From street to film and back

Published March 30, 2007

The signal comes to shoot off the line. The drivers punch the accelerator. They are traveling 70 mph heading into the first turn.

The drivers snap on their emergency brakes. Their cars go sideways, roaring and skidding as they burn rubber.

Welcome to the world of drift racing, a sport that involves race cars sliding sideways, or drifting, through tight corners of a winding course.

Starting today, a group of six World Drift Championship drivers will put on an exhibition at the Grand Prix. The shows are today 5:30-6 p.m., Saturday (11:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m.) and Sunday (8:50-9:45 a.m.).


This niche but gnarly sport, popularized by the movie Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift, evolved out of illegal road racing on winding mountain roads in Japan during the 1960s.

The racers eventually started driving on city streets. The sport went legit in 2001, when magazine publisher Daiijiro Inada and pro driver Keiichi Tsuchiya founded the D1 Grand Prix Series.

The first big drifting competition in the U.S. took place at Irwindale Speedway in California on Aug. 31, 2003.

Drifting has since become one of the fastest-growing sports in the country, drawing thousands of spectators and numerous drifting schools and clinics.

Hulk Hogan's son, Nick, attended a drifting school and tried to turn pro last year during an episode of VH1's Hogan Knows Best.

How it works

Drifting is a tire-smoking, engine-howling spectacle. A driver accelerates, sometimes up to 70 mph, briefly uses the emergency hand brake to launch the car sideways around a curve, rights the car for the straightaway, accelerates again, then launches sideways for the next curve.

Drifting requires throttle, brake and steering skills. Done right, it is noisy but graceful. Sometimes, two cars drift in tandem with skilled drivers keeping them inches apart.

Done wrong, a car can end up banging track barriers or spinning out of control.

Drifting competitions are not won by being the fastest around the track. Instead, the competitions are judged. Judges give points for how fast the car is going in a drift, how long the drift is held or how quickly the driver can put the car into a drift going the opposite direction.

Bob Putnam can be reached at putnam@sptimes.com or at (727) 445-4169.


How drifting is judged

Drifting is judged similar to ice skating. Judges look for certain criteria:

Entry speed

Judges use a radar gun for this key part of the run, as it determines other parts of the drift.

Line clipping

The "Clipping" line is often judged by the driver's line around the corner. Judges prefer to see a driver take a tight line, putting the car's nose as close as possible to the apex of the turn. Getting the back end of the car close to the outside of a turn also demonstrates car control and can result in additional points.

Angle and counter steer

Driving angle is the angle of rotation of the car relative to the direction of its travel. Basically, the farther the back end of the car comes around (without the driver losing control), the more points. Drivers also score higher for maintaining the drift longer. Attaining extreme angles without spinning earns big points.


Like many forms of judged competition, sometimes an individual with a certain spark or energy will stand out. The most universal component of this category is smoke - the more the better.


Tsuiso is the Japanese term for "Twin Battle Drift." This head-to-head style is judged by the same principles as a solo round, but with two cars involved, there is a high level of strategy.

Offensive: Generally belongs to the chasing driver. Envision two jet pilots in a dogfight. The pursuer does whatever he can to target his prey and take away his maneuvering room. In tsuiso, drivers use their car and its drift to get into position that minimizes his opponent's running room. The chasing driver has to keep pressure on the lead driver, and try to steal or block a line.

Defensive: The lead driver tries to perform a drift at a much higher speed, on good line, and at a greater angle than the chasing driver. When a lead driver can pull away with a good angle, following the ideal line while maintaining a controlled drift, the chasing driver has all the pressure.

Source: drifting.com.