What is Drifting?

During the summers here in town, we will replace my son’s bike tires at least three times. It’s not because we get crappy tires or that he went off reading- it’s that he and his buddies like to go “drifting.” My son will find parking lot, or driveway with a ton of gravel and practice his drifting skills all the live long day.  This last time, when he came home, I finally asked why he liked it so much and he just replied, “it’s fast and cool.”  I should have known he would respond like that.  But then, he perked up and asked me if I knew the history of drifting and who was the first person to ever drift their bike or car.  I didn’t know so we did what any good family would- we googled.  I was actually pretty surprised what we learned, and found it pretty interesting!

Who Invented Drifting?

Well, first watch this video below…

If you’re thinking of the movies Fast and Furious, you’re going to want to sit tight and just forget that for a little bit. Drifting has been around much longer than people realize.  It all started around 1965 (people are a bit unsure) and in an unlikely place- Japan.  Back in the 60’s there was a motorcycle racer name Kunimitsu Takahashi.  He had won 4 Grand Prix’s in his career and had to quit after a pretty serious crash.  That’s when he decided to start car racing.  It’s important to also talk about tires back in the 60’s.  Back then, most tires were hard, had zero aerodynamics for grip, and were low.  Tires have come a long way in the past 50 years!!!

Where Takahashi really got noticed as a race car driver was when he first, “drifted.” He approached a corner at full speed, hit the apex and as we know now- drifted by creating a very large slip angle.  I guess you can say after this the rest was history! All the racing kids in Tokyo began mimicking this move- and it became expected to know how to drift, and to use it.

As the drifting became more popular it spread to the USA and was first documented at the Willow Springs Raceray in California in 1996. The event was held by The Japanese drifting magazine and organization. During this event they judged all the drifters and drifting styles, and from that point on it was immensely popular in the United States.

Though street racers will drift, and though it’s sometimes just like the movies- most serious drifters will actually enter into competitions.  These competitions will be judged by looking at angle, showmanship, and line.   

Angle is pretty much the angle of the car AND the angle of the tires to the car. Obviously- if your tires aren’t that angled in comparison to the body of your car, you’re not going to score high.  So angle is a big deal.  Showmanship is probably everyone’s favorite part- the noise, the amount of smoke you can get from your tires sliding in the cement, and of course any flare you add into the drift.  The more, “wow” you can get from the crowd- the better.  And the line is simply staying on the line that the judges pick before-hand.

The type of cars people use for their drifting is important as well.  Most cars are typically all wheel drive sedans that are light in weight. Some cars might be heavier then others- but the goal is to get it as light as possible.  Ideally- when it comes to all wheel drive or rear wheel- drifters prefer rear wheel driving but you can really make it work with anything!! The top three cars for drifting right now are the Nissan Silvia, Toyota Trueno, and the Mazda RX-7.

Race Car drifting has become so popular in the last few decades that you can now buy RC cars built just for drifting- and actually enter those into competitions. You can buy a plethora of video games and apps solely made for the drifting enthusiast!

People have speculated about why drifting took off like it did- and why it became so insanely popular.  Even though it’s fun, and it’s a skill you can learn and get better at as you go- nobody really thought this one trick from back in the 60’s would become so culturally important that entire movies are based off it.   I’m pretty sure if there’s a race or car scene in any movie, drifting will happen at some point- it’s the money shot and the one thing in any movie with cars or racing.

Here’s the thing though- I don’t at all wonder about why it’s so popular.  All I have to do it look at my sons beat up bike and the tires that he will eventually need replaced- again. The thing about drifting id that you don’t need to own a car, you don’t need to train or get a contract to race.  You don’t need to have access to a track or the latest and greatest of technologies.  You don’t even really need to have job.  Heck- you can still be a little twerp living with Mom while you learn basic math in elementary school.  Drifting doesn’t judge- the skill to drift and the ability to master it only requires the ground, a bike, and maybe some guts.  You’ll get bruised, you’ll crash just like all the big car drifters, and then you’ll get back up and keep going. You can be 6 or 60- it doesn’t matter and the thrill of it never dies.  The smoke or dust that you can kick up makes you even more cool among the neighborhood kids, and the best thing that Mom will buy you new tires because you’re, “outside in fresh air.” So grab the bike, or car, and get drifting!

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