Grassroots Drifting

Drifting is still a fairly new auto sport in the U.S. and many other parts of the world. Originating in Japan in the early ’70s, the sport made its way to the U.S. in 1996 after being popularized by professional driver Keiichi Tsuchiya.

Tsuchiya often used the technique of drifting (spinning tires to break traction in the rear wheels of the car and steering through a corner with the front tires) in typical race scenarios.

The first recorded sanctioned drifting event in the Unites States took place at Willow Springs International Raceway in the Southern California desert.

Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, California at sunrise, over-looking the "Streets of Willow" track on Feb. 22, 2014. ©Joshua Schock 2014

Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, California at sunrise, over-looking the “Streets of Willow” track on Feb. 22, 2014. ©Joshua Schock 2014

After drifting evolved into a professional level sport, grassroots events started appearing across the nation. Grassroots refers to the non-professional, local drifters. It is anything from underground (street) drifting to small venue events. Grassroots is the heart of the sport and produces the bulk of the participants.

The modifications, customization and personality that shows in each car is what makes grassroots drifting so unique and special. In this way, it is different from other motorsports (such as NASCAR) where there are such strict restrictions on the vehicles to where most all of the drivers are using the same or similar brand of car.

Alex Grimm's Datsun 240Z being removed from the trailer to participate in Adam's Motorsports Park's Thursday Night Drift on Feb. 27, 2014 in Riverside, California. ©Joshua Schock 2014

Alex Grimm’s Datsun 240Z being removed from the trailer to participate in Adam’s Motorsports Park’s Thursday Night Drift on Feb. 27, 2014, in Riverside, California. ©Joshua Schock 2014

The Black Widow sponsored truck drifts at Adams Motorsports Park in Riverside, California on Feb.  27, 2014. ©Joshua Schock 2014

The Black Widow sponsored truck drifts at Adams Motorsports Park in Riverside, California on Feb. 27, 2014. ©Joshua Schock 2014

Matthew Coffman completes his run at Horse Thief Mile during the Top Drift season opening event at Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, California on Feb. 22, 2014. ©Joshua Schock 2014

Matthew Coffman completes his run at Horse Thief Mile during the Top Drift season opening event at Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, California on Feb. 22, 2014. ©Joshua Schock 2014

The sport is particularly expensive. Even some professional drivers are completely self-funded. A professional season can run upwards of $100,000 if the driver attends all seven competitions.

The grassroots guys are, for the most part, paying out of pocket (though a few select drivers manage to snag tire/wheel or engine parts sponsors).

Adam Levi and Dan Burkett battle at Top Drift Round 1 at Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, California on March 30, 2014. ©Joshua Schock 2014

Adam Levi and Dan Burkett battle at Top Drift Round 1 at Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, California on March 30, 2014. ©Joshua Schock 2014

Spike Chen competes at Top Drift Round 1 at Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, California on March 30, 2014. ©Joshua Schock 2014

Spike Chen competes at Top Drift Round 1 at Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, California on March 30, 2014. ©Joshua Schock 2014

Spike Chen (front) competes with Alex Heilbrunn at Top Drift Round 1 at Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, California on March 30, 2014. ©Joshua Schock 2014

Spike Chen (front) competes with Alex Heilbrunn at Top Drift Round 1 at Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, California on March 30, 2014. ©Joshua Schock 2014

When drivers decide to make the transition from grassroots to professional, they compete in a ProAm series. There are several ProAm series throughout the US, but most local to Ventura, California is Top DriftVegas Drift, and Golden Gate Drift.

For Top Drift, the season consists of four competition events. If the driver competes and performs consistently enough and well enough, he is awarded with a Formula Drift license, which is their gateway to the professional level series Formula Drift. 

Spike Chen (front) competes with Alex Heilbrunn at Top Drift Round 1 at Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, California on March 30, 2014. ©Joshua Schock 2014

Spike Chen (front) competes with Alex Heilbrunn at Top Drift Round 1 at Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, California on March 30, 2014. ©Joshua Schock 2014

People spend months building their car before they are even able to compete, while others work on their car over a couple years.

Yunki Hong installs a Toyota 2JZ engine into his BMW E36 coupe at Fit Motorsports in Santa Fe Springs, California on March 23, 2014. ©Joshua Schock 2014

Yunki Hong installs a Toyota 2JZ engine into his BMW E36 coupe at Fit Motorsports in Santa Fe Springs, California on March 23, 2014. ©Joshua Schock 2014

Yunki Hong (pictured above) is a grassroots drifter who moved to California from South Korea to pursue professional drifting. He does everything from street drifting to local grassroots events, to pro am competition. Yunki has been working on his 2JZ swapped BMW E36 since February 2014. After five months, he still does not have the car finished. So far, he has spent over $10,000 on his car and has missed most of the 2014 pro-am series. He has a modified daily driver that he takes to grassroots events to drift for practice.

Hong perfectly captures the spirit of drifting. “If I was not involved in automotive culture, I’m sure I could have a better lifestyle,” he says. “However, better is not always the answer. That is why I’m here in the US. I love cars.”