Hitting up South Haven for the first time, you quickly realize there really isn't much to do. Sure, you have downtown and the beach, both of which you can probably drive through in three minutes. But travel east of the city center and you will stumble onto something very special in Gingerman Raceway, where Gridlife is hosted. Truthfully, our first Gridlife experience was in '15, which was when founder Chris Stewart decided to put a spin on the track 'n' show event by incorporating a music festival into the mix. It became not a one-day event but rather three days of camping, musical performances, drifting, and Time Attack sessions.
This year roughly 300 cars participated in the Time Attack, HPDE (High Performance Driver Education), and drift. In addition, around 200 cars were assembled for the car show. Trust us when we say Gridlife is cookin' up some pretty interesting cars, and we've selected six of our favorites here:
Steve O's BMW 325is
Steve O is part of a popular Chicago-based drift team called Risky Devil. If you haven't seen the team at Midwest drift events or on the Internet, you can also find them in the hit video game Need for Speed. Although Steve's ride is Euro, it has JDM cues all around such as the SR20DET motor, Stance coilovers, and Work Equip 01s. Gangsta!
Kevin Sittle's Suzuki Swift
Chances are you've never heard the words "Suzuki Swift" and "Time Attack" in the same sentence. Believe it or not, back in '13, Modified magazine featured this very same Suzuki Swift GT built by Kevin Sittle. At the time, the car was powered by the factory G13B 1.3L inline-four. Now, Kevin swapped in a more potent Honda K20 motor. He also fabricated custom carbon-fiber doors, roof, hatch, and fender flares. As you can imagine, the car is extremely lightweight, clocking in at just 1,650 pounds! Kevin tells us the car still needs to be fine-tuned, but we're sure that when it's dialed in, it will be a force to be reckoned with.
Dylan Sharpe's Nissan Silvia
Dylan Sharpe began drifting in '09, but started taking it seriously in '13. He imported this S15 Silvia himself and immediately made it the competitive drift car it is today. The 2JZ-powered Nissan received plenty of JDM parts such as the Vertex body kit, SARD GT wing, Origin fenders, and Ganador mirrors. Dylan tells us he also drives this wild car regularly on the streets of Canada. Pretty badass, eh?
Rob Parson's Nissan 240SX
While it was featured in the pages of Super Street Volume 19, No. 6, you simply have to see the Chairslayer in action at least once in your life. Rob Parson's didn't allow his motocross incident to stop him from shredding tires. Using his ingenious motorcycle-style clutch lever and thumb button controls, he can accelerate, brake, and hoon as he pleases.
Simba Nyemba's Nissan Silvia S13
Team Proceed's Simba Nyemba brought out his dope Nissan S13. You would think that with all of the drifting he does, the car would look like a trashy missile car; however, this thing looked amazing in person. The hood is a one-off piece by Origin Lab with Hokusai's Great Wave of Kanagawa painted on. The 2.2L SR20 under the hood was transplanted from former D1 Grand Prix and Formula D driver Toshiki Yoshioka's Pikes Peak Nissan S15 Silvia race car.
Ken Wagan's Mazda RX-7
Making the eight-hour trek from Canada was Ken Wagan and his rad rotary beast. Some of his modifications include a street port, Turbonetics GTK700 turbo, Full Race manifold, CJ Motorsports fuel system, and a Haltech ECU. He's done extensive carbon work and widened the body to fit beefier Toyo R888s matched to Volk ZE40 wheels.
In the evening, the track goes cold and attendees flock to the main stage to watch a variety of DJs—some of our favorites included Shawn Wasabi and Zebo.
Q&A with Gridlife Founder Chris Stewart
SS: How was this year's event compared to '15?
CS: The best event ever! Having incredible weather after last year's record-setting precipitation and temperature drops was a part of it, but also this year the new layout of the festival really felt right. One of the major goals of this year was to make sure that the driving experience was protected while still providing an open paddock and a place for good times to take place well into the night. After three years and three different layouts for the concert venue, I think we found the right formula for the layout of the fest.
SS: How many cars entered the track portion?
CS: We had nearly 300 cars on track throughout the weekend with 125 HPDE drivers, 120 Time Attack entries, and 40 drift cars, including all the pros and special guests.
SS: What about the show cars?
CS: This was also our largest car show ever, maxing out our available space with 200 show cars—100 of them being hand-selected ahead of time.
SS: And how many people came to the event across all three days?
CS: Over 12,000 in attendance throughout.
SS: Pretty damn good! What can we expect for Atlanta?
CS: Atlanta is our first event outside of the Midwest, so we are pulling out all the stops to really make an impact down in the South East. With the first-ever full-track drift sessions at Road Atlanta, a full three-day Time Attack, and our new multi-genre music lineup, Atlanta is going to be our most ambitious event yet. The South has never seen a grassroots automotive event like this before. We hope they are ready!
SS: Lastly, what makes Gridlife so unique?
CS: It's pretty hard to pinpoint the magic of Gridlife. You can talk about it, show people videos and photos, but it's really something you have to experience to understand. The goal was to build an event that you are really a part of, not just attend, but truly make an event that everyone who loves cars can feel like they belong to. We are grassroots at the core and Gridlife truly is a community where race cars stand side-by-side with show cars, and music is the good times that binds it all together.