DIY Drifting Is the Mad Max of Motorsports
‘It’s like skateboarding or snowboarding... except you’re fucking whole cars up.’
Photo by. Norman Wong
This article originally appeared at VICE Canada
Tent trailers and beaten-to-hell cars are scattered throughout the park behind the Shannonville Motorsport Park.
Over here a Mazda Miata with a hauling-truck diesel motor overfilling the hood, over there a beaten up BMW with the power of a Lambo. Wheeling between the two is a shirtless man with a broken foot and a cigarette dangling from his mouth, he's riding a gas powered scooter fitted with PVC piping on tires so it can spin on a dime.
Few attendees pay any attention to the maniac ripping 360s. Instead they're bent over the hoods of their cars battling off the rising steam—they've got tie rods to fix, tires to swap, and beer to drink. More time out here means less time they're able to throw beater cars sideways at 100 kilometres an hour.
It's drift day at the park, better get your ass in gear.
Now, the people out at Shannonville Park—roughly halfway between Toronto and Montreal—aren't really there for intense competition. This isn't the drifting you see on ESPN 7 (or whatever channel airs drifting) here the main competition is yourself. You compete, sure, but it's all about pushing yourself to get just that extra inch closer to the wall, that extra bit of smoke, that extra flare when exiting the drift—essentially, as one drifter put it, it's about doing "whatever the fuck you want to do out on that track."
"You do want the crowd to think you're going to crash though," laughs Kristoff Hemet, a member of Money Gang, an amatuer drifting team that frequents Shannonville.
Differing from other motorsports, drifting is about style, not speed. It focuses on how you throw that corner, not how fast you throw it. This freedom allotted has, unsurprisingly, attracted a certain crowd.
"It's the exact same crowd as skateboard, BMXing and snowboarding. That whole extreme sports freestyle kinda vibe is here," says Devo Dunbar, another Money Gang member. "Except instead of breaking frames and snapping fucking decks, you're bending control arms and fucking whole cars up."
Most of these guys aren't financed and do this purely out of passion, saving up all their cash to participate in these meets. Money Gang is one of these DIY amateur teams, which is evident in their name. The crew would show up at the track together in shitty (well, shitty to an outside observer) cars and pitch tents while other teams lived it up in the nearby hotels. The high rollers would chirp the group with and thusly the ironic name Money Gang was born.
The team does the majority of the work on their BMWs—which they all painted in matching grey house paint—themselves, swapping engines and other parts by hand. The majority of the people camped out in the field behind Shannonville work in similar ways on all sorts of cars overhauled from their original mechanics. For example, Steve Van Sleuwen (another member of Money Gang) completely reworked his BMW himself and now has a $200,000 car that sports a comparable crank and horsepower as a Lambo. A good drifting car, explains Van Sleuwen, is a "a super fast straight lane car [that has] so much power that you go sideways."
Now, in the community, a thought shared by many is that you don't think of the ride as a car but a moveable pile of parts. They essentially bring all the spare parts they can. Those parts paired with mechanical aptitude means if you slam that bad boy into a wall and bend the ever loving fuck out of your frame, well, you just grab your parts and slap them onto another chassis. A good number of cars strewn across Shannonville are in various states of disarray as their drivers attempt to get them going again—some are too far gone and all their insides will have to be swapped over to another chassis.
"You can't get attached to your cars," quips Money Gang member Mike Catell.
Tires, since you're burning them off slowly on every slide, are a precious commodity in the world of drifting. Drivers can go through upwards of fifteen tires over a single visit to the track. To meet this never-ending thirst for rubber, some of the drifters will go dumpster diving behind auto shops in search of a couple well worn treads they can burn.
It's impossible to write about drifting without mentioning Japan—the country that the sport and style were created in. While throwing out your tail has, of course, been around for a long long time, it was popularized in motorsports by Kunimitsu Takahashi, a touring car driver, in the 70s. Takahashi would use drifting to shed off seconds on tight corners. His aggressive style netted him some wins and, more importantly, a legion of fans. At home, one of those fans watching Takahashi was Keiichi Tsuchiya, a man who would later be known as the Drift King.
Inspired by Takahashi, Tsuchiya would whip his car around mountain roads until he had it down to the science. Tsuchiya gained infamy for his drifts and, in 1987, some car mags produced a film called Plupsy about his style—it was hit, one that cemented Tsuchiya as the king of the drift and thrusted the style into the mainstream. In the mid-90s, drift events started to pick up steam in Japan and the sport/style started to gain even prominence. Then, in 2006, while drifting was already a phenomenon in Japan—and a niche style in North America—a little filmed called Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift was released pushing the style into even further popularity.
Drivers at Shannonville come from all around to hit the track and test out their cars in the style of Tsuchiya. Blake Tricky, the track manager, said that the drivers "come from all over, they drive hours and hours to be here once a month. It's what they live for."
Near the back of the park at Shannonville, the Money Gang takes a look at one of their cars popping the hood and taking in the sights of the parkway on drift day. Near them the man on the little trike with PVC pipes over its tires is pulling donuts on a gravel road. The crew start swapping a tire to the tune of some cars squealing and smoking around a track—it's a place Catell can't wait to get back out on.
"It's like controlled chaos man," Catell says, his grey frankenstein of a BMW reflecting in his sunglasses.
"There isn't anything else like it."
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