Over the last couple of weeks I've steered Ford Shelby Mustangs through Sonoma wine country, drag raced these super-ripped 550-horsepower pony cars on a race track and watched a series of superfly Mustangs thunder around a Long Beach street course ahead of the Grand Prix weekend that kicked off there yesterday.
But none was as fun as sitting in the passenger seat beside
drift racing world champion Vaughn Gittin Jr. as he spun, skid, drifted and damn near stuck my eyelids to my helmet as he raced me in a heavily modified
Ford Mustang GT around a coned course in the massive empty lot at
Gittin competes on the drift racing circuit, a relatively recent style of racing popularized in the "Fast and the Furious" movies that largely involves a driver skillfully maneuevering a rear-wheel-drive car around a track by skidding around it. Points are awarded for style and control, and drivers sometimes work in teams, putting their cars through moves that are never seen in regular car racing. Gittin's here to compete in a Formula Drift race a week ahead of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Gittin is a great kid whose length of ambition is only paralleled by the shortness of the gearbox throw in his heavily modified Ford Mustang GT, which as a result of its supercharger and bundle of other upgrades now pushes out more than 750 horsepower -- or basically a rocket to you and me. It was the first non-Japanese car to win a Formula D series, driven of course by Gittin, who finished fourth in Formula D in 2006.
Watching him at the Long Beach Formula Drift event a couple of days later therefore was a fantastic experience even though he was knocked out at the quarter-final level of the competition, which featured the top 32 pre-qualified drivers ripping around Long Beach streets and all the fun of the Grand Prix weekend, but without the low-profile race cars.
Taking their place were multiple Ford Mustang GTs, Dodge Vipers and several Japanese econoboxes outfitted with the latest specialized drift gear that made a spectacular showing, although both drivers fell early in the competition.
But back to Gittin, who says he got his start in drift racing by pulling some pretty crazy maneuvers in empty carparks where he grew up in Annapolis, Md.
Reason he got into the sport? "Fun. It's fun. But I was out there drifting and I didn't know I was in it. I used to go to the parks, fishtail, and have fun," he tells LAsplash.
"But somehow, driving around and burning tires turned into gold. Now that I've had my fun, it's how far can I push it. How fast can I go before the bottom of the car lifts right up and I tip over."
"The thing is it's more of a lifestyle than a hobby. The peope that are into drift racing, it's like guys that are into skateboarding, that's what they do, that's their life."
Gittin talks a bit about his car, describing the multiple upgrades that set it apart from a stock, or unmodified car, but adds that most of the upgrades including supercharger and brakes and suspension can all be bought through local suppliers. Just make sure you pick up a spare pair of tires when your first set burns out. And be careful.
Ford this this week celebrates its Mustang's 45-year anniversary at a great-looking event in Birmingham, Ala., though it would have to go some way to eclipse the fun and huge amount of racing talent on display in Long Beach at a great family event that offers the opportunity to catch Gittin and his stable of drifting cohorts demonstration the skill, speed and power of their craft. The Grand Prix event runs through Sunday.
John from Lakewood, who's watched drift racing for three years and is here in Long Beach watching Formula Drift for the second time, said: "It's fun to come here to the Long Beach area, take some cool pictures of the cars. There are a lot of good drivers out here."
Have fun out there. I know I did.