There's no use denying it. Automotive events are changing. It's almost as if the people running them are trying too hard to appeal to a younger, hipper, and broader audience, rather than mature adults like myself—like they want to make a total lifestyle destination out of their events. Music and camping, drifting and time-attack, even two different car shows, all at the same event! Terrible. What's wrong with good 'ol classic car shows, NASCAR, and no drifting? I just don't get it.
To learn firsthand what all the fuss around this new breed of automotive festivals is about, I caught up with Gridlife—purveyors of this unsettling new trend—for their Gridlife South festival at Road Atlanta. Here's what I found.
1. THERE WERE WAY TOO MANY CARS
I don't know about you, but my taste in cars is limited and traditional. But Gridlife brought out just about everything you could imagine, from heavily modified and very fast FWD, RWD and AWD time-attack cars, to countless drift cars with different styles and power plants, to a wide and diverse mix of high-performance driver education (HPDE) entrants, to a bunch of reclaimed and modded '90s cars in the RADwood show. Lame!
2. THERE WERE WAY TOO MANY HIP YOUNG PEOPLE
Automotive events should be a place where mature adults can walk around and admire some of the best examples of show cars or race machines, whilst reflecting on how much better we were than everyone else. But everyone at Gridlife just seemed like they were in search of a good time, regardless of background or social status. A significant portion of them even came out specifically for the music, and still seemed impressed by all the automotive debauchery going on. Who does that?!
3. THE TIME-ATTACK CARS WERE TOO RADICAL
Racing should be about structure and rules. Weight penalties, intake restrictions, spec chassis, etc. There wasn't much of that in Gridlife's "Track Battle" time-attack series. Sure, the necessary safety requirements were strictly enforced, and there were some limitations for the various classes, but competition was open to a wide range of cars, including several Unlimited-class entries that posted faster lap times than I've seen from professional GT race machines! I don't know about you, but this seems similar to those dangerous Group B racing days everyone raves about.
4. THE FWDS WERE FASTER THAN THE RWDS!
In what universe do FWD cars go faster around a racetrack than RWD or or even AWD cars?? The fastest time of the entire event, and a new overall Track Battle record for Road Atlanta, was set by Canada's James Houghton, with a 1:22.594 from his K-series Acura Integra DC2. That's almost a half-second faster than the previous track record set by Jeff Westphal in the AWD Subaru Impreza, and more than three seconds faster than the second-fastest competitor of the event: Dai Yoshihara in the RWD Toyota 86. There must be something in Gridlife's rule set that gives an unfair advantage to FWDs. [Editor's note: there isn't.] It can't be that today's FWD teams are simply that good. [Editor's note: it is.]
5. IT WAS TOO EASY TO GET INVOLVED IN THE HPDE PROGRAM
Look—racing and track driving is fun, I get it. But enthusiasts just shouldn't have the privilege of enjoying that the way professional racing drivers do. Apparently Gridlife doesn't agree, since just about anyone is invited to join their HPDE program at the Beginner level, which combines classroom sessions, in-car driving instruction, and more track time for less coin than most other organizations. If that's not bad enough, adept Beginners can move right into Intermediate or Advanced groups, and experienced drivers with qualifying cars can even move from HPDE to Track Battle competition all in the same weekend! It just doesn't seem right.
6. THE DRIFTING WAS TOO CRAZY
Don't even get me started on drifting. Sinking thousands of dollars into RWD Japanese cars and big-power engines just to slide sideways at triple-digit speeds, in full-throttle, tire-smoldering glory while bashing your doors and fenders off several of your friends' cars? Doesn't sound like fun to me.
Whatever today's young people like about drifting, there was plenty of it at Gridlife. Pros like Fredric Aasbo, Vaughn Gittin Jr., Chelsea Denofa, Ryan Tuerck, Chris Forsberg, and others mixed it up with top pro-ams from all around the nation, and talented crews like Top Garage, Wild Running, and others. The worst part? It wasn't even a competition, like that Formula DRIFT series! It was like these dorks were doing it purely for fun and good times!
7. THE MUSIC WAS TOO LOUD!
Racing and concerts—never should the two mix. Ok, maybe a Beach Boys cover band at a classic car show every now and then is nice, but the musical component of Gridlife was completely out of hand. It almost seemed like as big a part of the whole thing as the cars! And if the retro 8-bit vibe of Tokyo Machine, hard-hitting breaks from Slander, or Killer Mike's fresh beats and thought-provoking lyrics (or the awesome performances of seven other artists that kept the music rolling throughout the weekend) are what's passing for music these days, call me old school—really old!
8. THERE'S TOO MUCH CAMPING AND FREEDOM
Sigh ... once again, automotive events should have traditional rules, like "go home when the sun goes down," "keep a 12-inch voice," and "don't invite perfect strangers to friendly games of beer pong or flip cup." Camping should be reserved for racers who want to get some quiet hours of sleep after wrenching on their cars, not for racers and fans who want to stay up and have fun. And what's with Gridife fans thinking they can just hang out in the pits or hike all around the track? That should be a privilege for us media folks only!
9. THE CAR SHOW WAS LAME
A car show for '90s cars and dress—who does that? I walked the entire breadth of the RADwood Festival car show at Gridlife and saw nothing but mostly tastefully restored and sometimes radically modified '90s imports and sport compacts. Nissan Skylines, classic Porsche 911s, some Rennsport-trimmed Euros and maybe the odd Ferrari or Acura NSX. I mean ... what kind of car show doesn't have a single classic Chevelle, Shelby Mustang, or Austin Healey?! There were some V8s, thankfully, but you were more likely to find them in the engine bay of a Nissan 240SX or Saturn Sky (yeah, I don't know either).
10. IT WAS ALL TOO MUCH FUN
Okay ... so maybe it was kind of cool watching a modified FWD four-cylinder production car set a new overall Track Battle record at Road Atlanta, and maybe on some level the diversity and sheer volume of Track Battle competitors and HPDE participants was interesting. Maybe it was nice to hear a constant stream of live music in the background of all the racing, drifting, and general festivities that were going on. Maybe—just maybe—I could see how the roaring, smokey, sideways drift action and massive team tandems could be hugely exciting to car lovers and newcomers, alike.
This whole Gridlife business might be onto something. And I may just have to head out Michigan's Gingerman Raceway for their final competition event of the season on October 6-7th, or their Midwest Festival next year for further study. Maybe.