NORTH AMERICAN DRIFTING SCENE
In Japan, the art of Drifting has been popular among the street racers or "hashiriya" for more than 15 years, and has morphed into one of the country's number one attended motorsports in less than a decade, where professional Japanese Drifters are the equivalent of national celebrities.
To the novice, it would appear that drifting very recently crossed the Pacific Ocean and exploded into the world or racing not more than two years ago, but hard core enthusiasts know different. The American Drifting scene's roots can be traced back to the late 1980s and early 1990s. When drag racing was exploding across America, a small number of enthusiast's fascination was leaning toward an underground sport in Japan called canyon racing and drifting.
Most of today's Formula DRIFT pros tell similar stories about following the Japanese car culture, and how they uncovered access to this underground world through the Internet and in small Japanese bookstores in Japanese neighborhoods, primarily in Southern California. It was here that enthusiasts pummeled through hundreds of car magazines and racing videos that featured modified cars that looked very different than what was in the U.S. - and has since become today's tuner scene. Magazine covers like Carboy, J's Tipo, Option, and Autoworks opened a window into Japanese racing movements including Drifting, VIP and Group A, which eventually evolved into Japan's number one grand prix circuit knows as JGTC or Super GT racing.
American drivers learned that the type of car had a huge impact on performance when drifting, and went against the grain in what was a growing tuner "show car" scene -- which was all about painted vinyl interiors, Supra wings, "Powered by Honda" stickers and side marker lights. Early American drifters learned that older imports like the Nissan 240SX, Toyota Corolla, Mazda RX-7, Nissan 300Z and Toyota Supra were more desirable when modifying for function as well as form. Key in drifting was suspension tuning, good tires, and brake upgrades - a must have before any engine modifications. Sales of front engine/rear wheel drive (FR) import cars like the Nissan 240SX (S13, S14) and the Toyota Corolla skyrocketed among the underground import crowd craving the drifting scene.
Engine and body modifications became secondary to good driving skills. Many American Drifters tell stories of watching hours of Japanese videos and reading countless pages about technique - and it was these hands-off lessons that became their driving school -- where they learned about speed and basic racing techniques like traditional grip-driving, braking in a straight line before the corner, accelerating out of the apex of the turn and honing the valuable drifting skill of heel-and-toe braking - which they would then fine tune in their cars in open parking lots and back roads.
Soon, sanctioned SCCA autocross events opened its doors to drifting enthusiasts, which gave local drivers an opportunity to practice maneuvering through tight, technical turns. These events eventually led to drifter participation in road racing events with the SCCA, NASA and Speed Trial USA - ultimately an opportunity to better understand what it feels like to control a car at high speeds in a safe environment.
As the underground current gained momentum with the support of enthusiast websites including Club4AG, which promoted sanctioned drifting events including Speed Trial USA, this unusual new "sport" of drifting began to surface and peak the curiosity of mainstream racing enthusiasts and media alike. Early drifting exclusive events including Drift Session, DG Trials, and Drift Day events at local tracks were instrumental in the growth of the U.S. drift culture.
Drift Association was formed in an effort to get novice drifting off the streets through formally staged exhibition and training events called "Drift Days" in local markets around the country. These events created a safe environment for enthusiasts to practice drifting in a controlled environment (usually a wide open parking lot), and offered tutorials by seasoned drifters like Taka Aono, Hiro Sumida, Kenji Sakai, Alex Pfeiffer, Andy Yen, Calvin Wan, Ken Gushi, and others. The results have introduced hundreds of novice drifters and car enthusiasts to the sport while allowing amateur drifters to refine and shape their drifting techniques and get accustomed to the equilibrium of a sideways moving car -- dramatically improving their drifting skills, and ultimately becoming the training grounds for many of today's professional U.S. drifters.
Slipstream Global Marketing, a national marketing company, was instrumental in establishing America's pro drifting roots. June, 2003 was the official debut of Japanese drifting in the U.S. and producers Slipstream Global Marketing made it an open invitation for American drifters to be seen and potentially launch a professional drifting career. In partnership with Video Option, a Japanese motorsport video magazine, the first ever "Ikaten" or drift contest was hosted at Irwindale Speedway in California. Because this was an open call, drifters from California and around the world entered as this would be their first chance to be seen and recognized by the Japanese pros. While the American drifters were new to formal drift competition and the experienced skill level of their Japanese counterparts, the enthusiasm of the drivers, public and the media in general resonated.
In June of 2003, Slipstream Global Marketing, put together a qualifying event with some of Japan's top professional drift series drivers in the judge's seats, including Keiichi Tsuchiya, Manabu Suzuki, Dai Inada, and Manabu Orido. In the end, 8 out of 40 drivers qualified for the new U.S. D-1 circuit including Calvin Wan, Ken Gushi, Bryan Norris, Hubert Young, Rich Rutherford, Ernie Fixmer, Sam Hubinette and Dai Yoshihara.
At the end of August, 2003, Slipstream Global Marketing brought the first professional drifting exhibition competition outside of Japan to Irwindale Speedway to pit the eight qualified American drifters against top ranked Japanese drifters. The U.S. drivers lost to the Japanese drivers that day, but proved that they were to be taken seriously in this motorsport. However, more importantly, interest from sponsors, tracks and the public served to springboard the continuation of drifting in America.
That November at the 2003 SEMA Show, Slipstream Global Marketing announced the launch of a sister company, Formula Drift, Inc., which would solely own, operate and launch the first official drifting series in North America called Formula DRIFT or Formula D. The inaugural four-event circuit kicked off in 2004 and would be sanctioned by SCCA Pro Racing, with strict SCCA marshals working track operations at each event; the level of professionalism was raised. Created as a North American drift series, drivers competed for top slots and sponsor dollars from around the globe.
In April 2004, the first Formula DRIFT event was held at Road Atlanta. Most of the drivers were novice drifters by Japanese standards, but provided high-energy entertainment to the crowds as American "pro drifters." Some of the drivers also brought professional racing experience to the sport including Rhys Millen, Samuel Hubinette and Ryan Hampton, making the inaugural year a crowd pleaser, attracting a much younger and hipper audience than the Japanese drift series.
In December of 2005, Formula DRIFT driver Vaughn Gittin, Jr. won the USA vs. Japan All Star event, becoming the first American to win an international competition and proving that the American drivers have raised the bar in North American drifting. Hollywood has taken notice as well and many of Formula DRIFT's top driver's like 2-time champion Samuel Hubinette, champion Rhys Millen, and 2-time champion Tanner Foust, were asked to be the official stunt drivers for the Universal Studios movie, "Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift."
In November of 2008, Formula DRIFT helped create the first ever drifting world championship. This event was the first of its kind and helped bring the sport of drifting recognition worldwide. 17 past and present drifting champions from the top drifting organizations in the world gathered to compete for the largest prize purse in drifting history. A special custom built drifting track was put together at a special location on the Port of Long Beach. Formula DRIFT’s Rhys Millen came out on top to win the inaugural Drifting World Championship.
Today drifting continues to grow and Formula DRIFT has become the premier North American Professional Drifting Championship Series. The 2010 season continues to move forward with 7 professional championship events scheduled and 1 Team Drift competition coinciding with the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The Formula DRIFT Asia Championship has been created and is the first Pan-Asia professional drifting championship. The Formula DRIFT Pro Am Affiliate Network was created to bridge together various regional level series, and grow awareness while searching for the next stars of the sport.
ABOUT FORMULA DRIFT
Entering its tenth season, Formula DRIFT is recognized as the North American professional drifting championship. Established on the streets of Japan, drifting has evolved into a worldwide competitive sport that challenges each driver's driving ability and vehicle control. Formula DRIFT provides a forum for professional drifters to compete in 7 events nationwide for the coveted Formula DRIFT Championship crown. As the first official series in North America, Formula DRIFT has taken competitive motorsports to the extreme, attracting fans and car enthusiasts from all walks of life and establishes itself as the world-wide leader for the Sport. For a race competition schedule and ticket information, visit: www.formuladrift.com.