We wonder if Gridlife founder Chris Stewart had any idea what his dream would become five years ago when he left his cushy advertising career to go racing.
It started off modestly enough, as a few HPDE (high-performance driver education) track days for Chris and a relatively small local northern Midwest group of gearheads. Ask any of the original crew who have kept their heads down, toiling away at it all while it's enjoyed its exponential growth and mass-market appeal, and they might not be able to tell you exactly how it happened either. But we have an idea: Chris combined his love of cars with his skills and connections as an advertising creative, and surrounded himself with the right people focused on bringing contemporary automotive enthusiasts lots of what they want, all in one place.
Of course that's really simplifying things, but the winning recipe behind Gridlife is just that: simple. Even if there's an immense amount of work that goes into it all. Want to spend a weekend around some of the world's fastest time-attack and most radical drift machines, drive your own car on track with some professional instruction, experience some of the hottest musical artists in a true festival atmosphere, party with thousands of like-minded friends for three non-stop days, and drive away from it all with apparel and swag that's actually fresh? Done. Come to Gridlife.
Gridlife hosts two Festivals throughout its six-event season, and the Midwest Festival at Gingerman Raceway in South Haven, Michigan, is where it all started. A well-built but modest facility in a sleepy, rural area, Gingerman is great for weekend track days, but perfect for Gridlife. No sprawling grandstands, posh VIP suites, or neighboring tourist destination here (although South Haven proper is very nice). Gingerman gives you a small, tight, fun track with loads of great vantage points in grassy areas all around it, a huge, plot of open land for general-admission tent camping and ensuing debauchery, some surprisingly good track food, pop-up stages and vendor areas, lots of outdoor space to pit your race car, and that's about it—everything you need, none of what you don't.
No hours of operation, no tedious shuttles to and fro, no sound ordinances—it's as close to automotive party freedom as you can probably legally get, and at least in our experience this time around, showgoers respected that and responded in kind.
There was of course the occasional unofficial mud-bog challenge (this year's festival was a wet one!) and the more-than-occasional two-step revving, but thankfully nothing got too out of hand.
If showgoers' conduct wasn't already impressive, some of the cars they brought out definitely were.
This was especially apparent among the registered show contestants, who competed for Gridlife Showcase honors in categories like Slammed, VIP, Japanese, Euro, Domestic, Classic, Race-prepped, and more.
This being round two of five Gridlife TrackBattle time-attack season competitions, tons of fast, all-out speed machines made the trek to clock the fastest lap in four classes and accumulate those ever-valuable season points.
It's safe to say the Canadian invasion into the world of time-attack continues, with Toronto's William Au-Yeung clocking the fastest lap of the weekend and setting yet another track record in his 9th-gen Honda Civic Unlimited FWD contender, with a blisteringly fast 1:23.775 around the Gingerman circuit early on "Day 0" day before we arrived.
James Houghton—another Toronto resident—and his Unlimited FWD-class DC2 Integra Type R clocked the fastest lap of official competition (a 1:30.680), and in doing so not only locked in the class and overall wins for the round, asserted himself as the one to beat in the season championship points chase for all of TrackBattle competition.
And then there was the drifting. What automotive festival-slash-party isn't complete without some good ol' fashioned drift bashing?
Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Chelsea Denofa were first to take to the tarmac, followed by Falken Tire aces Dai Yoshihara, Ken Gushi, Justin Pawlak, Odi Bakchis, and Pat Goodin.
Chris Forsberg and Tanner Foust, both in a pair of four-seaters, joined the fray, as did Ryan Tuerck in his Ferrari-powered Toyota 86 ...
... Geoff Stoneback, Steve Angerman and Ryan Litteral ...
... Corey Hosford, shaking down his new 2ZJ S14 240SX ...
... and loads of skilled Formula D Pro 2 and regional pro-am wheelmen, givin' 'er all she's got.
And if all that wasn't already enough partying, there were the dozen or so musical acts that kept several stages bumpin' throughout the weekend. Chief among them: Waka Flocka Flame and the Cool Kids who closed out the main stage Saturday night (Sunday morning, really).
So as you can see, if it's a good time with, in, and around cars you're searching for, with a healthy dose of freedom and good music, chill vibes and fresh gear, Gridlife might be your best choice for finding it all in one place. The Gridlife South Festival takes to Road Atlanta in late August, and for the hardcore drivers among us, there are still a total of three competition rounds for TrackBattle time-attack, along with HPDE driving, scattered about the rest of the year.
Learn more and get involved via www.grid.life and peep our gallery below for lots more from the Midwest Festival.