I'd like to start by saying that this is a sort of rebuttal to Paddy McGrath's great piece over on Drifted.com. (Seriously, go read it, it's not too long, it's a wonderful read, and has some really pretty pictures.)
Paddy makes an important point that in the drifting community there are two main types of fans; grassroots fans who want every car to be "JDM AS F*CK" and never have more than 300 hp, and competition fans who want every car to be a rocket ship and have 9,374,285 hp. Don't believe me? Ask any drifting fan if they like V8's, and you'll see what I mean.
Sadly, as Paddy says, this holds back the sport as a whole, because many drivers and teams who wish to move into the professional world of competition are fearful that they will embarrass or alienate themselves as they move away from the grassroots spirit of drifting. Which is true to some extent.
Let's discuss the whole idea of the spirit of drifting, while we're here. This seems like a complete B.S. excuse for those who don't want to change and are probably still using Razor flip phones because the 2000's were the coolest. What is the spirit of drifting, anyway? It's, quite simply, screwing around and raising hell in relatively cheap cars. Look at the Matsuri events held at Ebisu in Japan every season, or the monthly ClubLoose events in New Jersey, or the random street drifting from some 18 year old kid in your upper-middle-class suburban neighborhood. (
What, me? Noooo, I was never that naive and stupid...) Drifting is probably the dumbest thing you can do with a car, and yet every single gearhead loves it, whether you follow the actual sport or not.
So, at its most basic level, drifting is something that everyone enjoys and is about fun. What is rally racing about, at its most basic level? What is open-wheel racing about, at its most basic level? How about NASCAR?
This is my gripe with how many fans view drifting, as a sport. Yes, it's about fun. Yes, it was started by a bunch of dudes who wanted to drive like idiots and laugh like hell doing it. But so was every other type of motorsport. Yet, somehow, they've all moved on to bigger and better things, while those who still just want to have fun can do so with like-minded individuals. (Ex: LeMons)
Consider another sport, basketball. Lebron James plays basketball because he loves the sport. However, he plays in the NBA because he is good at it and wants to make money and win games, and ultimately championships. If he wanted to just have a good time, he would play pickup games with his buddies on a playground somewhere. He's still having fun while playing professionally, albeit a considerably different level of fun. And if the spirit of basketball is to have fun with friends, does that mean the NBA is too serious and shouldn't be?
Drifting seems to fall into this weird ideal partly due to the fact that most other forms of motorsport have been around for much, much longer and have had time to mature, and partly due to the fact that drifting is a judged sport and not based off time or distance or speed. Style is a huge part of judged sports, and is why most are drawn to drifting in the first place; it's different than most other motorsports. Drivers can be aggressive in tandem, can rub against walls, can hit each other. Cars can be subtle, or in your face, bright, and obnoxious.
But, again, style is important in other forms of racing too. We all know how
boring smooth Jenson Button is and how perfect aggressive Fernando Alonso is. So why do drifting fans hold onto this mantra of "Keep Drifting Fun"?
Honestly, I think it's simply ignorance...Ignorance to other forms of racing. Paddy says in his story that he needed to walk away from drifting, get involved in other types of motorsport, and come back in to realize how the sport appeared to outsiders. Most fans of drifting are relatively young, and many are not traditional motorsport fans; much like Global Rallycross, fans are more involved in the extreme sports world of skateboarding, BMX, snowboarding, etc. They don't pay much attention to the competition aspect as they do to the action out on track and around them at the event.
Formula Drift has done an amazing job over the last ten years of growing the sport to monumental status, and did so in part by providing an entire event for fans to experience, rather than just watching cars destroy tires over and over again. In order to move forward from this point, the event itself won't be enough.
Drifting needs to get smarter. FD has been working on it, with clear definitions of scoring and real-time judging. But the focus now needs to switch from the fans to the sponsors and teams and drivers. The fans and their unrealistic views about the spirit of drifting are not to blame for the possible stagnation of the sport; they just want to see great driving and cool cars. The sport now needs to bring in new technology and new businesses to help develop the cars and teams to new heights, much like how Formula 1 reinvents itself every decade or so to remain relevant to both its corporate backers and fans.
How could drifting do this? What could they add to make competition more exciting and to engage more viewers, thus growing profitability? The sky's the limit. Speed may not be the answer...FD's last round in New Jersey proved that. Power levels can't get much higher, but who says limits are bad? Power and displacement caps and regulations could create even more clever engineering. (Remember that almost all professional drifting series have very little regulations regarding the vehicles.) Tire and Manufacturer championships in FD were a welcome addition that will hopefully grow into serious corporate-backed teams, much like the 3-car Falken Tire team.
Overall, the growth of drifting isn't going to slow down anytime soon, but it could definitely use a push to keep its momentum. Let's not worry about the spirit of drifting or keeping drifting fun...Let's worry about getting the sport out of its niche market and into the mainstream.
-Mike Griffith (firstname.lastname@example.org)