Drifting at irwindale speedway: a 2004 blast from the past
Way back in 2004 when this article was originally written, drifting was the hottest new motorsports craze. One of the first times that I had seen it was at a night-time demonstration set up between two exhibit halls in a small parking lot at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The occasion was the SEMA Show. Despite – or perhaps because of – the compact location it was very exciting, so when I was invited to Media Day for the D1 Grand Prix USA at Irwindale Speedway, they did not have to twist my arm to convince me to go.
Drifting combines the most exciting, fan-friendly elements of racing in a relatively small, easy-for-spectators-to-see area – that is, if they can see through the billowing tire smoke. But that is part of drifting’s charm.
Top international drivers from countries that include Japan and the good old USA push their cars to their limits, doing powerful, controlled, four-wheel drifts (hence the name drifting) around the course. Almost any paved surface will do, from relatively small parking lots to purpose-built race tracks. Drifting demonstrations have been part of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend for years.
I must confess that I learned a variant of drifting many, many years ago, on the gravel roads surrounding Calgary, Alberta, Canada – but that is a story for another day.
The cars are well-prepared, rear wheel drive racing machines. You might notice that the Japanese-market cars each have their steering wheel on the right side.
Pontiac was well represented with their GTO.
The competitors get judged on “execution, angle of attack, style and speed.” At first, they run one car at a time. Then, if that is not difficult enough, things get really exciting for the “Best 16” as they compete in wheel-to-wheel eliminations. The slightest mistake can lead to cars drifting into the barriers or even into other cars.
For the Media demonstration several drifters hopped in their cars and took to the track at once. These guys are nuts! They were not even officially competing but they never-the-less traded paint and sheetmetal.
As they went by I was pelted by harmless little bits of tire rubber. By the end of the session my sweatshirt was covered in the stuff. Wahoo!!!
The closest comparison I can give you is the fun you might experience at a short track on a Saturday night.
Perhaps the most difficult thing for spectators watching drifting is knowing which way to look. Even the journalists were looking every which way!
I had a blast and I’m sure everyone else with a pulse did, too.
As if the on-track action wasn’t enough, they also had a vendor expo.
Irwindale Speedway is located about 25 minutes from downtown Los Angeles. If you have never visited this track before, you really should. The state-of-the-art facility “features 6,000 comfortable seats, twin paved oval race tracks (banked 1/2 and 1/3 mile), great sound and lighting systems, paved parking for over 3,000 cars, convenient snackbars and 12 exclusive Corporate "Sky Box" Suites.” To learn about upcoming events and more, visit Irwindale Speedway at www.irwindalespeedway.com.
Copyright © 2004, 2016 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters & More #93r4