To pursue your dream you really have to be motivated. Everyone gets knocked down every once in a while, but it’s about how you get back up and how you get motivated again to push even more. I have those days where things just don’t seem to go my way, whether it be getting stuck at an airport or getting my cameras smashed. I’ve had it all. I sprained my ankle pretty badly running around in the forest at Nurburgring, but I limped my butt around for the rest of the weekend. It was really hard to stay motivated, but after seeing my photos and taking in the sights I felt inspired once again to continue to push hard.
Drifting as a professional sport is very hard on the drivers in general. It’s still very young, and with every sport you have the privateers that are eating instant noodles for every meal and those drivers that live comfortably. I asked ten drivers the same question: what keeps you motivated?
I started with Formula Drift champion, Chris Forsberg. He’s been with the series since the beginning and he’s progressed so much from just some guy who likes drifting to running a two-car team. This year has been pretty tough for them though as they’ve been running into quite a bit of engine trouble.
Larry: “What keeps you motivated?”
Forsberg: “Going for the win. You can’t just give up based on car problems. This year was a bit of a test. These engines we’ve been running are totally strung out trying to hold onto as much power as we can to keep up with the Chevy motors. So it’s definitely been giving us a lot of trouble. The biggest thing is we’re obviously here to win and we want to do well.”
Larry: “Do you still have a lucky T-shirt?”
Forsberg: “I’ve been trying to give all that up. The whole lucky underwear, lucky T-shirt thing. It’s too much other stuff to worry about and to go and perform.”
“If you can calm yourself down and be mentally focused, then you don’t need to have some tangible thing in order to do so. It’s all in your head and the same thing with being motivated. Anyone can run into a small problem and be like, I can’t handle this any more. But if you’re strong and you’re willing to do well, then you can work through anything.”
If you want to talk about tough calls and getting the short end of the stick in Formula Drift, then it’s hard to avoid mentioning Chelsea Denofa. If Daigo Saito was not labeled as the Formula Drift rookie then Chelsea would have earned the title.
Larry: “Do you have some times when you doubt yourself, maybe doubt that you want to continue? You keep on getting the short end of the stick it seems like.”
Chelsea: “It’s definitely a call where sometimes you’re on the better end of it, sometimes you’re on the worse. I’ve maybe been on the worse end of it a few times, but I’ve also been helped out a few times too.”
“I mean it’s not cut and dry, it’s one of those things you gotta give a little and take a little. We just keep doing it; it’s a lot of work. We’re a privateer team, so we’re working non-stop all the time on everything. If we keep working that hard we gotta see it through.”
Larry: “Does it help to put it in perspective by thinking it’s only five battles. It’s only five battles you have to win per event.”
Chelsea: “I’ve actually never thought of it that way. It’s like millions of battles every single time you pull to the line.”
“It’s a car problem, or someone you’re running against, or a communication problems with your spotter, or the radio, or something stupid. So it’s non-stop the whole time. The actual battle part of it is the easiest part.”
It seems like all we’ve been seeing recently on social media and blogs regarding drifting has to do with Vaughn Gittin going monster jam on Fredric/Daigo.
The former champ has had some tough years, and he was so close to his second championship last year. I really wanted to see what keeps him so motivated especially with days like the Thursday of Formula Drift Palm Beach, where he crashed in practice.
Vaughn: “I think about this pretty often. From the realization of never being home, being behind the computer for fifteen hours a day, and living this non-stop insane lifestyle that I love. And I’m like, why do I love this? What drives me over the last ten years and continuing to see no end because I want to keep doing it? What is driving me?”
“And the only thing I can really come up with is the competition out here. It’s like coming to a Formula D event challenges everything, like your mind, your body, your soul, your spirit. It’s just like making it through a weekend and leaving and feeling like you’ve performed at 100%. It’s just the greatest feeling of success, beyond material things or money or anything.”
“You put yourself in this battleground and you make it, and you perform, and it’s just a really rewarding thing. The other aspect is the team camaraderie and being a part of a group that is pulling on the same rope with one goal.”
Larry: “Do you ever have those mornings where it’s hard to get up?”
Vaughn: “I never have mornings where it’s hard to get up, other then after a wild night out, hopefully celebrating with my friends.”
“Another thing too with drifting: it’s like the passion inside the paddock and around the whole sport globally, there’s just so much of it.”
“It’s hard to not be motivated with the energy surrounding this sport. It’s a special thing. That’s my motivation.”
Tyler McQuarrie started out as a traditional race car driver, but he seems to find himself behind the wheel of a drift car more often these past years, especially since he’s running his own team.
Tyler has had a very tough year so far, as his car troubles keep coming back to haunt him. He barely made top 32 in Long Beach and his car did not even allow him to attempt to qualify in Atlanta.
Larry: “How do you keep so motivated with all of these issues you’re running into this year?”
Tyler: “No idea man. I was sitting out there and on the line he points at me to do my first run, but in the car, power is off, everything. I’m sitting out there going, “You’ve gotta be kidding me. What am I doing wrong?”
“You start questioning all kinds of stuff, just one thing after another. It’s never been this hard before. So it’s part of racing, it’s competitive.”
Larry: “You do have those days where you’re like, “What am I doing wrong? Should I continue?” Do you have those days?”
Tyler: “I absolutely have those days.”
Larry: “Then how do you get the motivation to come back strong? What’s your drive?”
Tyler: “This is my passion. I’ve never done anything else. I’ve always raced, so just throwing in the towel and quitting – I don’t think that’s an option.”
“I do sit there and wonder, “Should I be doing this?” I’ve been doing this for a long time. This year has been so stressful on me, on my wife, the family, and you sit there and question it. But at the end of the day, a lot of stuff is out of our control and I’m not going to give up.”
“It’s just a small little blip on the radar screen of life, it’s a small little thing. It sucks but it’s minute in the grand scheme of things.”
Conrad Grunewald is one of the few drivers on the grid who has had a taste of victory. Back in 2011 he earned his very first win and ever since then he has been battling very hard to get back on the top step.
Unfortunately a few people keep getting in his way. Among other things, including running out of fuel on the hot grid which forced him to forfeit his first qualifying run in Long Beach and for the very first time since he started drifting, he did not make top 32.
Larry: “You’ve had some very controversial calls over the years. What keeps you motivated to come back fighting?”
Conrad: “I’ve been drifting long enough to know that it’s not all going to be the perfect calls. There’s going to be good ones and bad ones. But the cars are so much fun to drive. The guys we’re competing with are so much fun to drive against. I don’t think I could ever stop unless something happens.”
“But as far as getting bad calls go, that’s part of the sport. That’s the way the sport is designed: there’s going to be good calls and bad calls. I’ve had it go both ways where I’ve had a bad call made against me and then the next weekend it’s the other way around where I didn’t think I won and they gave me the win anyway. So it’s just the nature of the sport.”
Larry: “What about running into car issues; running into just stupid issues, even trying to get to the event. Are there days where you just can’t get up from bed and you’re like, ‘Dang it, I just don’t want to tackle the day’?”
Conrad: “Never. In my opinion, I have the best job in the world. There are long days but that’s just the way it works. It’s just a fun thing to do. If you don’t go 110%, somebody else will and they will take your spot, so you always have to be on it, every day working on the car, doing something.”
“As far as maintenance issues, and little things happening, that’s just racing in general. Even the top teams in the world have stupid mechanical things happen. If it happens twice you can be upset about it, but if it just happens once you just gotta take it in your stride.”
Larry: “Thinking about your first place win in New Jersey back in 2011, does that help a little bit? Knowing, ‘I can do it, I can get up there.'”
Conrad: “Honestly, I think anybody can. Stuff really went my way that day; I did beat a couple of guys but a lot of guys beat themselves. And that was also different judging criteria, where obviously Justin Pawlak in the finals ran away from me but he was really choppy behind me. Nowadays, I think I would have finished second; I probably wouldn’t have won because his proximity was so much better than mine.”
“That was the old car. This new car- I feel that this car could win every event. It’s just a matter of me not making mistakes in it. The old Camaro was a development car that’s never going to be as competitive as some of the other big teams out here. But this thing is 110%, so I’m motivated to go out and compete in the best car I’ve ever been in, in Formula Drift.”
I wanted to get an opinion from a rookie, so I asked Brandon Wicknick the same question. He didn’t make top 32 at Long Beach or Atlanta. He qualified 22nd at Palm Beach, but his car caught on fire during practice. He’s currently leading in the race for rookie of the year.
Larry: “What keeps you motivated?”
Brandon: “The drive to be at the top I guess. To keep on doing the same thing that you love and not even necessarily getting to the top; it’s being able to drive with other good drivers and being at this level. That’s the motivation: wanting to come back, wanting to do better than you did before.”
Larry: “Do you ever think, ‘Damn, I really bit off more than I could chew’?”
Brandon: “I don’t think I ever felt like that, because I’ve been so prepared coming out to ProAm, that when I got to this level, I felt like we had our act together.”
“I felt like the team was ready to be at this level. So I didn’t get that situation where I felt like I was in over my head. Obviously you get a little bit of that feeling sometimes, but I don’t think it was quite what I expected.”
“When we come here and we see other teams; there’s the high teams, there’s the top teams, and there’s a bunch of guys that are doing the same thing we’re doing. I felt like we were ready to be at that level.”
For the first time ever, Matt Powers did not make top 32. He was super bummed, but somehow he was still very cheery as he moved to spotter duties for his close friend Mike Essa, who of course went on to win the event. I asked him the same question.
Larry: “What keeps you motivated? Say the girls.”
Matt Powers: “It’s not the girls.”
Larry: “What is it then?”
Matt Powers: “I like it when I’m doing good. It makes me happy when I’m driving good.”
Larry: “You’ve had some tough calls, some car problems, and then trying to get funding for your team. Being a privateer is very hard. When you’re out there surfing, do you think about these things? Do you think, ‘Damn, how am I going to do it?’”
Matt Powers: “Yeah it’s always with you. There’s ups and downs, and motivational wise there’s ups and downs.””
Tony Angelo has been with the series since the beginning, but for a few years he took a break from driving to become a judge. I have watched the sport progress so fast in the past few years and I think it really started with Tony taking charge as a technical director and judge.
Larry: “What keeps you motivated to continue drifting?”
Tony: “I just really love doing this. I love driving with my friends, I like challenging myself. I just generally love drifting. It’s super fun. It’s been a long and hard road for everybody out here and if you’re still here, and you’re driving FD and you’ve been successful, you’re a highly motivated person. I don’t think anybody out here is just taking it easy and having a blast. I have a good time doing this.”
Larry: “So what about you and your team? You’re campaigning a new car, you’re running into some issues. How do you just keep at it? Do you have problems thinking, ‘Damn, what am I going to do?’”
Tony: “It could be really frustrating. We built a new car that had a ton of potential and we love the FR-S, but it just didn’t work for us. We had small issues and big issues at the first two events but we just got right back at it.”
“We spent the last three weeks straight on this thing, making it a ton better.”
“I don’t know, I had a bunch of motivated dudes that helped and we worked really hard and we keep after it. What makes us do it? I don’t know, like I said, I love driving and I love drifting.”
In terms of running a team on a budget, Jeff Jones is an expert. This is his fifth year with the series. I’ve helped him trailer his car across country in a pickup truck and a rusty open trailer. I’ve seen him camp at the track just to save a little extra money. It’s a harsh life, but he takes it in his stride.
Larry: “What keeps you motivated to continue to compete in the series?”
Jeff Jones: “Kickin’ Vaughn’s ass one day. Nah, you know what? It’s the sport of it, the camaraderie, it’s fun man. I don’t know what the hell I’d do if I wasn’t drifting. This is what I love, this is what I want to do. I make friends out of it.”
Larry: “You’ve had a lot of tough battles and also it’s already a tough battle for you to basically get your program together, am I right?”
Jeff Jones: “Yeah we’re a small team but there’s a lot of heart in it. You get kicked down a lot, but hey, you get up again.”
Larry: “And you want to beat Vaughn?”
Jeff Jones: “Yeah, for sure, who doesn’t? He’s like the goal, he’s the prize. Daigo’s cool but he hasn’t been here as long so yeah, Vaughn’s the target.”
There was no way I could do a piece on motivation without interviewing the people’s champ. Danny George is THE spirit of drifting. Danny almost made it into the top 16 last round, but a tough call just did not go his way. After events like that I wondered what keeps him coming back.
Larry: “Why continue this crazy thing that you love so much?”
Danny: “We just want to keep growing and we just want to keep being more awesome every single event than the last event.”
Larry: “You get knocked down; for example in Atlanta, it was a tough call for you.”
Danny: “Absolute zero negativity on that. We won, that was the bottom line. We came out ahead at that battle and it was just awesome overall.”
Larry: “Do you just look forward to the next battle? If you come down to it, it’s only five battles that you have to win in a weekend.”
Danny George: “Yeah it’s not a big deal. As long as we keep getting better every event and the car’s getting better, and I’m getting better, that’s our main goal: is to never stop at mediocre. That’s the main thing, is to keep going forward, keep positive and keep growing the fan base. We come here and work hard, and the team works hard, and we’re doing well. As long as we’re progressing and we keep progressing; we’re not staggering.”
These guys and the rest of the Formula Drift field just do it for the love of the sport. It makes me want to buck up and take my problems in stride as they’re nothing compared to what these guys have to deal with going into competition. After all, I just have to worry about my exposure and composition.
Photos by Larry Chen