After we make the turn, step off the gas, pull thee-brake, turn the steering left and hit the gas again. Once you feel the rear wheels break loose, keep your eyes on the cone and feather the throttle as if we were doing donuts."
"Ok. Sounds easy enough."
I'm lying. I'm trying to process every word the Star Girl herself, Verena Mei, just said. And it's about the most complex set of directions since the Konami up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A cheat code. I have no idea what the hell I'm doing and I'm more nervous than a father sending his underage daughter to summer camp with R. Kelly. I've never drifted, nor even attempted to, and this is my crash course (hopefully not literally).
While I hadn't envisioned my drift-popping experience before, I never thought it'd be in an audience of pro drifters. With cameras rolling. And a hot chick as my instructor. Remember how hard it was trying to learn how to ride a bike?
Well, imagine if, for your first time, Travis Pastrana and Nate Adams were filming, as Jessica Alba perched on your handlebars and barked orders. Oh, and you had to compete against girls.
That's right, I was about to go mano-a- womano at Willowsprings against four girls (who've also never drifted) and be judged on my efforts by Drift Buffet's Terry Henderson. Coaching was given by none other than drift masters Samuel Hubinette, Tanner Foust, Steph Papadakis, Ross Petty and Verena Mei. The girls? Stina Hubinette, Elizabeth Locke, Courtney Day and Eri Moriyama. The lone boy? Myself. Octane TV and our Super Street online staff were on hand to record the events for future posterity (read: humiliation). The pressure of playing drift proxy for all mankind felt like Jenny Craig's class of '07 squashing my fat head.
If I lost, it'd be coat-check time for my balls.
The event started off rocky: Nadsy sent out a text at dawn, looking for a car to replace our cover car that was still being built. Thankfully, Falken Tire's Nick Fousekis and his wife Selina graciously offered up their daily-driven S13 240SX. We just had to make sure we didn't blow up the stock KA24 for his roundtrip drive home.
The first part of the competition was relatively easy. Each pair had to perform donuts around a cone. Elizabeth and Tanner went first and after going in wide circles, she managed to break the rear wheels in the first of many donuts that day. Stina and Sam went second and in true Hubinette form, she smoked up the tires like a Swedish pro. Next were Courtney and Steph, who also went wide but broke into tire-smoking donuts in no time. Under Ross' careful tutelage, Eri (who's never driven a stick shift in her life) floored the throttle and dropped the clutch, spinning the car violently in semi-circles into what Judge Terry fondly refers to as cinnamon rolls (not quite a donut). Up last were Verena and I.
Coming from the mid-'90s Honda era, I've never attempted a donut. Sure I've done some mean FF burnouts on the track and in front of nightclubs in my day, but by the time I purchased my first FR ride (S13) I was too old (scared) to risk getting busted by the cops. Besides, I'm on "legal restrictions" and the last thing I need is to go to jail for a mobile act named after a glazed sweet.
So when it came to my turn, I was actually (prepare for the understatement of the year) a little nervous. All the girls did well (dammit!) and I knew I'd have to commit harakiri for disgracing the penis-wielding clan I represented if I couldn't spark up the tires in heavy smoke. After careful instruction from Verena, I pulled Nick's 240SX up to the cone closest to the driver's side. I revved the motor up to six-grand, turned the steering slightly to the right, crossed my fingers and dropped the clutch. The car lurched forward and the rear end started to kick out.
"Keep your eyes on the cone!" Verena snaps.
As I do so, my hand naturally starts to dance between counter-steering and turning into the cone. I keep revving and steering until. . .yes! What is that? Smoke! Yes, we have smoke! Gorgeous, rubbery-smelling smoke thankfully fills the warm, blue-skied California air (well, at least the cockpit), as I spin semi-gracefully around the cone. "That's good. Let's stop and try to do it in reverse for extra points."
That's a tad bit harder with the cone on the passenger's side. But with Verena's coaching, I pull it off. Victory!
We get our scores and go into the second maneuver according to our rankings. The order is: Stina, Courtney, then myself (yay, I'm not last!), Elizabeth and Eri. The second, more complex task is a right turn into a left-sweeping drift that sounds exponentially more difficult than the donut. Adding to the tricky factor is the replacement set of Falkens, which were under-inflated compared to the grip-breaking first set. I never thought I'd yearn for more tricks named after pastries.
Stina starts first, again impressing us all with her skills; it's like Swedes are born with fair skin, blonde hair and the ability to drift. After some initial hesitation on the entry speed, Courtney manages to get her speed up and squeal the tires into a small drift, leading up to my conversation with Verena.
"Gas, e-brake, steer in, throttle. Got it." I utter her instructions out loud before I accelerate down the short straight and turn past the last cone.
"Now!" screams Verena.
I let go of the gas, immediately yank the e-brake and buff the steering wheel counter clockwise in a wax-off fashion like the Karate Kid on crack. What's that? Am I weezing? No time to concern myself with trifling things like health; I'm about to drift, baby. The car jerks to the left from my violent actions. As I slam on the throttle, I hear it: the unmistakable faint squealing of vulcanized rubber pushing the physical limits of traction. Oh. My. God. I'm drifting. Takumi, eat your tofu-eating heart out!
I keep throttling, waiting for the back end of the FR machine to dramatically slide out, with tires screaming and smoke pluming like Nob Taniguchi sliding his S15. But nothing happens. No screaming, no pluming. Only squeals. Waning squeals. I floor the gas. Squeal, damn you squeal! Instead, the screeching fades and is replaced by the strange shudder of what sounds like my front wheels about to rip off.
Confused, I look to Verena and ask, "What is that? Am I drifting?"
After what seems like an eternity, she responds: "Uh, no. That would be understeer."
The rest of my feeble attempts? Well, let's just say if understeer ever passed for drifting, I'd win Formula D.
Elizabeth zooms down the track after me, with the group's fastest entry speed, and goes for a switchback feint move, pulling off a small drift. She's Terry's favorite as far as the "spirit of drift." Eri is up last and despite a few stalls, manages to pull the most amazing run after a coaching session at the far end of the track. Suspicious? Maybe. Funny? Hell yes! If there was a "Spirit of the Event" award, the Ross Petty and Eri Moriyama team would win it.
And that was what this was all about: to learn the fundamentals of drift, but more importantly, have fun. I mean, it's not like we were handing out trophies or anything. 'Cause if it was for real,
I would've totally tried hard and like, won it or something. Understeer? P'shaw! I was only sandbagging to let the girls feel really good about themselves. I swear!
"Mr. Coat-check? Yeah, uh, I misplaced my ticket, but I'm looking for a pair of misplaced testicles..."
The Judge:Terry Henderson
Judging Tactic: Looking for technical ability and more importantly, the "spirit of drift" exhibited by each driver.
Impression: Very impressed by the performance of the girls (and guy) for their first time.The Teams:
Coach: Verena Mei
Chick, er, dude: Carter Jung, Super Street associate editor
Team Tactic: "Walk a mock course using water bottles. Keep my eyes on the cone and (poorly attempt) to make my coach proud."
Driver's Impression: "I had a blast. Unfortunately for my coach, we lost. I suck."
Coach: Steph Papadakis
Chick: Courtney Day, model and spokesperson
Team Tactics: Pre-walk the course, focusing on steering angle and throttle. When that didn't work, balls to the wall.
Driver's Impression: " I wished I had more seat time and a higher-horsepower car. Also, I have a newfound admiration for drifters being able to do so many actions in such little time. And for the record, I was robbed of the podium!"
Coach: Ross Petty
Chick: Eri Moriyama, model
Team Tactic: Learn how to use the third pedal, known as the clutch. If that didn't work, put it in first and charge hard.
Driver's Impression: "I learned how to drive a stick (somewhat) and had the opportunity to drive a FR car. Being a Falken girl, it was cool to see the other side of drifting beyond holding an umbrella (ella, ella, eh, eh, eh)."
Coach: Tanner Foust
Chick: Elizabeth Locke, owner of cover car
Team Tactics: Go as fast as possible, using Tanner's technical expertise.
Driver's Impression: "I learned how much really goes into drifting. I actually learned how to do a donut, clutch kick, feint and to never lift if you want to drift."
Coach: Sam Hubinette
Chick: Stina Hubinette, Sam's wife
Team Tactics: To compensate for the motor, double clutch and be smooth with steering. Feel the car.Driver's Impression: "I learned how to use the e-brake and clutch kick. It was cool to have our roles reversed, with me at the wheel and Sam watching. I now have a deeper appreciation for my husband's day job."