To preview the 14th championship season of Formula DRIFT kicking off today on the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Street Course, I was taken for a spin—spins, actually—in “Rad Dan” Burkett's Toyota Supra.
Burkett resides in Costa Mesa, as do I, but it was totally luck of the media tent draw that put me in his passenger seat.
For those unfamiliar with Formula DRIFT, or Formula D as the cool kids call it, drivers of pre-approved, rear-wheel-drive automobiles take a couple laps around a track, where they are watched by judges scoring them on speed, racing line and technique when it comes to rapid 360-degree spins and sliding sideways through sharp turns without (hopefully) slamming into concrete walls.
Based on those scores, drivers are paired for head-to-head battles on the same track, with the best of each heat knocking off the lessers until there is one champion spinner remaining.
It's amazing judges can see anything given the amount of smoke produced by cars' tires. I cannot remember such a strong bouquet of burning rubber from the stock car, Formula One or even dragster races I have attended in the past.
As soon as I climbed into Burkett's car, I could not carry on a conversation with him because the engine is so loud, even while idling. Hand gestures had to do. Oh, here's a helpful tip on what to avoid before taking a ride in one of these oversized dreidels: any talk of previous media day passengers having been in cars that smacked walls.
That disclosure managed to fill my head right at the moment the car in front of ours got the thumbs up to drive onto the track. Had I not known about the possibility of a whiplash-producing oopsie, I would have welcomed Burkett's first set of spins as one would a Disneyland E-ticket ride (look it up, kids). Instead, I officially entered the White Knuckle Olympics.
After those first two spins, Burkett got the go ahead to essentially floor it in the direction of a hairpin turn, where he expertly downshifted at the last possible nanosecond and pulled off spins and slides that were even more ... wait for it ... RAD than "Rad Dan" accomplished moments before.
Again, the possibility of soiling my seat was high. Also, I'm in between life insurance policies right now and I'm not sure media perks would be covered anyway.
Burkett pulled into the drop-off point and, because we still could not hear one another over the engine, he lifted a glove hand for a high five. I returned the gesture and said, "That was great" because it was ... in an episode of Fear Factor sort of way. However, now that I know what to expect, I should be better equipped to just let myself go and enjoy it should I ever get invited back for a Formula DRIFT ride-along. (A little Formula Liquid Courage before couldn't hurt either.)
The experience does have me more interested in checking out Formula DRIFT and now I have a driver to root for—a hometown hero at that. A little noodling on the interwebs revealed Burkett and his crew at RAD Industries in Santa Ana were the first to build the only professional drifting MKIV Toyota Supra in America as of 2015, a process that was put on display in a Super Street online article. Here are the deets:
CAR: 1995 Toyota Supra
RAD Industries supra- 850whp, 2JZ Brian Crower 3.4 Stoker
- Borg Warner 9174 EFR Turbo
- ESR SR07 Wheels
- RAD Industries Custom Wide Body Kit
- RAD Industries Livery Design
- Sparco Interior
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Formula DRIFT drivers compete on turns 9, 10 and 11 of the Long Beach Grand Prix Street Course, beginning with practice and qualifying this morning and the main event tomorrow. Three-time Formula champion Chris Forsberg, in the NOS Energy Nissan 370Z, looks to defend his championship and has teamed up with top driver Ryan Tuerck. Also joining forces this season are Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Chelsea DeNofa, the winner of Round 1 last season, who will be piloting the second Ford Mustang RTR. Fredric Aasbo seeks another championship in a new vehicle. Returning to the Series is top European contender James Deane, who will be joined by top Polish driver Piotr Wiecek.
Here is the full schedule:
Friday, March 31, 2017 – Practice & Qualifying
10:00am - 6:00pm - BOX OFFICE HOURS
10:00am – 1:00pm – FD: Open Practice
11:00am – 5:00pm – GATES OPEN TO PUBLIC
1:00pm – LIVESTREAM: www.formulad.com/live
1:15pm – 3:45pm – FD: Qualifying - All Drivers
4:00pm – 5:00pm – FD: Autograph Signing Session
Saturday, April 1, 2017 - Main Event
10:00am - 6:00pm - BOX OFFICE HOURS
9:00am – 10:45am – FD: Open Practice
9:00am – 6:00pm – GATES OPEN TO PUBLIC
10:45am – LIVESTREAM: www.formulad.com/live
11:00am – 1:00pm – MAIN COMPETITION: Top 32
1:00pm – 2:30pm – HALF TIME BREAK
2:00pm – 2:30pm – VIP EXPERIENCE: Track Walk
3:00pm – LIVESTREAM: www.formulad.com/live
3:00pm – 3:20pm – NATIONAL ANTHEM / OPENING CEREMONIES
3:30pm – 5:30pm – MAIN COMPETITION: Top 16
5:45pm – 6:00pm – TROPHY CEREMONY & CLOSING
**All schedules are subject to change without notice. Any questions on possible changes can be addressed with any FD representative on-site.