Sometimes, certain events happen in a certain order, which make other events seem almost serendipitous. Take, for example, the case of Formula Drift founders Jim Liaw (opposite page) and Ryan Sage: The two met while working for Hot Import Nights and joined forces to start Slipstream Marketing, where the client list ranged from Ebay Motors to D1-which, at the time, was the main drifting event with international cachet-and other brands that wanted to have presence in the sport compact world. One thing led to another; D1 imploded and pulled out of all its U.S. events and suffered a major loss of fan support in Japan. This left Jim and Ryan with one question: so now what? The answer came when the two dove headfirst into starting Formula Drift.
Now, that answer sounds fairly simple and maybe even logical, but keep in mind that just a couple of years ago, drifting was an anomaly of a sport in the States. How do you sell a sport like drifting to a large, multi-national corporation, especially after the demise of drag racing? How do you get people to fill up the grandstands during the events? Ryan explains that "99-percent of the motorsports community is formatted around getting from point A to point B as fast as you possibly can. Then you have this other motor sport [drifting] where speed is a factor, but it's not a race. For a typical motor sports sponsor or fan, the subjective nature can be a tough pill to swallow." Ryan and Jim agree that education by exposure is the key to drifting's growth. They feel that once people can see a drifting event themselves and see how much skill is involved, the appeal will be instantaneous.
On the flipside, getting more skilled drivers has become a hurdle of its own. Without a solid Pro-Am league for amateurs to build skills, drifting may not be able sustain itself. One fear Ryan has is the growing gap between the top-level drivers and the drivers just entering the scene. Unlike drag racing, which can be done in any deserted industrial area, drifters have to find safe places to be able to practice control techniques. Jim believes that a Pro-Am series could be on the horizon, which would give drifting a structure much like a pyramid, with the mass of entry-level drivers at the bottom working up.
So if this pyramid model is going to work, there has to be someone at the top, right? The duo believes the success of the Formula D franchise is going to be based on the personalities of the athletes. According to Jim, everyone is an enemy on the track, but once the helmets come off, everybody gets along. The comradeship among the drivers is a big aspect of drifting's growth. One example is the recent pairing of Daijiro Yoshihara and Rhys Millen. According to industry chatter, the two had disputes in the past regarding driving styles because Rhys is such a tough competitor, but oddly enough they ended up teammates. Hopefully with a plethora of media-friendly drivers, the fans will find the personality they can relate to.
What about the future? For Ryan, pacing the Formula D events at a rate for everyone to regularly compete on a physical and financial level is the key. There's really no point in trying to organize 40 events nationwide if half the drivers are either rebuilding a car or just can't afford the travel costs. Drivers and sponsors also have to stay loyal to whichever event they choose to be a participant in. Everyone knows what happened to drag racing after it got too big for its britches. Even if not all drivers can support themselves through drifting exclusively, the sport has catapulted many drivers onto other things; for instance, stunt driving, which many of the drivers participate in for major Hollywood films. Others have done television hosting or commercials for major sponsors (some have even become fashion models for particular magazines). Jim is confident that if drifting's sporting element can be seen by a bigger audience, particularly through the mainstream media, everything will fall into place. If one goes by crowd attendance, the season opener in Long Beach is a positive sign for great things to come for Formula D and drifting. Which brings us back to the beauty of when certain events happen in a certain order...
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Here's how round one of the '08 Formula D season, Streets of Long Beach shaped up:
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1 Chris Forsberg
2 Samuel Hubinette
3 Tanner Foust
4 Kyle Mohan