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Formula D Finals - The Drifters

Scene: Formula D Finals; Irwindale Speedway - Irwindale, CA

Terence Patrick
Feb 1, 2009
Photographer: Super Street Staff

Every time I enter a big sweeping turn on the highway I imagine myself sliding the car sideways like I was one of those drift drivers we occasionally profile. I'd accelerate into the turn at breakneck speeds, stomping on the throttle like it was on fire, counter-steering the rear end of the car until it's a hair away from scraping the guardrail, all while a gorgeous plume of white smoke trails behind me like the tail of a comet. A cop would see this and spill his coffee in his lap while he fumbles to turn on his siren and lights to hopefully catch me while I'm literally leaving him in the dust. Then, like a scene out of a Jerry Bruckheimer action flick, a small army of Highway Patrol officers would be chasing me until my uncanny driving abilities got me around a sharp highway exit, onto the streets and into an alley that the cops just missed. My dream, however, spins out of control like a one-armed wheelchair racer when I remind myself that I'm driving a lowly ES2 Civic. At least I get good gas mileage. Be that as it may, I've found that I could vicariously live out my fantasy of drifting while covering the 2008 season of the Formula Drift series, which just wrapped with the finale at the Irwindale Raceway.

Walking through the expansive parking lot up to the cinderblock entrance, I couldn't help but think what it's like to drift for a living. Sure, it's not exactly Formula One racing, with all the hot European models or multimillion-dollar paychecks, but it can't be too bad, right? On my way to the media meeting situated under a tent behind the Formula Drift big-rig, I noticed the massive crowd of journalists made up of photographers, videographers and writers. There had to have been at least 200 people waiting in line to pickup their teal-blue photo vests, the ones that Sean "The Man From Bethlehem" Klingelhoefer loves to sport as a fashion statement. The same vests that Charles likes to wear as an accessory to his assortment of Mexican wrestling masks. I looked over at Mr. "JDM" Wong, both of us card-carrying members of the Formula D elite club of journalists who turned in their media requests at the beginning of the season, and we gave each other a look that said, "Nah, we don't really need `em."

After the gaggle of journalists were finished chewin' the fat, I decided to make my way towards the starting grid. It was the kind of day that required me to squint, even through my sunglasses. It was about 10:30 in the morning and the heat was starting to build on the blacktop of the track. I decided to bust out my camera's flash to add a little zing to my photos; shadows were harsh and I didn't want to deal with trying to fix them. I made my way through the lineup of cars giving a few familiar faces the "what up!" head nod while scanning for something interesting to shoot. Ron Bergenholtz greets me and his hair is looking like he showers holding a toaster oven. Ron's the kind of guy that's always good to catch up with, he's always down to give me the straight-talk lowdown and doesn't bullshit too much. If something isn't going his team's way, he'll say so. But today, he's pretty optimistic about their chances. Ron says the car is running well and the team's driver, Ryuji Miki, is good to go. I tell him that's great and take a few photos of him in the process. I see Jonny up ahead popping off photos of the cars and the drivers waiting around. I know he likes to shoot low and close, so I decide to take a more straightforward framing angle and find a few random crewmembers, like Manubu "Max" Orido's tire-pressure guy to shoot. He's got a very Japanese look, his hair is dyed orange; he's kind of pale and stands like a sack of bones held up by strings.

By the time 2pm rolls around, I decide that I'm craving one of those disgusting snack shop burgers. Or maybe I was craving nachos? I usually can never decide until I get up to the counter and really have to announce my selection. Along the way, I find Charles and ask him if he's got any good photos so far. "No," was his reply followed by a hearty laugh. I went with the burger and it turned out to be better than anticipated because the bun seemed rather fluffy and not smashed like it had been cooked hours ago and was sitting in a hot, steaming pile waiting to be microwaved back to life. The fries were super crispy and golden to the point that some of them were still glistening from the oil that also made them translucent. Charles and I decide to walk around the paddock and explore the booths. Plus, there were import models to be seen and photographed. That itself easily kills an hour or two in the day.

I decided to head back to the track towards the end of the open practice session, which is where most of the action is. Instead of watching one car do its thing before the next one takes its run, the drivers all run in what appears to be a random order of pairs and sometimes triplets. The drivers who had something to prove were going all out and really busted up the cars against the barrier walls as they tried to get closer on the main turn. The A Spec AE86 driven by Toshiki Yoshioka, the winner of the Las Vegas leg of Formula D, took a hard, head-first slam into the massive white concrete wall, annihilating the front bumper. I was photographing from a muddy ditch directly behind the concrete barrier Yoshioka crashed into with my head and camera pressed up against the fence to get a closer shot and got hit with a hodgepodge of fiberglass, plastic and rubber like it was a wave in the ocean. I imagined what it would've been like had he gone fast enough to flip over the barrier, which is just tall enough to reach my hip. It wasn't a fun image to think about.

As the sun was setting, the sky turned a deep hue of purple to pink to orange. Jonny and I were walking around the track area when I stopped to take a photo of him while he was saying "hi" to someone he knew. The drivers were starting to line up for the official opening ceremonies when Rob Dyrdek, the Grand Marshall of Formula D came roaring out onto the field in his Rogue Status Camaro, the same Camaro I saw broken down on the side of the highway back in April at the opening round in Long Beach. After the drivers are introduced and the national anthem was sung, all the cars go screeching back to the starting grid, except for Conrad Grunewald whose Nitto Tires Chevy Corvette started leaking oil onto the track and had to be towed off. Dyrdek was also having trouble getting the Camaro off the track because he kept stalling out the car as soon as he would try to take off. Hasn't he driven that car before? Must be harder than it looks. (That's what she said. - SK)

At night, it's easier to see the haze of tire smoke that lingers in the air over the track like a thick fart in a small room. I didn't bring a long zoom lens that most of the photographers out on the track prefer and only brought wide-angle lenses and a few other specialty items to play with. Standing in the same pit area with all the other photographers proved to be tough because I ended up with a photo that looked like I tried to shoot Alcatraz from across the bay on a rainy winter morning in San Francisco. All I could see was a tiny speck at the bottom of the photo that could barely make itself out to be a car, mainly because of the headlights that were on. I decided to position myself so that I could be close to the cars that were either lining up to make a run or coming back from a run. From this vantage point, I was able to grab a few shots of a defeated Rhys Millen congratulating Ryuji Miki, in what turned out to be a massive upset that secured Samuel Hubinette's second-place finish in the overall standings. Guess Ron was right in what he said earlier in the day.

130_0902_20_z+formula_d_finals+project_mu_lexus Photo 17/18   |   Formula D Finals - The Drifters

As the Top 16 turned into eight, it was plain to see that some of the drivers were getting anxious to make a solid run in the hazy conditions. Several cars decided to bump and grind like it was a high school prom, leaving bumper covers on the track like a set of wet panties. Chris Forsberg ran a little wild by colliding into the side of Ryan Tuerck's Pontiac Solstice, resulting in his NOS 350Z to lose a front end and also a bent control arm. Tanner Foust and Justin Pawlak also showed evidence of carnage when they crashed into each other, both losing their rear bumpers. Pawlak's performance overall was good enough to earn him a third-place finish, his first time placing at a Formula D event. As Pawlak's team hoisted him in the air in celebration, I felt like I was watching a Hollywoodized feel-good sports movie staring Denzel Washington as a hard-ass coach of an unlikely bunch of rag-tag misfits who miraculously win the championship despite all of the obstacles and setbacks. In reality it was a third-place finish, but still an accomplishment for the young driver. Tanner finished second, but won the overall season title while Vaughn Gittin Jr. scored the top spot with a perfect 100-point run. By now it was late in the night and I could barely walk because Vans slip-ons just aren't cut out for all day walking. On the walk back through the congested parking lot, I couldn't help but fall back into my dream of sliding out the rear end of my car with the utmost finesse while leaving the trailing drivers in my smoke. But once I sat inside of the car, turned on the engine and heard the beauty of silence, my exhaustion thanked me for having such an ordinary car that doesn't do much of anything besides getting me from point A to B.

130_0902_21_z+formula_d_finals+falken_mustang Photo 18/18   |   Formula D Finals - The Drifters
Tanner Foust AEM/{{{Nissan 350Z}}}
Sam Hubinette Mopar/Nuformz/BFG {{{Dodge Charger}}}
Rhys Millen RMR/Red Bull/Ponti1ac {{{Solstice}}}
Rhys Millen RMR/Red Bull/{{{Pontiac}}} Solstice
Michihiro Takatori Super Autobacs/{{{Nissan}}} Skyline R33
Tanner Foust AEM/Nissan 350Z

For complete 2008 Formula D results/standings, please visit

Vaughn Gittin Jr. Falken Tires/{{{Ford Mustang}}}
Tanner Foust AEM/Nissan 350Z
Justin Pawlak Maxxis Tires/FC {{{RX-7}}}
By Terence Patrick
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