Let it slide…

Dec 2, 2009

All the rage in the sport compact world the past five or so years, drifting for the uninitiated is a highly skilled motorsport where drivers control a car while it slides from side-to-side at high speeds through a fixed course. Drifting is done on tarmac and judged on speed, angle of attack, execution and style rather than who crosses the finish line first. Drift cars are usually compact to midsized, rear-wheel-drive, sport-compact cars, and the goal is to apply enough power to the rear wheels to break the tires loose and initiate a slide while accelerating the vehicle forward, or to “drift”. While drifting has captured the attention of enthusiasts, for many aftermarket manufacturers, distributors and tuner shops, the big question remains: Does drifting really help move product?

Idea Exchange

I posed that question to a few industry professionals who have a finger on the sport-compact enthusiasts’ pulse. Seattle’s CarDomain Networks created the CarDomain.com website to foster the exchange of ideas that interest car enthusiasts and participation among its members, who can also purchase parts and accessories.

Bernard Bolisig, the purchasing manager for CarDomain.com, when asked if drifting has directly sold product, responded in the affirmative.

“We’ve definitely seen more movement of gear for the 240SX, AE86, RX-7 and 350Zs. Indirectly—with the declining interest in sport compact performance over the past couple of years, the resurgence of domestic performance and new found glory in diesel performance—drifting has recharged the entry-level enthusiasts since cars like the AE86 and S13 240SX are cheap and somewhat accessible/affordable.”

Doug Andrus, ultra-high performance tire marketing and motorsports manager for Cooper Tire & Rubber Company in Findlay, Ohio, remarked, “I would say ‘yes’ to both. The old saying, ‘What wins on Sunday sells on Monday,’ is true. The key to being involved in motorsports and to be recognized as a winner is to take a great product to the track and be competitive. Does this sell tires directly? I think it does. Enthusiasts who are at the track or watch the sport on TV will remember what they saw, and they will at least have brand awareness when they go to buy tires. Indirect sales come from the person who asks a friend or someone who has bought Cooper tires about their experience. Cooper has been around since 1914 building great tires and we are now walking the walk in performance tires.”

Sean Edwards, director of marketing for Redmond, Wash.-based Status Racing Inc., said, “Sales at Status have definitely increased due to the gaining popularity of drifting. I think this is due to the fact that the people who are drifting are immediately aware of the safety risks that are involved.”

Donny Kie, General Manager of Compton, California’s Versus Motorsport, Inc., replied, “Yes, we do see a direct relationship to sales since we sponsor top Formula D drivers such as Daijiro Yoshihara, Tanner Foust and Stephan Papadakis.”

Nero Deliwala, of Titan Motorsports, in Orlando, Fla., noted, “It has helped add fans to our overall marketplace, and as a whole, that adds sales to Titan Motorsports.”

Loren Ho, vice-president of sales and marketing for Chino, Calif.’s Rotora, Inc., added, “Drifting has generated direct sales for Rotora. We’ve benefited by being in the forefront of U.S. drifting by owning a drift team, as well as working with other manufacturer-supported drift teams.”

The Attraction

Drifting is an extreme form of driving that requires a high level of skill and technique to control the car in the realm of the uncontrollable. It’s entertaining to watch each driver’s performance, and this is the attraction of the sport combined with its unpredictability. In addition, unlike rallies and other motorsports, the determination of a winner or loser is largely based on that driver’s skill, instead of the car’s inherent advantages.

Drifting sanctioning bodies D1 Grand Prix and Formula D are all about each driver’s drifting skills. When asked if they saw a correlation between drift enthusiasts and product sales, CarDomain.com’s Bolisig said, “I guess there’s somewhat of a correlation, but only because the major drift events are scheduled in the spring and summer. That’s our peak time for aftermarket sales anyway.”

Status Racing’s Edwards remarked, “Sure, purchasing a quality bucket seat not only holds the driver in place while cornering, but it can also be a huge piece in driver safety if used with the right components [roll cage, harnesses, helmet].”

Cooper’s Andrus added, “Absolutely. The power of this age group is tremendous in the marketplace. The enthusiast age range is 13 to 30, and they have a surplus of disposal income. This age group also has a lot of muscle in the marketplace now and in the future. We have seen spikes in our sales in every area where there has been a competition. It’s like a ripple effect for sales and spreads outward from the site of the event. Dealers who come to the events for the first time always leave very excited and say they want to build a promotion and event around the next race. At Cooper, we love the drift community and the style they bring to the races and car shows, and they in turn have shown us respect with higher sales.”

According to Kie of Versus Motorsport, “Yes, there is a correlation, as we are now growing our sales much faster with rear-wheel-drive vehicles, especially in Nissan products.”

Rotora’s Ho adds, “Drifting enthusiasts equals direct product sales.”

Drift Products

Specific products that manufacturers and shops are selling as a result of drifting include, according to Andrus at Cooper Tire, “The Cooper Zeon line is what we have dedicated to our drift teams. Who uses what varies between drivers. Casper Canul uses our H-rated Zeon ZPT for his 240SX. Other drivers such as the El Camino Bubba Drift and Nate Brasz used the W-rated Zeon 2XS, and Tony Angelo and Ryan Tuerck use the Zeon Sport A/S. Having all three tires to us was a huge advantage for our drivers — we had a tire for every type of track. As a result of the success at the track we have seen a large spike in the sales of the Cooper Zeon line.”

Bolisig of CarDomain.com, stated, “In addition to the continuous air intake and exhaust sales, suspension and chassis components seem to be benefiting from the drifting craze.”

At Status Racing, Edwards said, “In the drifting community we have noticed sales across the board from your entry level grass roots type, all the way to the professional level. It is exciting to see this young sport grow.”

Versus Motorsport’s Kie noted, “Yes, more specifically anything for the Nissan 240SX, Nissan Silvia, Nissan 350Z & Honda S2000 is selling.” Titan’s Deliwala added, “You see it a lot with wheels, tires, exhaust and suspension—things that drifters use. You also see more enthusiasm in the sport compact segment, which turns into sales for all street performance parts.”

Ho of Rotora said, “We saw a huge jump and consistent sales increase with all of our brake products [big brake systems, discs, pads and steel braided brake lines] pertaining to rear-wheel-drive applications such as Nissan 350Z, Infiniti G35, Nissan Silvias [240SX], Toyota Supras, Corollas [AE86], Mazda RX7s and Honda S2000s.”

The Last Corner

While most of the companies we contacted were positive about the effects of drifting on sales, David Borla, sales and marketing manager for Oxnard, California’s Borla Industries, said that as far as he could tell, “Drifting has had no effect on the sale of our products, direct or otherwise.”

Dan Mermelstein of Vivid Racing said, “Drifting has not directly helped sell products for Vivid Racing. Even with a car that competed in a D1 event, drifting’s customer base is just not a big spending market. The sad reality is that drifting is a lifestyle and marketing sector. There are one out of 10 guys that do the full drift spec car, but the majority buy cheap or used parts, and they are not into the best quality they can buy. Vivid Racing sells high-end products, which better targets time-attack and road-racing customers. The drifting market, in my eyes, is the replacement for cheap Hondas. All an all, there is a different type of shop for every customer. I just hope that the shop catering only to the drifting crowd does something to stand out. It will be interesting to see the longevity of drifting as a serious motorsport.”

At present, there are three professional series in the U.S.: Formula Drift [or Formula D for short], D1 Grand Prix U.S. and NOPI Drift. The latter is an extension of NOPI’s sport compact drag racing and show car series. Whether all three series will be able to attract sufficient crowds and sponsors remains to be seen, but drift enthusiasts this season will have more events than ever before, along with more hours of TV coverage.

If drifting is to make a lasting impression on the youth market in the same manner as the X Games or motocross has, now is the time. Companies involved in fielding cars or supplying products to this market must step up and aggressively pursue the drifting audience in the same manner as the teams do on track.