I guess you clicked on this article thinking that I have the answer, but I don’t. It’s more in the tune of, “Why do I feel like America has ruined drifting?”
Drifting began back in the 70’s. Back then however, it wasn’t considered a sport, but more of a technique. It wasn’t until the late 80’s that drifting became popular in Japan. Who’s the man to blame? Keiichi Tsuchiya. Some of you might know him through Option Videos and his drift bible video. He originally started drifting underground and had done it with a couple of his friends illegally.
Let’s fast forward to 1998, when most of us who love the sport were alive and actually had the sense to remember things. The Japanese TV series Initial D was born and our inner manga fan boy wished that it were our own father that owned a tofu shop and drove a Toyota Trueno AE86. That’s when my own research began. Option Videos had already released tons of videos about drifting but I didn’t get too deep into it at the time. Actually, as corny as it sounds, it was The Fast and the Furious that grew my interest in tuning cars. I was into drag racing because it was cool; he was in my face, NOW I’M IN YOUR FACE! (For those who don’t know, that was a line from the movie). At this point in time I was already in the military and living in the small town of Alamogordo, New Mexico.
In 2004, I had the opportunity to be stationed in Japan. Like any other Japanese car enthusiast that plays Grand Turismo, I opted for a Nissan Skyline GT-R BNR32 as my car when I got there. This was when I got immersed in the culture of drifting in Japan. I started working for various magazines and covered events in the Kantō Region. D1 Grand Prix had started to become popular. So popular that they even started making their tours to the United States.
This is when I fell in love with the style of a clean built Japanese drift car. People in America might call it “rice,” I considered it “appropriate”, and that has nothing to do with me being Asian. Drifting is about style and how gracefully you can make the car slide or “drift”. They come as flashy as one can be. Aero kit, big wings, some wrapped with stickers, others just enough to make it tasteful, but all of them are lowered. Some even came with flashing lights and unique paint schemes. This brought joy to the audiences’ eyes, it was as enticing as one can get. I then sold my GT-R and bought a Toyota Chaser JZX100, not for drifting purposes, but for “my family is getting bigger” purposes. What better way to celebrate fatherhood than to have a 4-door, 1JZGTE-powered car than a JZX100? It was rare to find a manual transmission without converting, so like the other Chaser’s around, I had an automatic. However, that didn’t stop me from drifting. It was very easy, thanks to the power the car produced. I was hooked. After a year, I sold the grocery getter to buy a proper drift car, an S13 Silvia. It was flat gray and only had one sole purpose: to drift. Other than the paint, the car was actually solid and very reliable. A paintjob was planned, but time constraints prevented me from doing so. This was when I regretted that I didn’t get into this sport as soon as I arrived in Japan.
Drifting, like other Japanese fads, was copied by the Americans. Cars are then modified with the same style as their Japanese counterpart. People started to realize that drifting is fun. The popularity increased, and the fan base tripled in size in a short period of time. People started to have proper offsets on their cars, tasteful aero kits, and they began incorporating the feel of what a Japanese drift car should be. Drifting’s success was on it’s way to becoming the next big sport to hit America.
I am not here to point fingers and blame a specific fad, company, or person. I would say that it was a combination of all of them. New comers were misguided when it came to car builds. The influence that these entities once had took a different direction, away from the authentic Japanese vision. Greed came into play and money has since become the name of the game. Professional series started becoming more and more strict, and amateurs didn’t stand a chance for the big shot. Winning is now what’s on every driver’s mind, whatever it takes. Cars were created for the sole purpose of winning, even if it took the soul and fun and history out of what made this sport popular. There’s even a lot of buzz going on around the Internet on how most of the professional drivers just leave it in second or third gear and mash on the gas. I’m sure that there’s more to it, but the old school way of shifting gears and manji is dead. Now it’s all about the drag race starts, 1000hp engines, and going “balls out” on the track. Cars are no longer lowered, so they can handle the high horsepower, and they’ve stopped caring about the wheel offsets and size. It’s built for one reason, an advantage over the other driver. Winning. The fun is gone.
I know people would say that this is simply evolution. Cars need to be upgraded and power needs to be increased, but the rules and traits of drifting should not be altered. It should still show one self’s true soul. Not like many pro drifters that don’t see their car until the season begins. They’re given just enough time for a shakedown before the event. Design inputs are from people who engineered the car only for the purpose of winning. Flashy decals with huge sponsor branding is what the car shows. When the flag drops the high torque kicks in and the drag race starts, a race to the apex. Jokes and memes started comparing drifting as a sideways drag race. The days of close and exciting tandems have been killed.
Professionals started doing it and so the fans started to think that this is the norm. It’s so easily accessible that it’s all you can find when doing research. Now like lemmings everyone has been drawn to this new style, and as a result, soul building is slowly dying. The term “Missile Car” is now being tossed around like it’s the hottest pizza in town. Most people using the word don’t even know what it means. Amateurs started building “Drift Cars” instead of “Cars that can drift,” which is a big difference. “Drift cars” have been stripped out and have no other reason to be on the road. You might be cursing at your computer monitors by now, yelling, “IT’S FOR FUN, YOU IDIOT!” Completely understandable, your input is valid. This only works if this is your “for fun only” car. This way of thinking is very uneconomical, don’t you think?
Drift cars in Japan are still built to be unique. It’s a part of what the owner believes in. It’s his way of thinking that represents of who he is. Don’t tell me that a hoodless, bumperless, banged up car represents you? Cars that I have known in Japan have full interior, with an audio system that functions, and have carpeted interiors that smell like lilacs and roses with a hint of burnt rubber. They are daily driven with a twin plate clutch and two-way differentials but still have the power steering and most of the time the air conditioning works. It doesn’t have to be kept for just one function.
However, not all in America have the same mindset; there are still a lot of people that build cars that drift. Grassroots with Japanese influence is still out there. They consider this an art rather than an instant gratification. Parts are carefully selected and thought of and each serves a purpose. Research and hard work has been poured into the build. Not only does the car aim to be fun but it also defines the owner.
This might sound like a lot of work but think about it, Michael Angelo took more than 4 years to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Take your time. This should be an extension of your individuality, not because it’s what you saw on TV or online.
As Taka Aono said in his hour long documentary about his quest with Formula D, winning has become the number one priority by all drivers. Being a gentleman and respecting the other driver has been thrown out the window. Sponsors don’t want to see showmanship; they want to be the top company that helped the year’s annual champion.
Drifting can still go back to what it once was—a grassroots sport that celebrates grace, style, and clean aesthetics. It can go back to its original state, rather than the poorly executed, consumer-driven imitation that it’s starting to become here in America. But it all starts with you. With me, with us: those of us who are into cars because we have a passion for fun, because we love the constant drive to create sleek and functional vehicles that are an extension of our own personalities.