Drifting in the United States – and what it means to me.
I know I’ll probably receive a ton of criticism for this, and by no means do I consider myself an authority on this subject.
I keep hearing about this so-called “Missile Crisis”, and have heard a lot of argument on both sides from aspiring drivers, weekend warriors, veteran drivers, professionals, and many others – about what drifting is today in the USA, and what it is “supposed” to be.
Let me start out by saying that I’m relatively new to this game. I am not one of those veteran car guys who have been modifying cars since the early 2000’s and before – I began my career drifting cars and building them in 2013. Many years after drifting picked up popularity in the United States, and decades after the die-hard enthusiasts who have been active since the pre-internet days. You know, back when Option VHS videos and Hot Version clips were the only way to see what was happening in a young and budding culture across the Pacific.
My two year anniversary of my first track day will actually be in March of 2017, and I intend only on sharing my observations of this culture that I love so much; and what originally inspired me to be a part of it, versus what it’s actually becoming.
Those of us who live in America have a great deal of influence on any culture we choose to be a part of; our prosperous lifestyle, financial affluence, great deal of open space, countless freedoms, and indelible mark on popular culture gives us strength – in being a guiding force toward any aspect of life on this planet.
With that said, I feel like it’s a shared responsibility to guide the activity/lifestyle of drifting (I have trouble calling drifting a “sport”) toward continuous progression and evolution, while maintaining the original ideology of what made us attracted to sliding cars in the first place.
There seems to be a trend of emulation within drifting; where us Yankees take influence and inspiration from overseas, and we somehow re-appropriate what we’ve learned, and apply it to our cars and our driving as we see fit.
But I feel like so much is lost in translation.
When I first discovered what drifting was (in about 2006), I was flabbergasted at what I can only describe as an absurd “risk versus reward” ratio – a premise that seemed to define the activity itself, and something that attracted me instantly to it.
Here are these beautiful Japanese cars, show cars by most definitions of the term, with low-hanging aero kits and expensive 3-piece wheels, being literally thrown about the track as close to other cars as possible; like the drivers behind the wheel couldn’t care less if all their hard work and investment in their machines was destroyed in an instant. More often than not, they masterfully pilot these vehicles down the tarmac in the most exciting and magical way possible with ease; blowing the minds of the spectators and achieving what seems to be the impossible to those not familiar with it. And such is the magic of Drifting.
This reminded me of extreme sports culture in the USA. A purely arbitrary activity, with an emphasis on style and no clear winner; with no perceived gain of any kind, except for pushing the limits of the activity itself with an emphasis on “sticking it”. Risking life and limb to do nothing but have fun with your friends, with no underlying motivation or reward; except to do something crazy and absurd for the sheer purpose of enjoyment and pure excitement.
This seemed a far cry from the stodgy world of professional motorsports and “show car” automotive culture, and seeing something so exhilarating, risky, and fun piqued my interest from the get-go.
It wouldn’t be until years later that I decided to go balls deep and finally start building a car of my own to enjoy, but it’s this impression I got from drifting that made it stick in my mind for years. I guarantee it’s this traditional attitude toward drifting that fuels the younger generation the most to get involved, and to start modifying cars and crashing them into their friends (while trying not to).
There’s so much argument as to what is the right or wrong way to build a drift car in the US; and I’m the first to believe that in an activity based upon one’s own self-expression, the cars used for drifting should reflect exactly that. One of the most beautiful things about drifting is the lack of rules; and with so many variables in each of our lives, whether it’s family obligations or financial responsibilities, I encourage everyone out there to do whatever they feel they can to enjoy the activity of drifting without taking the fun out of it by spreading one’s self too thin.
It’s not a prerequisite to have all authentic aero, or massively dished 3-piece wheels. It’s not a prerequisite to have an imported turbo engine swap from Japan, or to have the most club stickers on your quarter windows.
Your car does however, whether you like it or not, represent you – and the pride you take in it. It says without saying anything the amount of dedication, hard work, and money you’ve invested in what you’re passionate about, and your doggedness in keeping it tip-top and looking good at every event.
In my humble opinion, it should be more important to some drivers to take more pride in their machines, to lead by example, and to show their friends and the world the Japanese tradition of drift: That it’s so much more exhilarating and fun to demonstrate the magic and mastery of drifting by driving hard, and “risking it all” in a car that’s lower, cleaner, more modified, and is depending on your taste, more flashy than what you see at 90% of car meets and shows.
It’s this premise by which I think drifting is defined globally, and in an activity that requires so much preparation, equipment, and skill; driving ability and a functioning car is by far the most important ingredient to enjoying drifting, but by no means the only ingredient.
With that said, building a thirty-thousand dollar professional drift car is beyond most people’s means, and to enjoy drifting it is by no means required. It would however be refreshing if at grassroots events across the country, we saw more cars with a clean single shade of paint and no body panels missing, cars with proper fitment, and more cars with aero, rep or not. Drifting by definition is quite absurd, and while doing exactly “what you shouldn’t do with a car”, it’s just that much more exciting for the driver and fun to watch for the spectator if that absurdity is also applied to the presentation of the vehicle. Doing this takes time, not money necessarily; and I know many people who have done a lot with a little and made a beautiful car using nothing more than their time, their taste, and their own two hands.
When at most grassroots drift events in America, if you’ve got a bit of experience driving, you will inevitably do some tandem runs with people you don’t know personally. More often than not it adds to the mayhem and excitement of the event itself. If you’re lined up in the grid who has a beautiful machine that’s well-kept, has got a nice coat of paint, perhaps some aero, and a set of wheels you recognize, you’ll likely gain confidence and feel more comfortable driving with that person; even if you don’t know them.
The pride they take in their car will immediately dispel some anxiety you might feel about running with a stranger, or someone you haven’t gotten to know that well yet. This comfort will most often directly translate to better, more exciting runs; where you will run closer tandems, do bigger entries, and there will be more high-fives afterward. Having a well-kept car is not only for “looks”; it can transform your experience at a local event. It can contribute greatly to the quality of your experience – gaining you seat time with more skilled and advanced drivers, promoting more new friendships and tandem buddies, and facilitating more quickly your own personal progression as a driver.
Many of us in America seek to carry that torch of pride, absurdity, and style. If you’re lined up in the grid in your most prized possession, the car you’ve spent hundreds of hours and the majority of your extra money developing, next to a banged-up “missile” car with missing panels and body damage on all four sides driven by a total stranger; it’s likely you will feel a sense of uneasiness. You’ll inevitably worry that the guy you’re about to hit a lap with might not have adequate skills as a tandem driver, or that they might not care nearly as much as you do about their car, and certainly not your own that you have worked so hard on. It will result in hesitation while driving, less fun and excitement, less progression in your skill as a driver, and in worst case scenarios, damage to your car and the potential to end your weekend – hours or even days before the track closes.
I’ve heard drifting described by a few as a “hundred-dollar-an-hour hobby”, and depending on your level of dedication, that’s hard to argue. What that translates to for most of us is moments of glory, followed by weeks or sometimes months of planning and preparation. Because of this, drifting related media is extremely popular; as it allows us to live vicariously through images and videos in the long periods most of us have between events, and to keep up on worldwide drifting culture as a whole from the comfort of our own homes.
I have yet to meet an aspiring driver that doesn’t enjoy taking home a few photos or a clip or two of themselves driving the prior weekend; and like it or not, getting more media of yourself is an additional perk to having a well-kept, decent looking car. Most photographers at grassroots drift events are their using their own time, equipment, and know-how, and spend long hours standing under umbrellas or out in beating sunlight for no reason other than to hone their craft and take home a handful of images to share on social media from their experience with their friends. 99% of these photographers at grassroots events are under no obligation whatsoever to take photos of every car out there; they shoot what is eye-catching and exciting to them; whatever it is that they think helps define their style of photography and drifting – usually to be shared with their own personal fans on social media and beyond.
We’ve all heard and seen the posts on social media; “Did anyone get photos of my car at the last event?”. I’d advise anyone interested in getting consistent photos from their experiences at the track to build a well-kept and reasonably stylish car; if keeping a chronicle of media showcasing their progression as a driver is important to them. 9 times out of 10, you won’t have to ask anyone for media – the photographers will be excited to share their photos of you with you and the world.
My bud Derrik Pompeo recently said “My favorite thing about drifting is dragging side skirt on the ground”, and while some might criticize that statement, it’s that very attitude that has taken drifting from the Japanese underground and thrust it into the collective consciousness of popular culture across the globe. Lets try and make 2017 about carrying the torch; and showing the world and our fellow American drivers how prideful, absurd, and stylish we can be as a collective whole. That we can do more than emulate Japanese drift style from years past, and that we choose to have more faith in our fellow drivers, inject more excitement and more mayhem into our cars and our driving, and inspire more newcomers, by making rad shit happen together at grassroots drift events and beyond.