With the Formula Drift season completed, teams already are preparing for next year and I have some time to reflect on their performances in 2019. As I watch the highlights, what keeps coming back to me is the progression not just this year but in the nearly two decades since the sport arrived in the U.S.
I remember watching on television and in internet video clips as Formula Drift began. Back then, it was our favorite Japanese drivers showing American drivers the aspects of their sport.
Car builds involved the most basic form of modifications, with nice wheels and a solid looking paint job or vinyl wrap. Drivers appeared to be maintaining control by moving their hands around the controls as though they were swatting a bothersome bee.
These drivers were the first wave entering competition for the first Formula Drift event at Road Atlanta in 2004. Looking back at old videos, the level of competition is similar to what we might see today at a ProAM level instead of Pro.
Control of the cars of course was not nearly as clean and consistent as we’ve come to expect. There were large gaps between the cars, awkwardness on the starting line, and lots of falling out of drift and then trying to catch up to the lead car.
So here we are in 2019 wrapping the season, a season which ended with Irish driver James Deane becoming the sport’s first three-time consecutive season champion. Like Deane, nearly half of the competitors in the series are from overseas as Formula Drift has become an international competition.
Formula Drift management has continued to evolve. Something new is always brewing from behind closed doors and Formula Drift headquarters and I can’t wait to see the action go down again next year. New rule book changes have recently been announced as it does every year. As the Formula Drift Pro level evolves so does Pro2 and ProAM but one thing still hasn’t changed, the accessibility of the sport.
Key to the sport’s popularity is its accessibility. Drifting can still be practiced in most any rear-wheel-drive car and organizers are setting up local events to provide a safe environment for drivers to practice and to have fun with friends.
I remember the stories my dad told me about his drag racing days during the late ‘60s in his 1965 Pontiac GTO with a 389 Tri-Power. They’d run their races on on dirt roads or on the city streets of Tuscon and Bisbee in Arizona.
Drag racing was the hottest thing you could do with your car back then and it never got boring. Drifting today is what drag racing was back then. Sometimes you just want to do something a little crazy fun with your car other than just going in a straight line.
For a new generation, the heart of drifting is more than just the competition on the track like Formula Drift. It’s also the social activity as people come together to see skilled drivers manipulate their cars in unison with uncanny precision around a short course for everyone’s entertainment.