For most of my life I would consider myself a traditional motorsports fan. Formula 1, Indy cars, and sportscars made up the bulk of the racing I kept up with both on television and in person. Like many, I viewed racing as who goes the fastest over a set distance or period of time.
Over the past dozen or so years drifting, a sport that originated in Japan, has gained more and more traction in the United States while attracting a younger audience than more traditional motorsports. As is often the case when new trends emerge, the traditional motorsports fan scoffed at this new form of competition. Many didn’t like the fact that the winners are determined based on a judging criteria rather than being the first across a finish line, or that driving technique is more important than out-and-out speed.
For me personally, my exposure to Drifting is extremely limited. At first I held the same opinion as the rest of my more traditional racing counterparts. Then in spring of 2007 as part of the Grand Prix of Long Beach, I was able to catch part of the Formula Drift event. Standing on the outside of the famous hairpin turn, myself and a couple of buddies watched with moderate interest… at first. By the time it was over we looked at each other and agreed it was pretty cool and certainly different than what we were used to. Other than that, I have been to a couple of non-professional drifting events in Atlanta and occasionally catching an event on TV.
One thing that has impressed me about the drifting competitions is the audience it's attracting: young, excited, automobile enthusiasts. This is important to me. I love cars. I have since I got my first Hot Wheels as a child. When I turned 16 I couldn’t get to the DMV fast enough to get my license.
That was 25 years ago, the current reality is that an increasing number of teenagers in the U.S. have become more interested in the latest smart phone than the newest automotive offering. I have been surprised at the number of young people that don’t get there licenses until they are 18, 19 or 20 years of age. The current issue of Road and Track magazine did a story on this exact phenomenon. In the article they referenced a 2011 study that showed in 1978, 46% of 16 year olds had their driver’s licenses and that by 2008 that number had dropped to only 31%. This represents such a significant drop that many auto manufacturers have taken notice and are looking into alternative forms of motorsport like Drifting and Rallycross, in an attempt to reach a younger audience.
Formula Drift’s own demographics state that 87% of their fans are between the ages of 18-34 years old. These are encouraging numbers to those of us that don’t want to live in a future where cars drive themselves and we are all regulated to nothing more than passengers.
Looking at the entry list one can understand why Drifting is popular among this demographic. In sportscar racing we talk about the Porsches, Ferraris and Vipers that compete as “aspirational” cars. However, when you are 18 a Ferrari might as well be a jet fighter. Take a quick look at some of the cars that will be drifting at Road Atlanta: Late 80’s and 90’s Mazda RX7s, Nissan 240sx/Silvas, and 370zs, Toyota Supra’s and Corollas/Truenos, Scion TCs and FR-S, as well as Chevy Camaros, and Ford Mustangs. For the Formula Drift fan these are cars that are accessible rather than aspirational.
These cars aren’t slouches either. With horsepower ratings from the mid-500s to over a 1000 bhp they produce more output than most of the cars that run at Petit Le Mans. But horsepower is secondary in drifting. Suspension tuning, tires, and brake upgrades are the backbone of a strong drift car build. That along with driver skill and technique is what allows turbocharged 4/6-cylinder vehicles to compete head-to-head with V-8 cars regardless of Horsepower numbers.
So to me drifting is an important way to engage more people in the car culture. I am looking forward to attending this years Drift Atlanta event to witness firsthand what this sport is all about and what the atmosphere is like. My next blog will touch on how a drifting competition works.
By: Dean Richardson