There are traditional motorsports and then there’s Formula Drift.
Founded in 2003, it’s the top-tier drifting series in the U.S. If you haven’t heard of it, drifting is not quite like anything else you can see at the speedway. In fact, it’s perhaps the last form of hot-rodding left in motorsports. Drivers modify their cars, creating 800 to 1,000-horsepower monsters that slide sideways across the track at high speed, screeching out a cacophony of engine noise and tire smoke.
Coming in hot after its 15th anniversary, this still relatively new motorsport marked its return to Long Beach for the start of the 2019 season. And Formula Drift always kicks off the year with a media day. It’s a chance to chat with drivers and crew members; an opportunity for the teams to test out off-season changes on the cars; and perhaps the most unique experience compared to other motorsports series – a chance for ride-alongs.
I was fortunate to get a taste of the varying power in the sport by hitching a ride with three drivers – Matt Field, Michael Essa and Dean Kearney – in their Formula Drift cars. All three cars are monsters in their own right, as you can see in the above video, but they differ in how that power is produced.
For those of you who don’t know the rules, Formula Drift has a unique scoring system compared to many other motorsports. The Formula Drift field first must qualify to participate in the Top 32 competition. The drivers get two solo runs to put down a qualifying score. The score is rated by three Formula Drift judges and is based on three main criteria: line, angle and style of the drift. Drivers receive a score ranging from an incomplete run to 100 points.
Once a driver reaches the Top 32, that is when tandem or two car battles begin. One car leads and the other follows; then they switch for the second run. The same criteria from qualifying remains, but the lead driver is expected to make pace while the follow driver is expected to remain in close proximity to the lead driver. During tandems, instead of giving a score judges simply pick the driver they believe deserves the win for the run.