Derived from a driving condition that was considered problematic, this style was taken under the wing of some rebellious car folk and developed into the sport now known as "Drift"
In my younger years I fell prey to stereotypes about different things just like anybody else, especially when it comes to cars. But, as I’ve aged, I have become more open to things that may not have caught my attention those many years ago. There also might be a little over 99% chance that race gas, tire smoke and the sound of engines having their tolerances tested might magnetically attract me as well
One bit of the car world that unfortunately played victim to the prejudices of my youth was the world of drifting. Affectionately referred to as “Skid Racing” by a friend of mine, I absolutely fell in love with the sport over this past summer.
Years ago, in a different chapter of my life, I was just a little street rat all caught up in my "Euro World". Back then there was a large rivalry between the VWs and, of course, the Hondas (Japanese Domestic Market - JDM). We would duel nightly with our cars and 14 seconds was an impressive quarter-mile time. My experiences with that crowd were generally associated with a salty taste in my mouth and a bit of animosity as we were dumping cams into and tweaking fuel-injection, among other things, in our respective rides. A lot of those guys were putting on big mufflers, underglow, and big Japanese lettered banners that said stuff like “water” in Japanese. And boy did they have mouths. I’m sure we did too; perspective is everything
My tastes have since broadened and I’ve made friends with people that were pretty active in different scenes than where my misspent youth was squandered. Drifting has been growing more prevalent in the motorsports world and this summer I decided to head out to see what the fuss is all about. It has been absolutely amazing!
Walking through the pits is really very similar in feel to the service areas during a rally event. Homegrown, grassroots drivers and cars, keeping them on the track any way they can.
A Brief History
Originally noticed by the street racers in Japan in the 60’s, drifting is considered to have been pioneered by a Moto GP racer turned auto racer after he had a bad accident. Kunimits Takahashi would go into corners at full speed, do a quick weight shift to push the back end around where he wanted it and then he would apply the throttle to hold his angle so he could blast out of the corner at full throttle.
Keiichi Tsuchiya, a “Touge” racer, took note of Takahashi’s unusual driving technique and began to incorporate it into his mountain road racing. A short time later some sponsors took on a project called “Pluspy” a 23-minute video filmed on a few racetracks but the majority of the film takes place in the mountains. From there, drifting only gained in popularity. It burst into the motorsports world kind of like how snowboarding all of a sudden became prevalent with enthusiasts of the sport being viewed as “hooligans” by the purists of the sport.
Looking back at those original films compared to any current YouTube video on drifting really is intriguing. You can actually see the evolution of the sport!
At some point the original purpose of using this technique to get through corners faster morphed into a display of car control and skill where things like angle, duration, smoke, and style were the deciding factors of who performed the best
"Skid racing" seems like a fitting title, except the word "skid" does leave a bit of insinuation that they are out of control. Just the opposite folks...
After having an opportunity to get out on a hot track with my drifting friend Viss, it became apparent to me why this style of driving is a sought after goal by so many drivers.
Just as any other performance-oriented style of driving, drifting takes focus…LOTS of focus. And things happen fast with potential for severe consequences if you lose that focus. And many times a drifter isn’t going around a course on their own. Many times a driver will be in team atmosphere or a group drift at which point you are typically within mere inches of other cars all sliding corners as close to in sync as they can get. Think, “formation driving.”
A high-horsepower rear-wheel-drive car is the ideal vehicle for this sport and the development of these vehicles has moved very fast. From steering angles that go to 90-degrees, to hydraulic handbrakes, along with significantly more powerful engines swapped in it can really get any motor head excited. Even if you don’t get to drive one of these current drift cars, just a stroll through the pits inspecting these cars leaves the imagination raving wildly and your blood pumping.
Of course older JDM vehicles are the treasure here, 240s, Corollas(ae86), Supras, I have even seen old Cressidas on the track getting sideways. As the sport has grown in notoriety in the US, where there is no shortage of inexpensive rear-drive cars laying around, there has been an influx of both economy cars and muscle cars not to mention European vehicles as well. But there is something personally rewarding when I see a fox body out there with a 90-degree steering angle coming over a corner crest sideways with smoke pouring off the rear tires and the front end within millimeters of coming off the ground. Gives me goose bumps every time!
The sport is growing in popularity here in the US and there are several organizations spearheading the way. Formula Drift has televised events with some of the world’s best drivers competing. Club FR is a great organization based in the Midwest that holds events that are easily accessible to beginning enthusiasts. They set up training courses and the overall feel is just great…a lot like any other homegrown car event. They are always willing to lend a hand or an ear and provide a wonderful atmosphere even for a guy who has the old lowered front drive VW in the spectator lot and know virtually nothing to very little about drifting…you know, me.
Just like any other event full of enthusiasts, people are open, happy to talk about their builds as well as the sport itself.
This style of motorsport is going to continue to grow and I highly recommend that you go watch an event or participate. If you have oil in your veins and gears in your joints you are going to have a blast!
Obligatory "Hoonigan" sticker...because, drifting.
Big thanks to USAIR, my adventurer friend ZViss, and everybody I have run into that accommodated my obsessive questions.