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20 Questions with TJ Hunt

It’s no surprise that TJ Hunt is considered by many to be one of the most notable tuners in the nation. He’s starred in thousands of JDM and exotic car themed YouTube videos, which has led to a successful clothing and merchandise line, and an aero car parts company called Street Hunter Designs. But his empire of influence didn’t just happen overnight. He started out over decade ago with an amateur YouTube channel and through hard work, dedication, and perseverance, it has grown to well over 2.2 million subscribers with nearly three-quarters of a billion views. On the surface, he and his team make it look easy, but there’s a lot more to it just modifying cool cars.

20 Questions with TJ Hunt

We had the rare opportunity to sit down with TJ to get to know him better, get a glimpse behind the scenes of TJ Hunt & Co, and learn about what exciting content he has planned for the future.

TJ Hunt Interview at his Headquarters

1. How did you get started on YouTube and how did you get into car content?

I started doing paintball gun videos when I was in middle school. Me and my friends were into making funny YouTube videos on our laptops. I got into watching paintball channels and realized I wanted to do that, too.

TJ Hunt with his Nissan GTR, BMW M4 GT3, and Nissan Z drift car

Then, when I was 16 in high school, I got my first car and started to tinker and learn about working on them from forums. By end of high school, I got the idea to start filming myself learning to modify my car and that's kind of what started everything. I was really into it and the channel became something that it never was intended to be. I like keeping the paintball videos there because I want people to see where it all started — to see the roots of this business.

2. Were you always into cars?

Yes! As a kid living in San Diego, I was obsessed with cars. There's a large exotic car scene here, and I would go to exotic car dealerships nearby once a week with my dad and friends from elementary school. We would look at cars like the Countach, the Murcielago, and the Gallardo. I didn't really know anything about cars, but I could tell you all the brochure stats of every car. We started a car club before we had cars.

Front end of BMW M4 GT3 car owned by JT Hunt

When I was older, I couldn’t wait to get my license and dreamed of the liberty and sense of freedom that driving and owning a car would bring. It was a light switch of possibilities the moment I realized that driving a car was in my near future. I was so excited.

3. What was your first car?

My first car was a BMW E90 328i with the sport package. I did very light modifications to it, basic performance upgrades: exhaust, intake, plasti-dip wheels, nightshade taillights. Just doing what I could with a small budget. My friend, Calvin, had a BRZ at the time and I thought it was so cool that it was manual. I loved that it was an affordable enthusiast car aimed at the $30,000 price range and I was like, dude, I'm selling my BMW and I'm going to get a BRZ. I had so much fun learning on his car.

BMW M4 GT3 badge on Grille of JT Hunt's car

4. Do you have any technical or mechanical training?

No. One thing that I prefaced every video with was that I don't know what I'm doing, but I'm going to just try it and document it. And of course, I did a million things wrong. And the internet is the first place to tell you that you did it wrong- even if you did it right, you did it wrong. In someone's eyes there’s always something wrong. I think that's what a lot of people really connected with in the beginning — I was very open and honest about my abilities.

Nissan GTT with Nitto NT01 tires

It’s important to be honest, especially if you actually want to learn something. Everything that I’ve learned has been documented — every first time I've ever had with a car is all on the internet. That's kind of a unique thing. I knew what I was trying to accomplish, and I had enough experience to get in trouble, and that's when I learned something.

5. What’s your biggest mistake or learning experience?

There's not one thing in particular. There are plenty of things I’ve done wrong from installations to buying certain parts that were knockoff parts. I bought a rep kit, not knowing what a rep kit was at the time, and unfortunately the video went viral. Did like a million views and two days, and I was like the most hated person on the internet for buying a rep car. There were certain things that I'd never understood that I learned by getting ridiculed on the internet.

JT Hunt being interviewed by Greg Friend from Driving Line

6. How would you classify your style?

I'm a really big fan of mixing the form of function. What I'm typically going for on the show is wide bodies and bagging every build. I don't necessarily do the bags as much anymore, but as far as functional aero and the whole idea behind my M4 GT3, I'm obsessed with, because I love the art of racing and I love mixing that with streetcar aesthetics.

TJ Hunt's green BMW M4 GT3 on Nitto NT555 G2 tires

I would say part of my style is proper engine tuning, making decent power that's usable on the street with race car appeal and creature comforts. Useable power is important to me. It seems like everybody is always chasing big power numbers. If I can't put the power down, I don’t see any point in making it.

TJ Hunt's BMW M4 GT3 interior

7. Do you have a go-to mod?

Today, every build that we do is all the way. But when I was younger, the first thing I would always do is exhaust. Every car I’ve had, the first thing I would do is make it as loud as possible and just enjoy it, because when you can't afford to spend big money and just have the power and have the nice cars. I like at least a little bit of sound behind a car to give it that dramatic feel that you hope you'd get to one day when everything is built up. It calls attention in a certain way as well. I like my cars to have an impressive exhaust note, but there's a fine line of what might be considered too loud.

Exhaust tip and muffler of TJ Hunt's Nissan GTR

8. How do you pick what type of car you're going to build or modify?

Recently, that has become a bit harder because I've bought every single JDM car I've ever wanted and that was my original goal — the R34, Mk 4 Supra, RX7, and NSX. Then we did duplicates. And I've also started to double in the exotics, we've done a few crash exotics and rebuilt them.

TJ Hunt's Nissan GTR and BRZ in background

Now we're getting into this different area of purpose-specific builds where we dial-in each car to specifically tune it and build it to fulfill a different characteristic or personality. Like for general balance, or a canyon carver car, or a straight-line car.

9. With so many options for tire sponsors, why did you choose Nitto?

For me it was all about the great performance of Nitto’s tires — there’s no compromise.  Plus, we’re able to use Nittos in our race program, and they are highly competitive.

Nitto NT05 UHP Tires on TJ Hunt's Nissan GTR

It’s also helped knowing Nitto’s background and history, and how they support Formula Drift. I just love the NT555 G2. Plus, I’ve been able to get to know the guys behind the brand and it’s been great seeing how obsessed everyone is about winning and performance and the technical side of stuff. Nitto is dedicated to making the best tire they can, and I appreciate it.Beyond the racing side of things, they have tons of tires and applications for things that I use on all of my cars. Plus, Nitto is really involved in the off-road world, so they nearly cover every base that you could want.

TJ Hunt's BMW M4 GT3 with Nitto NT555 G2 tires

The partnership took a couple of years to develop, but over time, I realized that's the family I want to be a part of. We go to a lot of different events and I'm proud that one of the sponsor stickers on my car is Nitto. And I think that when you see a car with a Nitto sticker, you know that that person means business. There's a lot of great drivers associated with the brand, and to be able to be a part of that is really special. I'm proud of the Nitto stickers on my cars.

10. What is one thing you wish people understood about what you do?

I wish people understood that it is way harder than people think it is. It’s not as easy as just turning on a camera and doing things. There are multiple layers beyond what a person sees on YouTube. I’m thankful for the growth, but it’s a lot of work to run multiple businesses, manage multiple employees, maintain multiple timelines, stay on target for video schedules, all while integrating corporate and racing schedules along with operating a shop.

TJ Hunt behind the wheel of his Nissan Z Demo drift car

And with YouTube, if you can't do it fast, you can't be successful, but you have to be fast and do it well. Skillful hands are required that can build the car and not screw up because everything is documented. People don't realize that creators dedicate their whole lives to this. And it takes every ounce of effort you’ve got to be successful.

11. What aspect of the business is most difficult for you?

The work/life balance is the toughest part. It's very easy to spend too much time working. I guess that’s the downside of love what you do — at the end of the day, the work never stops.I was in that cycle for like the first eight years where I’d never stop working. I’d be at dinner with my family but having a work conversation in the back of my head or running different ideas for what I need to do in the next month – I wasn’t really present in the moment outside of work.

Hunt & Co sticker on JT Hunt's Nissan GTR

I'm very fortunate to have met a lot of legends in the world of Motorsports and cars that have guided and helped me create that balance I need, but it’s a constant struggle.

12. What's the easiest part?

One of the easiest parts is building the cars. But even that has become more difficult because we’re always trying to make it crazier, pushing harder, and expanding our ideas further. It’s still very fun and very easy to do and that kind of dictates the schedule for the year and the next year.

TJ Hunt's white Nissan Z demo drift car on Nitto Tires

The next easiest thing is probably coming up with what we want to do because I get to decide what I want to do every day, what I want to work on, and stare at it and spend money on. I'm thankful and I'm grateful and I'm honored and humbled that it’s all part of my job.

13. Which car do you have your sights on in the future?

The next build that I'm excited to work on is potentially doing another GT 3 cup car conversion on a street legal car that no one's done before. I'm really excited for that.

14. Of all the exotics and JDM Halo cars you’ve had, which car has been the most fun to drive?

The most fun car to drive out of everything we've ever done is my R34 GT-R Skyline. That thing is everything that I've ever wanted in a car. It does everything — it has the excitement, it has the scare, it has the sound, it has the appeal, it has the rarity, and the childhood nostalgia. I’m reminded of all that every time I drive it, it’s like my one true love. It’s easily my favorite car — that Skyline R34 will be buried with me in my grave.

TJ Hunt's Nissan R34 GT-R Skyline on Nitto NT05 tires

15. You’ve bought and sold many amazing cars throughout your career, are there any you’ll keep forever?

Out of my 30+ car collection, the ones that I would like to keep forever is, of course, my GT-R Skyline - I want my grandchildren to have that car. And, I will probably always keep my first FD RX-7 and my first MK 5 Supra. Getting those cars were pinnacle moments in my YouTube career and I remember when I got those and finished them, which were very prestigious moments for me. Those cars have a lot of sentimental value for me.

RB 26 Engine in TJ Hunt's Nissan R34 GTR

16. What do you love about car culture?

I think that everyone who is truly a car enthusiast shares the same passion. Whether you know anything or not about them, you can meet someone at the track that you're running tandems with, or you can go and drive Angeles Crest and hang out at the top and see someone pull up with a car that you've owned before, a car that you love and know everything about. And you could just talk with that person about what mods you like, what mods you don't like, and have a long conversation and not care about anything else about that person other than their opinions about cars.

Greg Friend interviewing TJ Hunt at his Headquarters near San Diego

That kind of car talk connection has led me to many of the most important people in my life and in this industry. Moments like that have led to lifetime friends and that’s how I met Dylan, our shop manager and the head of our race program, we just started talking at a drift competition.

17. Are there any car trends that you dislike?

I feel like I'm gonna get a bunch of hate for this, but I'm not the biggest fan of stance cars. Never been into it. I can respect it. And I have a lot of friends who love it. I respect the time and effort required to achieve the look. It's just not for me.

18. Will you ever do any EV content?

No, I will be the first to admit I have no desire for an EV. I don't care how much instant torque you have — I just don't care. I'd rather have a slower car and have the auditory satisfaction and feel the car, sway side-to-side as my engine is idling. I'd rather have that sensation and be slower than have none of it and be faster.

V-spec logo on back of TJ Hunt's Nissan R34 GT-R

19. If you weren't doing this, what other path would your life have taken?

I was in nursing school, and I dropped out. So, I imagine I'd be a nurse right now if I followed that trajectory. I’ve always had a passion for medicine and still do today.

TJ Hunt's R34 GTR, Nissan Z, and BMW M4 GT3 in his parking lot at Hunt & Co Headquarters

20. What advice that you would give to your younger self?

Stop comparing yourself to others and don’t judge yourself based on everyone's else performance.  I should have focused more on comparing myself to myself and my day-to-day wins and avoided all the personal mental abuse. Sometimes it’s hard not to drown an opportunity. A hard truth is that you usually don't learn how to do something until you fail like 10 times. Stop worrying about failure and embarrassment and just do it.

TJ Hunt smiling in the driver seat of his white Nissan Z drift car

Anything you’d like to tell your fans?

I want people to know that whatever it is that you want to do is achievable. Decide what you truly love doing and figure out a way to make a living out of it. Don’t worry about how much money you might make. Happiness comes from being excited about what you do.

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