By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
At the D1GP event I attended in late February, I met drift fans who came from all over the United States and Canada just to watch the action live, some for the first time. The crowd was one of the more ethnically diverse I had seen at an automotive race; you had the sense that a real subculture was developing, a culture big companies have only begun to latch onto. These were fans who found something all on their own. It felt like a good thing. The one factory-backed car — a brand-spanking-new Pontiac GTO, driven by Rhys Millen — got a serious razzing at the D1GP. Drifting fans can tell when a big company buys its way into an event. Which, unfortunately, looks to me like it will happen a lot more as drifting gets more popular (read: lucrative). In fact, Dodge announced its own Viper factory drifting team last month.
Justin Chadwick, a tall, preppy 22-year-old kid from Arizona, comes to the Los Angeles area three or four times a month just to drift in his 1991 Nissan SR201 (that’s a 240 SX to you and me). When I asked him why he doesn’t move to Los Angeles, he told me that if he could find a good job, he would, just for the drifting scene.
Almost every American I spoke to told me the same story: Growing up they had Japanese friends who introduced them to Option Video Magazine, a monthly Japan-only automotive video series, which turned them on to first the import tuner scene and then to drifting. American drifting fans refer to their cars by their Japanese names — it’s not a Toyota Corolla, it’s an AE86 — and address other drivers with the proper term “san.” They don’t care much about NASCAR or the Big Three; in fact, they don’t care for newer cars at all. (That may change, however, if automakers continue to reintroduce to market the rear-wheel-drive cars used in drifting.)
Thirty-year-old Bryan Norris grew up in the predominantly Japanese neighborhood of Anaheim Hills in Orange County, where he consumed a steady diet of anime and Option videos. Back then his friends had to translate the Japanese for him, but these days, Norris — who is as Anglo as they come — can reel off the language like Blade Runner’s Deckard ordering a meal at the local soba bar. The day before the event, Norris took me for a spin around the Irwindale track. It felt like a ride on the best roller coaster ever, only you really candie. Right when I thought Norris would hit the wall, he’d drop the clutch and boom— pull the e-brake and drift sideways around a hairpin as smooth as anything. Norris started out racing open-wheel cars and road and rally racing, but drifting has become his true racing love. Norris still has his day job, but he has in the past secured sponsorship from tuning-parts manufacturer JICUSA. “People are starting to recognize me more,” he said. “Before it was like, man, I need a new set of tires, and that’s like $600. Now it’s free tires and I get to drift.
“In the States it’s going to get bigger,” he continued, “and I think a lot of us are already getting famous.” One way that fame may manifest is in video games: The speed and length of drifting events suits the video-game generation’s aesthetic. In fact, at least three video games already feature drifting in some form. Electronic Arts plans to expand the sport into an even more dynamic, pixelated version.
Norris thinks his car may soon make it into a game. “That way, you can pretend you’re me in my JIC car,” he offered. “That’d be cool.”