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Drifting Car Lessons - How To Drift

Drift 101 & 102: The Difference Between Drifters And Wannabes

Jay Chen
Apr 20, 2010 SHARE

Love it or hate it, everyone wants to drift. It really doesn't matter if you're a pro race driver and wouldn't be caught dead going around a corner the slow way or a 16-year-old fan boy with the keys to your first hand-me-down car. Drifting is the motorsport of the masses and is also the fastest way to make a grown man giggle with joy. The cool factor and car-control bragging rights don't hurt either, because deep down we all know that being able to drift your ride is a badge of honor and actually teaches you better car control.

Modp_1005_01_o+drifting_car_lessons+drifting_1 Photo 2/13   |   Drifting Car Lessons - How To Drift

That said, there's big difference between real drifting and what your dad thought he was doing as a kid on some frozen backroad in the Midwest. That's just power-on-oversteer, with a sprinkle of too-much-throttle and a healthy pinch of panic thrown in. Drifting is calculated, executed and followed through with finesse and control like a choreographed dance, while the ordinary man's backroad tank-slapper antics are just a result of circumstance and coincidence, much like a club-footed ape underneath a disco ball.

Even for those of us who know the difference and have yapped and ranted about the techniques, there's still a huge gap between knowing and doing. We wanted to be taught how to drift, not be fan boys, so we enrolled in Drift Association's Drift 101 and 102 schools, which promised to make even the most club-footed of apes capable of planning, initiating and maintaining a slide.

Modp_1005_05_o+drifting_car_lessons+drifting_2 Photo 3/13   |   Drifting Car Lessons - How To Drift

Drift Association is one of the first and longest-running organizations in the U.S. that caters to beginner, amateur and pro drifters. Accompanying their standard open-track Drift Day events where beginners and pros practice side by side, Drift Association also provides one-on-one instruction through its Drift 101 and 102 schools. Ran by one of the founding fathers of American drifting, Naoki Kobayashi, and taught by pro drifters like Taka Aono, Hiro Sumida and Yoshie Shuyama, the Drift 101 and 102 instruction sessions are meant to introduce the complete novice into drifting and ensure that he graduates with a strong foundation in how to drift. The concept is to teach drifting with proper form and do it in a safe and enjoyable environment. More importantly, Drift 101 and 102's primary goals are to teach students the skills to evaluate their own mistakes so they can teach themselves as they progress beyond the classes.

While Jay and I have both spent plenty of time on track trying to clock fast laps or riding along in competition drift cars, neither of us had really drifted before. Most efforts have ended in spins, flying cones or destroyed drivetrains. We were perhaps the least ideal candidates because all of our driving habits have been built on track with the goal of avoiding getting sideways. We were going to need all the help we could get. Knowing that we would probably show up in cars way over our skill level, Naoki graciously loaned us two of the many rentable instruction cars built specifically for teaching drifting at either the 101 or the 102 levels. Along with that, Nexen Tires also threw in a set of rubber for each of us to burn through in the process of the day.

Modp_1005_06_o+drifting_car_lessons+drift_101 Photo 4/13   |   Drifting Car Lessons - How To Drift

Drift 101
What often looks simple is actually difficult to master. Drift 101 teaches the basic techniques and solid fundamentals needed to become a good drifter. Forget fancy high-speed entries or e-brake-induced drifts, 101 is all about developing the right habits and building upon them. You have to walk before you can run.

You also need to have the proper instructors-after all, a student is only as good as his teachers. Drift 101's team of Mark Adalba and J.P. Mendoza were nothing short of spectacular in terms of relaying information and providing feedback. Unlike performance driving schools where classroom theory is fundamental, learning to drift is all about practice and repetition. You drive, they watch, ride along and then critique. Drift 101 throws you into the driver seat, and you'll get more than enough practice time to master the basics.

Modp_1005_04_o+drifting_car_lessons+drift_instructors Photo 5/13   |   The Drift 101 and 102 instructors from left to right: Taka Aono, Yoshie Shuyama, Hiro Sumida, J.P. Mendoza and Mark Adalba.

At the request of Naoki, I won't be getting into the specifics of the actual curriculum (hey, they've got to keep their secrets), but true to its name, Drift 101 taught me the fundamental techniques of getting a car sideways, holding a drift and transitioning from side to side. A lot of what Jay Chen will talk about in Drift 102-throttle input, vision, car control and so on-were touched on in the 101 course, but the maneuvers were more basic.

I came away from Drift 101 with a sense of confidence that I now possess the skills needed to start drifting. I'm a very long ways from being the next Chris Forsberg, but I've got a solid foundation and skill set to build upon. Even better, I didn't start off on the street where there was no one to correct my mistakes and help me improve. I can't wait to further improve my skills at the Drift 102 level. -Peter Tarach

Drift 102
The secondary course starts where 101 leaves off and picks up the pace while introducing more complex maneuvers that require more pedal and hand work.

Modp_1005_07_o+drifting_car_lessons+nissan_240sx Photo 6/13   |   The Drift 101 rental car was a lightly tuned Nissan S13 240SX. Aside from the KAAZ two-way LSD, Megan Racing coilovers and Nexen Tires, it was all stock.

Unfortunately, my good friend Naoki mistakenly assumed my driving and drifting abilities were at pretty high levels (not actually the case). While it has been a few years since I've put a car into the wall, I wasn't quite ready to jump right into Drift 102, which was designed for students with the prerequisite 101 instruction. As a compromise, it was decided that I was better off learning in Yoshie's torquey KA-powered S14 instruction car-set up with XXR wheels, 205-width Nexen Tires, a KAAZ LSD and Megan Racing coilovers-instead of my own ill-equipped S14. With instructors Yoshie and Taka taking turns in the car with me and Hiro spotting outside, we headed off onto the Orange Showground infield to begin my exclusive all-star, tag-team instruction.

Even though I've been well versed in speaking drift lingo and understand the concepts and mechanics of how to balance a car and initiate a drift, actually doing the deed was something quite different. Each lesson is a natural extension of the previous one and the instructors adapt and work at a pace you're comfortable with.

In Drift 102, we started with warm-ups and went over some basic exercises. The instructors stressed the importance of warming up the car as well as the driver just like any good road racer would. Since the cars are built to be predictable and easy to initiate into a slide, finding the car's balance and grip limits comes almost instinctively as the tires start talking and breaking away. All this time, each instructor carefully and quietly watched my reactions, hand motions, where I'm looking and comfort level. Unlike many road race instructors, there's very little mid-drive instruction, screaming, grabbing the steering wheel or yanking of the helmet as I'm driving. Every time after a successful pass, we stop and discuss what was done right and what could be improved. Oftentimes after a spinout, there's no need for discussion and we continue trying until it feels more comfortable. The process is only as painful as you make it on yourself, but the support is always there.

Modp_1005_08_o+drifting_car_lessons+braking Photo 7/13   |   Drifting Car Lessons - How To Drift

Lesson 1 Taking A Break
Mastering one technique or another, pro drifters teach their most important lesson first. Even though the adrenaline is still pumping from the success or frustration and you're anxious to move on to the next step to becoming a drifting superstar, the instructors force you to stop, get out of the car and just relax. Whether making progress or just getting frustrated, taking a moment to step back and collect yourself is probably the best thing to do, because even the best drivers get sloppy after 15 minutes behind the wheel.

Modp_1005_11_o+drifting_car_lessons+mark_adalba Photo 8/13   |   Drift 101 instructor Mark Adalba provides one-on-one instruction, pointing out the mistakes and corrections needed to initiate a drift around a pylon.

Lesson 2 Listening To The Throttle
My biggest difficulty came from the simple warm-up donuts. Having spent a lot of time on our standard skidpad vehicle test-getting a car around the 200-foot skidpad with minimal slip-I've built up the habit of constantly modulating the throttle to balance a car between over- and understeer. In trying to initiate and maintain a drift, that was probably the worst thing I could do. Without consistent wheelspin at a constant rpm, holding a drift is impossible.

It took quite a while to break my old grip-driving mindset, but Taka, Yoshie and Hiro-who were also road racers in the past-managed to help me work through those habits. Instead of looking at the tach when my eyes should be on the road, using the ears was the best way to ensure you're at the same rpm even when the car bogs after a launch or spikes as the wheels break free. Keeping the engine speed constant means that the rear wheels are spinning at the same rate and the car behaves consistently.

Lesson 3 The Car Goes Where You Look
I quickly realized that drifting glory wasn't quite as close as I thought. Apparently, being a very right-handed person made drifting the other direction much more difficult. The key was vision. Just like in road racing, the car goes where you look, the key is how far to lead. Look too far ahead and you'll spin for sure. Look too close and you'll never catch the car in time for the next transition. Drifting one direction will always be easier, so looking where you want to go will make all the difference for drifting as if you're ambidextrous.

Lesson 4 Let The Car Do The Drifting
As speeds increase and drift radii increase, things get a lot harder. Everything is happening faster and increasing the rate of your hand-eye coordination is all about practice and muscle memory. But as the car slides at faster and faster speeds, it's important to let go of the steering wheel and not fight the car and what the laws of physics are telling it to do. Inevitably, letting the car find its happy place is the smoothest way to maintain and transition between drifts. This was perhaps my biggest issue because track instinct is to always to grab the wheel and fight the slide. Time and time again, we would be mid-drift and my hand would just briskly and unconsciously brush the wheel to control how the steering unwound. This always upsets the balance and gets everything all thrown off in the middle of a drift. Sometimes keeping your hands off the wheel during the entire drift required the most concentration.

Modp_1005_09_o+drifting_car_lessons+drift_102 Photo 9/13   |   Drifting Car Lessons - How To Drift

Final Lesson
The day passed quickly as I vacillated between frustration and elation. Even as the instructors pushed me to more and more advanced techniques and combinations, I noticed that the basics had become muscle memory. But as techniques get harder, diminishing returns set in. Making the same progress as I did in the morning wasn't happening. Just getting used to the high-speed drifts and juggling all the motions like grabbing the e-brake, kicking the clutch, flicking the wheel and initiating with weight transfer resulted in spin after spin. And while the instruction and support was there, only practice and seat time would make the difference.

You also need to have the proper instructors-after all, a student is only as good as his teachers. Drift 101's team of Mark Adalba and J.P. Mendoza were nothing short of spectacular in terms of relaying information and providing feedback. Unlike performance driving schools where classroom theory is fundamental, learning to drift is all about practice and repetition. You drive, they watch, ride along and then critique. Drift 101 throws you into the driver seat, and you'll get more than enough practice time to master the basics.

At the request of Naoki, I won't be getting into the specifics of the actual curriculum (hey, they've got to keep their secrets), but true to its name, Drift 101 taught me the fundamental techniques of getting a car sideways, holding a drift and transitioning from side to side. A lot of what Jay Chen will talk about in Drift 102-throttle input, vision, car control and so on-were touched on in the 101 course, but the maneuvers were more basic.

Modp_1005_10_o+drifting_car_lessons+drift_102_course Photo 10/13   |   The Drift 102 course uses a late-model S14 240SX and teaches more advanced drifting techniques for more experienced drivers.

I came away from Drift 101 with a sense of confidence that I now possess the skills needed to start drifting. I'm a very long ways from being the next Chris Forsberg, but I've got a solid foundation and skill set to build upon. Even better, I didn't start off on the street where there was no one to correct my mistakes and help me improve. I can't wait to further improve my skills at the Drift 102 level. -Peter Tarach

Drift 102 The secondary course starts where 101 leaves off and picks up the pace while introducing more complex maneuvers that require more pedal and hand work.

Unfortunately, my good friend Naoki mistakenly assumed my driving and drifting abilities were at pretty high levels (not actually the case). While it has been a few years since I've put a car into the wall, I wasn't quite ready to jump right into Drift 102, which was designed for students with the prerequisite 101 instruction. As a compromise, it was decided that I was better off learning in Yoshie's torquey KA-powered S14 instruction car-set up with XXR wheels, 205-width Nexen Tires, a KAAZ LSD and Megan Racing coilovers-instead of my own ill-equipped S14. With instructors Yoshie and Taka taking turns in the car with me and Hiro spotting outside, we headed off onto the Orange Showground infield to begin my exclusive all-star, tag-team instruction.

Even though I've been well versed in speaking drift lingo and understand the concepts and mechanics of how to balance a car and initiate a drift, actually doing the deed was something quite different. Each lesson is a natural extension of the previous one and the instructors adapt and work at a pace you're comfortable with.

In Drift 102, we started with warm-ups and went over some basic exercises. The instructors stressed the importance of warming up the car as well as the driver just like any good road racer would. Since the cars are built to be predictable and easy to initiate into a slide, finding the car's balance and grip limits comes almost instinctively as the tires start talking and breaking away. All this time, each instructor carefully and quietly watched my reactions, hand motions, where I'm looking and comfort level. Unlike many road race instructors, there's very little mid-drive instruction, screaming, grabbing the steering wheel or yanking of the helmet as I'm driving. Every time after a successful pass, we stop and discuss what was done right and what could be improved. Oftentimes after a spinout, there's no need for discussion and we continue trying until it feels more comfortable. The process is only as painful as you make it on yourself, but the support is always there.

Modp_1005_14_o+drifting_car_lessons+taka_aono Photo 11/13   |   Taka Aono goes over throttle input and hand-foot coordination to properly initiate a drift at speed.

Lesson 1 Taking A Break Mastering one technique or another, pro drifters teach their most important lesson first. Even though the adrenaline is still pumping from the success or frustration and you're anxious to move on to the next step to becoming a drifting superstar, the instructors force you to stop, get out of the car and just relax. Whether making progress or just getting frustrated, taking a moment to step back and collect yourself is probably the best thing to do, because even the best drivers get sloppy after 15 minutes behind the wheel.

Lesson 2 Listening To The Throttle My biggest difficulty came from the simple warm-up donuts. Having spent a lot of time on our standard skidpad vehicle test-getting a car around the 200-foot skidpad with minimal slip-I've built up the habit of constantly modulating the throttle to balance a car between over- and understeer. In trying to initiate and maintain a drift, that was probably the worst thing I could do. Without consistent wheelspin at a constant rpm, holding a drift is impossible.

It took quite a while to break my old grip-driving mindset, but Taka, Yoshie and Hiro-who were also road racers in the past-managed to help me work through those habits. Instead of looking at the tach when my eyes should be on the road, using the ears was the best way to ensure you're at the same rpm even when the car bogs after a launch or spikes as the wheels break free. Keeping the engine speed constant means that the rear wheels are spinning at the same rate and the car behaves consistently.

Modp_1005_15_o+drifting_car_lessons+n5000_tires Photo 12/13   |   Nexen N5000 tires proved to be very worthy for drifting.

Lesson 3 The Car Goes Where You Look
I quickly realized that drifting glory wasn't quite as close as I thought. Apparently, being a very right-handed person made drifting the other direction much more difficult. The key was vision. Just like in road racing, the car goes where you look, the key is how far to lead. Look too far ahead and you'll spin for sure. Look too close and you'll never catch the car in time for the next transition. Drifting one direction will always be easier, so looking where you want to go will make all the difference for drifting as if you're ambidextrous.

Lesson 4 Let The Car Do The Drifting
As speeds increase and drift radii increase, things get a lot harder. Everything is happening faster and increasing the rate of your hand-eye coordination is all about practice and muscle memory. But as the car slides at faster and faster speeds, it's important to let go of the steering wheel and not fight the car and what the laws of physics are telling it to do. Inevitably, letting the car find its happy place is the smoothest way to maintain and transition between drifts. This was perhaps my biggest issue because track instinct is to always to grab the wheel and fight the slide. Time and time again, we would be mid-drift and my hand would just briskly and unconsciously brush the wheel to control how the steering unwound. This always upsets the balance and gets everything all thrown off in the middle of a drift. Sometimes keeping your hands off the wheel during the entire drift required the most concentration.

Final Lesson
The day passed quickly as I vacillated between frustration and elation. Even as the instructors pushed me to more and more advanced techniques and combinations, I noticed that the basics had become muscle memory. But as techniques get harder, diminishing returns set in. Making the same progress as I did in the morning wasn't happening. Just getting used to the high-speed drifts and juggling all the motions like grabbing the e-brake, kicking the clutch, flicking the wheel and initiating with weight transfer resulted in spin after spin. And while the instruction and support was there, only practice and seat time would make the difference.

Modp_1005_16_o+drifting_car_lessons+editor Photo 13/13   |   Drifting Car Lessons - How To Drift

Being within the safe confines of the track and under controlled and supervised conditions was one less thing for me to worry about, but the sun was setting and I was still a long way from being a drifting superstar. This was Drift 102's final lesson: practice and persistence. Just like in racing, there's no such thing as a natural born driver. Some might be more gifted and learn faster at first, but in the end it's all about seat time.

By the end of the day, Drift 102 had given me many of the tools to start this new drifting hobby. I now had an appreciation of how far a simple modified car could go for some drifting fun. The seat time under professional instruction had also made me comfortable getting sideways and given a better idea of what can be done with a car in a limited space. The most important lesson of all was learning how to critique my own driving and understanding enough to figure out my own mistakes.

Aching for more, I asked if there would be a Drift 103 curriculum, but Naoki assured me that with what Drift 102 offered, there would be no need for a 103 course aimed to train budding pros. By the time a student graduates from Drift 102, they're probably bitten by the drift bug and will continue to go to the track afterward. I'm still spinning more often than succeeding, but I'm comfortable doing smokie donuts and figure-8s all day long, and I'm already changing my Silvia to be more drift ready. -Jay Chen

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