I was drawn to it because I skated forever. I grew up skating. So, it was like, “okay, I got my license. I have these four wheels. Let's see what I can do with this.” I used to do tricks on the other four wheels, right?

Datsun 280zx and a skateboard


*     *     *

Need for Speed, Keep Drifting Fun, Fast and Furious and a history with an action sport like skateboarding have set up an oft-trodden path into drifting that plenty of people should be familiar with. Jay Dubs just happens to have taken the fork in said path that leads to a 40-year-old Datsun.

Besides his 280 and the 350 he owned for a while, he’s hopped in a few other cars, including Taylor Calvert’s 240SX that he took out for a few laps at our May event and Cody Cheatwood’s IS300. Seeing him behind the wheel of more modern cars is always interesting. It took him all of about half a lap to look comfortable in Taylor’s car, but his Datsun really has to be man-handled to keep it sideways around the track, so getting behind the wheel of a car that actually self-steers and makes more than 120 horsepower has gotta feel pretty wild.

Datsun 280zx drift


Speaking of making power, let’s take a closer look at his 280ZX:

From the factory, Datsun’s L28 engine makes 135 horsepower. 40 years and 250,000+ miles later, Jay Dubs estimated his is probably much closer to 100. It’s bone stock, aside from a cold air intake and some straight pipes. 

Suspension-wise, he’s got Gecko Racing coilovers up front and is running Fortune Auto S13 coilovers in the rear. Turns out the bottoms bolt right in after you tap some holes up top. It’s still on stock arms, stock knuckles and no angle kit, but two-inch spacers combine with cut lock stops to help add some scrub radius.

Turning to the styling, he’s running an Arita Speed front bumper (complete with quite a bit of drift stitching) and type 2 sideskirts from the Z store. A self-proclaimed wheel nerd, Jay Dubs has quite a collection for his car. In May, he showed off some nice Spectrum Eclipses up front. He’s also got SSR Mk. 1s, Volk Racing Meshes, Work Equip 01s and then a set of Konïg Rewinds that are basically Watanbe reps. He’s big on making sure that his wheels look relatively period-correct for the car.

Inside, he’s got a Bride bucket seat that he said is probably a knockoff, an Ebay hydro handle mated to a Willwood master cylinder with a suicide setup, meaning that the brake pedal just goes to the front brakes and the hydro is patched straight into the lines for the rear.

That setup has served him well, and he’s done a hell of a job of eking out every little bit of relevant performance from the car that he can, as evidenced by him shredding right along with much more powerful cars every time he comes out. 

It’s a secret for now, but he did hint at bringing out a new whip sometime in the near future. From what he shared with me, it sounds like it’s gonna be rad as hell.

Datsun 280zx steering wheel

Jay Dubs is a super chill, kind dude. He’s worked hard to get where he is with his Datsun, and it’s been a ton of fun to see him and his car develop over these last few seasons. I’m looking forward to seeing what he and his teammates can do this season at DISL and the rest of our schedule. If you haven’t before, take a look at all the cool little details in his car and have a nice conversation with a down-to-earth shredder one of these days.

Jay Dubs during a driver meeting