What would make someone travel for 6 hours, sleep in the shadiest motel and spend two days inhaling tire smoke and the fumes from race gas? The answer to that is drifting.
Friday afternoon I met up with my teammates Logan and Tobi in Austin, Texas to load up a couple of Mazda Miatas and a truck bed full of tires. After getting packed up and watching a few drift videos for motivation, we departed to Mineral Wells, Texas for round 2 of the Lone Star Drift Series and Texas Street legal. Logan and I traveled in a truck with his turbo charged multipurpose Miata on a trailer and were followed by Tobi in his stock powered Miata. After hours of me driving Logan mad with my views on life and plans for future racing, we arrived in Mineral Wells
Now the original plan was to stay with Logan’s family about 2 hours away from the event, but being that it was already late we chose to get a motel in town instead. Tobi found one for us on his GPS and we enthusiastically made our way to our destination ready to relax and have a few beers. Now the motel had the word “Comfort” in its name but I believe the owner may have a different idea of what normal people consider comfort. The best way to picture this place would be to imagine any motel from any horror movie based in the middle of nowhere. It was one rectangular shaped building with 11 rooms and a closed off alleyway behind it that may be home to who knows what.
The night manager escorted us to our room and one quick look inside revealed a severely cracked foundation, a crudely patched ceiling and a smell that made my nose tingle. So, of course, we gladly accepted it and began unloading our bags, tools and tires. While the others got settled I poked around the room to admire it’s aging and take pictures. What I found was a sink being held up by a 2×4, an old box television set, and a fridge that had been off for weeks at the least. We realized that for a few dollars more we could stay at a decent hotel up the road, but something about the place we were in appealed to us. So we had a few beers, talked about racing, and then drifted to sleep in anticipation for the following day.
The next morning we loaded up and headed to the track. The initial drivers meeting held by the series organizer, Aaron, was a little informative and a very comical. Some of the safety information included, “Don’t hit the walls. If you do, your stupid” and “It may begin to lighting. If you get struck by lighting, well your stupid.” As soon as the meeting was concluding, having been ready to drive since waking up, Tobi took to the track with me in the passenger seat.
Tobi’s car is a Mazda Miata with a stock engine on a stock tuning, a cool sounding exhaust, a cold air intake, and some really good suspension work. His goal for the weekend was to participate in the Texas Street Legal drift competition, taking place in a few hours. The plan was to get as much practice as possible as his car is very underpowered compared to any other competing. Logan’s Miata is turbo charged with cheap coil overs and some drift steering knuckles. His plan was to just have as much fun as possible during open practice.
My job for the day was to ride with Tobi during practice and help try to find the best line and car setup and to be on the sidelines during the competition to communicate with him about how he and the other cars are doing. After a few laps of just driving the course, Tobi entered turn 1 for the first time sideways and it became very apparent that it would be a challenging day. The course was far too big for his underpowered car. So he found a baseline through consistent driving and began making his adjustments. A few changes to the tire pressure and suspension stiffness and the car reached peak setup for the track. However, this didn’t completely solve the low power issue. It took practicing until the very last minute to find a line that worked best for the car and that Tobi could consistently drive.
Without having expensive radios with headsets to communicate during competition, Tobi and I used ear buds with mics and our cell phones to speak to each other. He was slotted to drive in the second battle in the quarter final of the Street Legal Series. While observing the first battle of competition I noticed the cars straitening out of drift in the same part of the course that Tobi had been all during practice. I immediately relayed this information to him to say not to worry about it, concentrate on angle and line the rest of the course.
Tobi’s first battle was against Mark Williams in a BMW E36 and after very conservative driving, Tobi was granted the win. In the semi final battle Tobi was slotted against Formula Drift driver Will Parsons in his Lexus SC300. Previously Tobi had a battle with Will that resulted in a “one more time” and the resulting battle was not an easy decision for the judges when announcing Will as the winner. In his follow run, Tobi launched off the start line giving everything the Miata had and did his best to keep up with Parsons on the initial stretch. Although falling behind, he drove a good line and made no mistakes other than a small straitening on the right hand turn that most cars could not fully complete. Unfortunately Parsons had the power to get through the turn with ease. On his lead run, Tobi’s driving was on point with him using all 110hp to tap the outer wall of turn 3, but with the Formula Drift driver having a good follow run, the victory was awarded to Parsons.
This was not the end of the event for Tobi. He was out of contention for the win, but still in the fight for 3rd place. The fight for third would be against Ben Joseph in the white Nissan 350Z. Tobi lead the first run and both drivers were on point. Run two was lead by Joseph and mirrored the first. The result was a one more time. At this point it was all or nothing. Tobi lead his final battle leaving nothing at the start. As he came out of turn 3 and into the round about, he went a little wider than normal and seemingly way too fast, quickly closing on the turns outside C wall. Tobi later told me, “I thought to myself, if I hit, it got to be with the side of the car, I CAN NOT bail. It worked out.” It worked out very well as the red Miata carved the entire length of the wall within inches and then tightened to the inside of the turn for a good clean finish. This drove the bystanders and the announcers mad as it was just unbelievable driving for the car being used. Only tens of feet behind was Joseph in his 350Z laying down a very good follow run.
The final run started. Joseph pulled away quickly off the line but was soon being chased down by a very angry Miata. Both cars entered the first turn as committed as they had been all competition and as the cars tightened to turn 2, I noticed Tobi sweep very wide and could hear him banging off the rev limiter. Its not like Tobi to overdrive the car like that, so I knew immediately his tires had gone bald. He kept his foot in it and continued to follow the 350Z. This was the first time all day that he was able to make it all the way through turn 3 without having to straiten for reinitiating and I knew that would easily make up for going wide earlier. Then around the last quarter of the roundabout the car swept wide again and ran over a few cones. The drift was perfect, but he just ran out of track. Both cars pulled up in front of the announcers to await the conclusion of the event to find out who took the last step on the podium. The 3rd place was awarded to Joseph who had driven amazing all day.
Although finishing 4th, there were no frowns on Tobi or anyone else there to support him. The drive was incredible and I don’t believe many other competitors could do what he did having only 110HP and a deficit of at least 100HP from any other car in competition.
The day would conclude with more fun runs on the track and a few beers in the motel.
The next day we returned to the track that was covered in standing water after a full night of thunder storms and the weather did not give any indication of clearing up. What amazed me was the Pro Am event was still on schedule to be driven. This did not amaze me just because of being in increment weather. I am a rally driver, so I know rain is part of the Fun. What amazed me is that most of the Pro Am drift cars had no windows and some even had no roofs, yet these drivers threw some raincoats on and headed onto track anyway.
I was excited when the owner of Slide Life, Julian Ramirez, offered me a ride in his SR20DET powered 240SX S14. This car had tires that were at least twice the width of the ones on my rally car and probably 5 times its power. The first things I noticed when climbing into the car that had no windows and an massive hole in the top were the moon roof used to be, was a pool of water under my feet and a lack of really anything but seats, a steering wheel, a tachometer and a couple of switches. The doors where flimsy pieces of metal, and there was absolutely no sound barrier between the incredibly loud exhaust and cab. So, like anyone else, I strapped myself in and put on my helmet, which hid the massive smile on my face when Julian brought this monster to life. After a few donuts to warm up a new set of tires, we headed onto the track. It was still raining but only moderately. When the track workers sounded the go horn, we were off like a bat out of hell. The conditions were soaked, yet this didn’t stop the car from accelerating at an incredible rate. When we entered turn one, Julian snapped the car sideways. My first thought was that he was going way to fast and that he flicked the car way to hard, so I was ready for a spin. However, Julian was instantly on the power and the car started drifting through the turn. I was getting hit in the face by 70-90 MPH rain, but it did not bother me as the car slid through the track with a screaming turbo and an exhaust that was popping like a machine gun. The car had so much grip and power that it would accelerate after he initiated drift. I had never gone so fast in a car that was sliding at 90 degrees.
I was not able hang around for the actual Pro Am competition as I had to be in school early the next day and quite a drive ahead of me, but it was such an eventful weekend that I will never forget my first time attending a Lone Star Drift event.