When I first moved to L.A. over a decade ago, something that really surprised me was how quickly the hippest bars and nightclubs in the city disappeared. Some of the newest and hottest spots would move, close, or change hands just a couple years after opening, usually while they were still drawing huge crowds every night. I didn't get it, especially coming from a place where the local bars had all been the same for decades.
What I came to realize was this was intentional. L.A. is a big place and people here tend to try new things over sticking with favorites, and local spots eventually tend to gain some flack from members of the community who may not be fond (or may be too fond) of them. Being the "hot," new thing seems to bring more people through the doors and keep the riffraff at bay. Enter Gridlife, which in many regards is still the hot, new thing in contemporary automotive lifestyle.
Sure, this Midwest-based band of brothers (from different mothers) has been hosting events for over a decade, but it wasn't until their Midwest Festival brought the nation's top time-attack and drift talent, musical acts, and a genuine lifestyle festival experience to the track that the public at large really started to take note. A few years into that, and the good word of fun and speed was spread to the South at Road Atlanta, a historied sportscar racing circuit and home to Formula D competition since 2004. Today, a few years later, the Gridlife South festival is arguably the best it's ever been, which means it might be ready to take its next big step. Here's why:
About 20 additional cars were added to this year's roster, the number of drift sessions was increased to 10 throughout the three-day weekend, and sessions grew from 20 minutes each to 40. Fans and drifters got twice as much action this time around, and took full advantage of it.
FD Pro and Pro 2 drivers took part in the non-competitional fun over the weekend, alongside retired FD vets, and plenty of talented pro-am drivers in some of the most unique and stylish cars to be found anywhere.
True to Gridlife form, drifting was largely a free-for all. Once the smoke started it rarely cleared, and drivers could tandem or form massive drift trains with whomever they liked, running as much as they could in each session.
Added this year were two "sunset drift" sessions that added some darkness to the mix, and as in years past drifters had the option to slide any part of the Road Atlanta full course that they liked - and many did.
The entire crop of time-attackers seemed to get faster, but once again, no one could defeat the Canadians. William Au-Yeung and his freakishly fast ninth-gen Honda Civic coupe blew the competition out of the proverbial waters yet again, this time with a 1:19.962 fastest lap to take top honors in Unlimited-class competition and set the fastest lap of the entire event, amidst intermittently hot/wet conditions and mechanical failures.
Fellow Canadian and rival James Houghton came within just four seconds of Will despite similar adversity, clocking a 1:23.505 to take Second in class and overall in his DC2 Acura Integra.
Domestics seemed to assert themselves more so than in past years, with Luke McGrew and his muscle-bound Viper ACR winning Track Modified-class competition with a 1:27.990, Eric Rockwell in the Blue By You Racing Mustang Boss 302 nabbing the Street Modified win with a 1:32.215, and Coby Shield getting the win in Street GT with a 1:34.567 in one mean Camaro.
But don't count out the imports just yet! Claiming a very close Third in Street GT (ahead of two Mustangs, and Corvette and two Skyline GT-Rs) was Chinchi Chiang and his brand-spankin'-new GR Toyota Supra, blasting out a 1:39.237 in largely stock form.
Giving that Mustang Boss 302 a run for its money in Street Modified was none other than Sally "Salty" McNulty and her Subaru WRX STI, finishing a fraction of a second behind with a quick 1:32.532. And grabbing Third in Track Modified - above 27 competitors in much more expensive and sport-oriented machines - was Canadian Chris Boersma with an insanely quick 1:29.838 for his "lowly" EK Civic coupe.
For as competitive as time-attack is, it lacks what motorsports purists call "racecraft" - competitive passing, blocking, drafting, and everything else that's a part of wheel-to-wheel racing. The Gridlife Touring Cup (GLTC) brings this in spades. And still in its first year, the series is growing fast.
Open to drivers with at least Advanced-level HPDE training and a wide variety of cars meeting typical safety requirements, it's one of the most practical ways to get involved in wheel-to-wheel racing. It's also becoming pretty hotly competitive, with drivers and teams adapting competition vehicles from other club-racing and even professional series and building all-new machines to the letter of the rulebook.
Lots of uncertainty continued in Atlanta, with mechanical gremlins, rule contentions and late additions shaking up the weekend's four races and the resulting points order. The 2019 offseason will bring lots of rest, repair and revision, so we'll be eagerly awaiting 2020 to really see what GLTC will be all about.
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The Eibach Honda Meet was originally slotted to be this year's car show partner, but when some unforeseen circumstances prevented them from coming out in ideal form, Gridlife handled the business themselves and brought out an impressive assortment of contemporary builds of all makes and models, with plenty of Hondas and a surprising number of JDM imports.
Musical acts were limited to just Friday and Saturday nights, but that meant when crowds eventually did make their way to the main stage - to experience the likes of Twista, Flosstradamus and Soulja Boy - they were primed and ready for a good time.
And as always, what would Gridlife be without the camping and friends? Waking up trackside to drift demos and time-attack machines roaring past at 8 a.m., after a night of beer pong and flip cup might not be the easiest thing to do, but it's certainly worth it.
Despite the fond memories, rumors have it that Gridlife will be exploring alternative venues for next year's event, possibly moving into the Northeast or West Coast. Road Atlanta has left us with too many fond Gridlife memories to count, but Gridlife's successes here might just make this the perfect time to start something even better.