"Were you expecting this?" Many people, even industry insiders, asked me this question when facing the jam-packed Irwindale grandstand at the D1 Grand Prix drifting extravaganza. My answer was, "Yes, but I thought this place was bigger."
Of course, the discussion centered on how big drifting will get in America. Many didn't realize we were seeing the leading edge of drifting-D1-the top echelon pro series, with all the JDM heroes straight from Japan. Organized drifting has been going on for years in Japan; and having said that, the Irwindale event was by far the most attended D1 ever. Yes, Irwindale was bigger than any drift event in Japan.
The action was intense and the crowd seemed well versed in the intricacies of drifting and how the judging worked. They responded with vigor and the drivers brought their A-game. The show certainly lived up to the hype.
D1 will be back next year, but in its wake, the 2003 event leaves a U.S. scene with a great deal of enthusiasm, but little infrastructure to support it. There will certainly be a new wave of drivers wanting in on the action; the packed grandstands will no-doubt fire the imaginations of promoters of drag races and other automotive events. But, can drifting thrive without the big-name Japanese drivers?
The answer rests with the spectators; if they come, you can build it. There is more of a growth curve at work than one would expect coming away from the huge D1 event, but the ball is definitely rolling. It's exciting to see something hit the scene that's so performance oriented and so accessible.
It's interesting that so much effort goes into the tuning of the drift car; engine power is maximized and suspension and traction are precisely addressed and control over every aspect of the car is paramount. Then the car is thrown on the track and driven out of control. That's what makes it so cool.
We are definitely embracing the underground sport of drifting; we have already run interviews with drifters Orido and Ueno, covered the driver search events, and D1. We intend to get more into the tuning that goes into the cars and cover future drift events. How much depends on how big the drifting scene gets.