Drift culture has always held a bit of mystery for me. I had never participated in drift events, be it as a driver, passenger or a spectator. I have been to several track days and autocross days, but during those the intent was always to do everything possible to prevent one’s car from getting sideways. The singular focus is keeping the car stable, don’t unsettle the chassis, and achieve the quickest lap time. In the world of drift, lap times are non-existent and unsettling the chassis is a way of life. So when I decided to head out to Great Lakes Dragaway in southern Wisconsin a few weeks ago, it was with the intention of delving a little deeper into a world that I was unfamiliar with. Not to say that I had never heard of drifting; I had seen plenty of it on TV or videos, I had seen the cars, had at least a superficial understanding of the culture, and a pretty good idea of the skill set involved to master it. However, I lacked any first hand experience completely. This is somewhat understandable, if you live in metropolitan Chicago as I do, you’ll find there are not many places or opportunities to drift a car without great risk of a crash, legal implications, or both. In other words, if you wanted to get into drifting, it took some work and likely some long distance traveling. This was something that was recognized by Trent Eckhardt and Chris Fasco, who decided to do something about it, and thus formed Drift Chitown.
In 2016 Trent and Chris sought to provide a venue in which drifters could hone their craft and compete in a safe and controlled environment. Chris, already entrenched in Chicagoland’s drift scene, recognized the needs of that community and Trent, a long time race event organizer, had the knowledge and connections to address those needs. The result was the use of Great Lakes Dragaway’s skid pad area to host several events throughout the summer. The set up is simple, an open skid pad with cones that form a drift friendly course, and cars are sent out to drive it as sideways as possible. In this regard, the format is not at all unlike a typical autocross event, and the vibe is similar as well. Much like my experiences with autocross, here too everyone seemed welcoming and eager to help their fellow participants/competitors. The mood is light and everyone is there to have a good time. The biggest difference is the lack of lap times, and the constant occurrence of activity that would normally get you thrown out of most autocross events; lots of tire smoke and sliding around.
On the surface, there is a kind of brash and flamboyant appearance to drift culture. The flashy graphics, wild body kits, bumpers heavily battle scarred or removed entirely, it all gives off a bit of an outlaw vibe that might be intimidating or off-putting to some. However, having visited Drift Chitown, it seems anything but intimidating. Just the opposite, it felt so welcoming and well set up for beginners, that it could easily entice someone like me, with no drift experience, to want to give it a try. For good reason, as Drift Chitown seeks to be the perfect breeding ground for new would-be drifters, as well as a place to compete for the more established veterans. They even hold Test and Tune events on Thursday nights, which work with the same open skid pad but without a set course layout, providing the perfect setting for complete novices to get a handle on the brute ballet that is drifting. There are even experienced drivers on hand to provide guidance to help those rookies progress. An event and organization like this is a pretty big deal for the region, with a lack of safe open spaces, or even empty mountain passes for the more daring, Chicago is not an easy place to practice the art of drift.
From what I have seen, it seems Trent and Chris have succeeded in creating fertile ground for future drifters of Chicago to grow and bloom. I suspect it will continue to grow and gain popularity as well. In talking to some drifters briefly during area car shows, it seems there is a real need for more events like this. The fun and welcoming atmosphere of Drift Chitown is infectious: I have had several people already encouraging me to start drifting my own car, or offering to have me ride along in theirs, making it easy to get excited about it. During my time spectating, I saw the complete range of drivers, from total novice to well polished vets, no one is judging (except for points competition of course) and no one is scowling or jeering when a driver struggles to initiate a drift, or can’t keep a drift from turning into a spin. Also worth noting, is it seems like all drivers got ample amounts of seat time, certainly more than I would see at a typical autocross event. When it comes to building driving skills, seat time is all important. To that end, it seemed everyone was there to learn, or to improve, and definitely to have fun. It’s part of the reason I am looking forward to the Hostile Takeover event coming up in September on the 8th. You have not seen the last Drift Chitown coverage on this blog, I will definitely be back with more, and I wholeheartedly recommend you go out and see it for yourself!
This Z had an off, difficult to see from this angle, but it stopped literally just a few inches short of the barrier. Lucky break!
writing: Robert Sixto
photos: Robert Sixto and Hex Hernandez