Speed Across The Nation: Drifting

Dec 2, 2009

In this month’s edition of Speed Across The Nation, which highlights a different niche of the performance aftermarket in each issue, Performance Business checks in on the drifting market. We talk to speed shops in the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest and of course, SoCal.

Everyone we talked said the same thing-¦it’s a great time to be in the world of tail sliding, counter steering, E-Braking and clutch kicking, a world where a ’89 240 actually has value and tires are burned like a GI’s paycheck on a 4-day leave.

Here’s what they had to say about what is shaping up to be a banner year for drifting:

Mike Palmer
Enjuku Racing
Orlando, Florida

“This is shaping up to be the biggest year for Enjuku racing, and biggest for drift in general,” Palmer said.  “It has taken awhile to people to understand the sport. It’s not just about some guys doing burnouts in a parking lot. There is a back story to every D1 driver out there, and fans love that.”

What really gets Palmer stoked about the upcoming season is the convergence of the Big Three on the drifting series. This year D1 Grand Prix, Formula D and the new NOPI Drifting Association will all hold professional level events in various locals on US soil. That, coupled with amateur drifting events growing in grassroots popularity, all equal a good looking 2007, Palmer says.

“It seems in almost every D1 event you will see some guy with a stock 240 who hits all his points and makes it into the finals. Drift is really all about the driver and it isn’t that different than the grassroots model of NASCAR. It’s catching on.”

And while drifting was born and raised in Japan, first making landfall on the West Coast, the East Coast is developing its own style.

“The West Coast is really an extension of where drift started in Japan, and on the East Coast we see ourselves as interpreters of that who are developing our own style.”

One of the East Coast styles is all-out moxie.

“We are seeing a lot of interest at our shop in parts for the Brand new Datsun 350Z for guys who want to take this $30,000 car out to the track on the weekend,” Palmer said. “It’s not something I’d do-¦it takes a lot of Moxie and that’s what this sport is all about.”

Jeff Rica
Connecticut Import Performance
Milford, CT

Jeff Rica of Connecticut Import Performance noted that the big things coming down the pike for drifters is the continuing push from Big Three to get a “piece of the Japanese pie” by paying more attention to drifting. The Mustang, Solstice and Charger are all drift capable, and now even D1 leader Ben Schwartz is driving a Saturn Sky, Rica said.

“Drifting is still growing, I don’t think it is anywhere near it’s plateau yet on the East Coast,” Rica said. The Sport Compact scene and drifting are all about originality, and having a greater choice of vehicles to work with only helps that. When I go to a drift event I see 80 to 90 percent of the cars are Nissan 240-¦there are a lot of other great drift vehicles out there.”

We caught Jeff a mere two hours away from a trip down to the first D1 series event of the season on the East Coast at the Englishtown racetrack.

“Englishtown has been great to work with, they are starting to understand our needs for the track and doing a great job supporting the events.”

Rica too believes that while the main demographic for drifters is the 20 to 21-year-old male, traditional, hard-core race shops should ignore them at their doom.

“These are the new racers and fans, and we need to be there for them.”

Brian Fujita
Drift Speed
Westminister, CA

Drift Speed was founded in 2002 by a handful of driving enthusiasts from Orange County. Its goal was to create a single location where other enthusiasts could come to obtain all the hard to find Japanese parts designed to withstand the toughest conditions on the racetrack.

Today that founding dream is proving to be an exciting reality.

“It used to be that when people thought of drifting they either thought Japan or California,” Fujita said. “That’s different today. The exposure the sport has got, and the grassroots organizations across the county have made drifting into a known sport.”

And with events happening across the county, more people are getting sprayed by tire bits, breathing burning rubber and seeing drifters go within feet of them at a track.

“Being at a real drift race is 100 times better than seeing one on TV,” Fujita said. “It gets people hooked quick.”

And once they do get hooked, they are finding drift parts…suspension, exhaust, boost-¦becoming more affordable and much higher quality.

“Five years ago we were begging people we knew to go out and try it, today it is a real sport to the point where people are selling their Hondas and looking for a used 240.”

Which only means one thing-¦rising prices for prized drift cars, and a hindsight headache for anyone who sold a “worn out” 240 for $500 a few years ago.

Simba Nyemba
Touge Factory
Northbrook, IL

Chicago’s Club FR continues to grow, holding better attended drift events each year, says Simba Nyemba of the Touge Factory.

“This is our biggest year ever for drifting in the Midwest, and now with NOPI in the mix, it’s even better.”

Like other non-West Coast drift shops, the Touge Factory doesn’t consider itself confined by the 240 craze.

“If it is rear wheel drive it is driftable,” Nyemba said.

To prove that out, a Touge Factory customer was getting “quite good” with his Toyota Tacoma pickup truck before racing costs got the better of him. The Mazda Miata is seen in the Midwest during drift events, along with a good number of RX7s.

Drivers and fans in the Midwest have also been quick to embrace go-cart tracks for events.

“The sport of drifting developed in Japan on go-cart tracks, and we were worried it wouldn’t be enough room, but there is and we’ve had nothing but love from the track owners we have worked with.”

But like anywhere else, tire cost is killing Midwest drifters.

“A lot of younger guys go through a set of tires at an event, and like any motor sport it all comes down to money,” Nyemba said.  “In the Midwest we kind of get overlooked for sponsorships compared to West Coast drivers, who have access to tire companies and tire shops. But we are getting known as the hidden gem of drivers and tracks for drifting”.

Kevin Wells
Owner, LS Automotive
Baldwin Park, Calif.

In agreement with the other shop owners we spoke with, Kevin Wells says drifting’s popularity is on the increase, and isn’t going to peak anytime soon.

“Last year, I traveled with Falken Tire and Drift Alliance on their demo events, and we always had to explain the sport. Now when we go out, people have already heard about it, and they want to know which team and what car we work with,” says Wells.

For example, last year Wells could go pick up parts with drivers and no one knew who they were. This year, they’re signing autographs.

And while drifting is creating new stars out of a different breed, Nissans are still the star cars.

“As for driver demographics, I would say 20- to 25-years-olds is the majority with a few older driver exceptions. Most of the older drivers come from other sports, such as rally, and they are capitalizing on their previous experience,” says Wells.

He adds that the best-selling parts for people in that drifting culture are anything to increase horsepower and suspension modifications.

“Suspension is very important in this sport to make the car react and perform the way the driver wants it to,” says Wells.

That does it for this edition of Speed Across The Nation. Check in again next month!