We first met Formula DRIFT pro Dylan Hughes a few years back at RAD Industries, the shop owned and run by fellow driver (and longtime SS sweetheart) Rad Dan Burkett. Right off the bat, we liked the guy; he was a ball of energy, and he always had the best one-liners ready. We dig dudes who can make us laugh. It wasn't until seeing him compete in FD's Pro 2 championship we realized he had a fierce competitor inside that scrawny frame of his. On track, this guy is no joke.
After winning a pro-am title on the East Coast in 2016 and barely into his mid-20s, Dylan made the jump to Pro 2 the very next season with his V-8 S13, only having enough money to do one out of the four rounds, his home event in Seattle. In 2018, though, he ripped through Formula D's farm league, nabbing three consecutive podium finishes and very nearly taking the championship. Then came a forgettable 2019 rookie year in FD Pro, when he had to make the best out of a difficult situation driving an underpowered V-8-swapped BMW E46, which brings us to 2020 and this car—a vehicle that, in a way, represents a reset on Dylan's pro drifting career.
The Royal Purple 2005 BMW E46 is the sum of many long hours and, admittedly, some luck, too. Every single weld on the car is Dylan's (with the exception of anything that came from the OEM, of course), from all the cage and tube work, to the custom TiCON titanium exhaust and Parts Shop MAX front strut brace he had to hack up and rebuild because it initially didn't clear the turbo. A couple of the cooler pieces he fabbed for the build include the one-off perforated aluminum rear quarter window replacements, which should help air flow through to the radiator and other components behind the rear firewall when the car is sideways, but the thing that required the most fabrication and greatest amount of time was the rear subframe. Generally, high-horsepower pro drift cars run a beefy rear end and there aren't a whole lot of options for mounting them; Dylan ended up having to cut up and weld back together the stock subframe with a ton of added bracing in order to get his Winters quick-change rear to fit and not break the car.
What makes this Bimmer really special, though, is what's under the hood. Dylan opted for a turbocharged Toyota 2JZ-GTE power plant, forsaking both BMW and GM for the best inline-6-banger Japan has to offer. And the engine's still a 3.0L; we've noticed the trend with other 2J pro drift cars is to go with a stroker crank to get more displacement (3.4L), but Dylan's still uses the factory crank. Tuned for ethanol, the mill pushes out 860 horsepower and 629 lb.-ft. of torque at the wheels BEFORE the nitrous squeeze; he's also got a larger Garret turbo that they've tuned for (and can swap out fairly easily) that helps the car make almost 950hp on the rollers.
We sat down with Dylan during the shoot of his car, mostly just to BS but to also see what else we could glean about the up and coming driver who is now deep into his first year running his own program. The interview we had with him follows below.
Super Street: Are you aware of how famous that picture is of your E36 daily driver? The photo where you have the rear over-fender off to fill it with gas ...
Dylan Hughes: That is still my most liked, most engaging photo I've ever posted [over 10k likes as of this writing]. I bought the E36 when I was still living in Washington and I wanted to kit it, so I hit up HGK Racing. At the time, nobody in the States had the HGK E36 kit, so I got it, and as I was putting it on, I realized, oh my god, it covers the gas door (laughter). It's a really nice quality kit, and I was like, I'm not cutting a hole in this thing; you can't make me. We kept the Cleco temporary fasteners to hold the fender on—basically 20 little alien ears sticking out from the side of the car—and I refused to drill a hole in the fender.
So, every time I had to go to the gas station, I had to grab my Cleco pliers and take out all 20 clips, lay the over-fender on the ground, and put gas in the car. I remember the first time I did it, this lady next to me at the gas station was deeply concerned about what I was doing. She was like, "I've never seen anything like this before. What are you doing?" And, of course, the car at the time was like four different colors, I had no wheel spacers on it and stock wheels—it was just the ugliest thing.
I remember posting the picture to my Stories, and I was over at RAD Industries and getting all these replies and thinking, that's hilarious! I figured I might as well post the picture, putting no effort, no thought into it at all—I got 5,000 likes and 1,000 followers in an hour. I was like, what is happening?! And it just kept going; I probably ended up getting 5,000 new followers from that one post.
SS: Do you still fill up the car that way?
DH: I got tired of it. It turns getting gas into a real chore. I ended up rerouting the gas filler to the trunk and now I just pop the trunk to fill it up. The fenders are riveted on, I don't have to do the Clecos anymore, which got so old after about 20 times. People still look at me a little weird when I pop the trunk to put gas in the car, but whatever.
SS: Tell us about your background in motorsports ...
DH: Growing up in Washington, I was all about dirt bikes. All through elementary, middle and high school, I was the dude who rode dirt bikes—racing, riding, anything that had to do with dirt bikes. After high school, I kinda let that go a little bit, and I started doing construction [work], made good money but I hated it, took a massive pay cut and ended up getting a job at DirtFish Rally School, which just happened to be five minutes from my parents' house, where I lived at the time. I had some heavy equipment experience being a ditch digger, essentially, and I became the guy that grades the course back together at the rally school. They'd ruin the road and I would grade it back together, make it all nice. I did that for about six months.
I was always fab savvy. In high school, if you got a new car, we didn't have emissions or anything [in Wash.] so I'd be the guy that's cutting mufflers off of everybody's cars. I probably did 50 muffler-delete jobs. We were always into lifted trucks and stuff like that, because we were definitely a little hick town. So, I ended up going into the [DirtFish] shop and started working, donating my time, because I was really interested in doing cages and tube work. I would stay after work and help the guys build cages for the rally cars at DirtFish.
Fast forward a little bit, right when I started working in the shop fulltime, DirtFish decided to sponsor a rallycross team, which ended up being the Red Bull Dodge Rallycross Team of Travis Pastrana and Bryce Menzies. Thrashed on those cars for the 2013 season, and I wasn't originally supposed to travel with the team but a couple of the mechanics had a falling out, a couple guys got fired, and they were like, hey, Dylan, 21-year-old dude, do you want to go to Barcelona for X Games Rallycross? I was like, yep, and they were like, cool, you leave in two weeks.
We went to Barcelona, to Munich, all over the U.S. The third time I was in Vegas in 2013, we were working a rallycross event and we were a mechanic short, one of our guys got sick, so the guy who managed the Red Bull team was Chris Forsberg's old manager, and he hit up Chris saying we need a guy, do you have one? He did; Brian Wilkerson shows up, who is Chris's lead mechanic and owner of MA Motorsports. I just got my [Nissan 240SX] at the time, just started the V-8 swap, and to Brian I was like, oh my god, massive fan of Chris Forsberg and Ryan Tuerck!
So, I met Chris and Ryan on Fremont Street; we got along great. Everything was cool. I knew Brian for about four days at this point and I kept harassing him the whole time we were in Vegas—'yo, let me know if you need help next year on the race team.' One day in February 2014 my phone rang, and it was Chris; he was bringing on Jhonnattan Castro and he needed a guy.
SS: Right, you were on Chris's team for both of his last two championships, in 2014 and 2016. What was that like?
DH: It was all happening so fast. Life was just throwing all this stuff at me, so I was just taking it all in. I would call them some of my what-the-fuck moments. I remember standing on the side of the road in Long Beach at my very first event, texting Chris's wife Mich—I knew nobody, I just showed up. She picked me up, we got along great, riding in the car on the way to the track I just remember thinking to myself, what the fuck, how did I get here?! 2014 especially ... Chris won that event, won the championship that year, killed it, throughout 2014, 2015, 2016, I would just stand back and have my what-the-fuck moments. And I was a full-blown rookie on my end. It was such an awesome experience.
SS: Being on Chris Forsberg Racing (CFR) has been good for you then ...
DH: 100 percent. I don't think I'd be sitting here now if I didn't make the decision to work on Chris's team, if I didn't decide in 2015 to move to be with the team in Maryland—I was 22 when I moved there, and I literally packed a bag, left all my shit at my parents' house and just left.
From the very beginning, my goal was always to be a driver, there was no doubt in my mind, and [working for CFR] was my steppingstone. Things sort of came to a head in 2016, 2017, when I had to make a decision about my own driving future, whether to pursue it on my own and split from our relationship a little bit, because I was always working for Chris, helping him. I won a pro-am championship in 2016 on the East Coast and I thought, maybe I've got something with this, maybe this can go somewhere. Things got a little weird when I told Chris I think I need to focus on me a little bit; that was an awkward time for us. But this is not possible without Chris Forsberg; he is my best friend, my brother, he's my dude. Even now, we share a shop, we see each other every day, he's my boy, for sure, and I do not think at all I'd be sitting here right now if it wasn't for Chris.
SS: How did the Royal Purple sponsorship come about?
DH: In 2018, ITW Global Brands was working with Ryan Tuerck and Chris, and the three of us were trying to find a little more exposure for my Pro 2 program. My manager now, who was managing Ryan's program at the time, threw me a couple bucks to run an Advance Auto Parts sticker on my 240 for ITW. One of our contacts at ITW, who got us sponsorship for the Huddy Racing deal in 2019, left them and moved to Royal Purple. When she moved, we kept in contact, and she was in marketing, so she basically said let's see if we can figure something out with Royal Purple for 2020.
They told me at the 2019 SEMA Show they were all in, they wanted me to have my car at the PRI Show a month later, and I basically had a bare shell at the time. I thrashed that thing together, ended up setting a motor in it, threw a body kit on it, wrapped it, and sent it in the trailer. It wasn't even close to running, but it looked the part, which is all we really needed. And then they came on as the Official Oil of Formula D, which is rad for them.
SS: This is not same E46 as last year's—where did this BMW come from?
DH: I was over at RAD Industries, again, and photographer Aaron Eusebi was there, and this was right around Formula D Texas 2019, and the Huddy deal was questionable at best. I could feel it, I knew I had to build another car for next year; it sucked, but I wanted my own car for 2020 and I wanted an E46, and I was just talking out loud to the guys, and Aaron asked what kind. I said I love the two-doors and Aaron's like, well, my mom's got one; she bought it new in 2005, she's put a bunch of miles on it, but it's just sitting in front of the house [now]. He showed me pictures, it was perfect; it had never been wrecked, the frame rails were straight, so I told him, seriously, I want it and asked how much. Aaron asked me what I was going to do with it, and I said turn it into a pro drift car; he said if you promise to turn it into a pro drift car, I will sell it to you for 1,000 bucks.
Done deal; I go out there with my girlfriend, check it out, crawl underneath to check the subframes and all the spots that usually go wrong with those chassis, and it was mom driven, it was perfect. It was bone stock; it had every single piece of interior, and everything worked. I drove it back to the shop, gutted it, chopped it up, and turned it into my new pro drift car—that car is Aaron Eusebi's mom's old 220k-mile 2005 BMW E46. That's why every time I see Aaron, I tell him, dude, your mom's car is so sick now.
SS: Why did you decide on 2JZ power this year? Please don't say it was because of Rad Dan ... (more laughs)
DH: My dad was into V-8s, he was a racer growing up and loved the V-8, he knew how to put them together, so when I first swapped one into my 240 it was a no-brainer—good power, good reliability. We did a second V-8 for [Formula D] Pro 2, which was a stroker LS3, it was awesome, I loved it. But I always had this thing for turbo motors—the backfires, the flames, the sound, the boost—it's a whole thing, and I always wanted one but thought it would be for a street car. I wanted to 1JZ my E36; that was my thing.
And then I drove Dan's Supra. We went to Grange (now known as Apple Valley Speedway) and I drove Dan's Baby Blue Supra (his demo car) and that was my first proper 2J car. I jumped in that thing and thought, oh my god, this is sick! Totally different power band, totally different experience. When the Huddy deal happened, that E46 had a V-8 and was underpowered; it was 630hp to the wheels and Huddy wouldn't let me spray it with nitrous, so I felt like I had one hand tied behind my back the whole year trying to get the car to do what I needed it to.
Fast forward to 2020, got the new E46, and after driving Dan's Supra I was like, I'm putting a 2J in this bitch, and the coolest part about it is there are companies that are willing to help. With a V-8, you call up an engine building company and you tell them I want the meanest engine you got, you write them a $30k check, and you wait for your motor. It's not like that with a 2J; I bought a stock motor for $2,200 and I have significantly less into it, and now I have a 1,000hp 3.0L inline-6 and it makes more power than any V-8 I've ever had. I knew the E46 was a badass chassis based on my experience last year and I figured if I can roll 1,000hp through it, I think it would be really good.
SS: With a new chassis and new engine, what are your expectations for this year? How far do you think you'll go?
DH: I want to get on the podium. I want an [FD] Pro carbon-fiber trophy. If I can figure out a way to make that work, I think I'll be very happy. I know I'm not going out and winning a championship first year [with this car]; obviously I'm going to do my best, and if that ends up happening, then fuckin'-A. But I want to stand my ass up on that podium; that's what I want. And watching Chris since 2014, podium after podium after podium, I've been up there dozens of times with him, but never as a driver.
We did pretty good in Pro 2 [in 2017 and 2018]. I remember spraying the champagne for the first time, and that was pretty rad. Pro is top dog, that's as high as it gets for drifting, in the States at least. I think if I find myself on the podium, I would be very happy.
SS: For as long as we've known you, you've been pretty high energy, and pretty positive. Is there a story behind your approach to life?
DH: I just try to push away anything negative in my life, because I feel like those are anchors slowing you down. Getting myself in with Chris, giving up [on my dream] was never an option; I took the opportunity and ran with it, and I accepted the fact that it was going to be incredibly tough. Up until two years ago, I thought getting to the Pro level was impossible, and I think being with Chris and being around cool stuff all the time, it's hard to not be stoked. Nobody likes to be around a Negative Nancy; [drivers] have to be outgoing and personable to get to where we want to get to—there's just no room for negativity, at all. Trust me, I have bad days, I'm not always super stoked. But you can't sweat the little stuff; push forward no matter what, and that's all there is to it. Be personable, be nice to people, and I truly believe what goes around comes around.