Earlier this week we asked you to submit questions for long-time friend of Speedhunters and all-round wheel master Vaughn Gittin Jr. We received plenty of interesting questions in response, and we picked some of our favorites to take to the man himself. A big thanks to Vaughn for giving us time out of his extremely busy schedule to answer them.
VGJr: What’s up Speedhunters! Thanks for all the awesome questions. For this first AMA session I have answered the following questions some of you guys asked. Looking forward to doing this again!
KeerthiKumar115 asks: Hey Vaughn, who (or what) is the inspiration for your racing?
VGJr: I don’t really have just one inspiration, I have been inspired by a lot of people and a lot of experiences over the years from my time racing motocross, skateboarding, and overall being a fan of action sports. I would say inspirations that come to mind most recently are continuing to help pave the way for the next generation of drivers, and also my relentless pursuit to have as much fun as possible. Both those things keep me fired up!
RobPellegrinon asks: As a huge Mustang enthusiast, I follow a lot of your activities on social media and in person at car shows and race events (that makes me sound like a stalker doesn’t it? – sorry). Anyway, with all of these sponsorship appearances and expos, I find myself wondering how you manage juggle it with the drift season?
VGJr: I appreciate the love man! For the past 10 years I have been really overloading myself to make it all happen. While I really enjoy the business behind it all as well as the driving, recently it was becoming very challenging to keep up with it all. So this year I decided to invest in surrounding myself with good people to help take some of the load off so that I can get a bit of my time back to focus on the things that I excel at – like special projects, driving, and managing relationships. It has been very helpful and worth the investment to continue chasing my dreams and being able to do the things I really enjoy, such as demos and appearances. These things allow me to have a good time with my supporters in a more laid back environment at non-competition events.
On a different note, as a driver, how hard is it to dial in a new car like your 2015 RTR, and then drive your 2014 car in competition?
VGJr: Every time I get in a vehicle no matter what it is, I recalibrate my brain and what I call the ‘ass dyno’. This allows me to adapt to what that vehicle can handle on that given day with the surrounding elements that could affect performance (surface, temperature, etc). From there, depending on the goal for that day, I adjust to what the vehicle can handle out of the box or make setup adjustments to make it the best that it can be to achieve the goals we set. For instance, for demos we just want a fun and free car to drive. For competition, we want to get everything we possibly can out of it. For development, we want to find the limits and improve on them. While the cars are different and have some different dynamics and capabilities, this approach forces me to treat each vehicle differently, rather than expecting it to handle or react to driver inputs like another.
DarshanR341 asks: When and how did you start drifting? Do (or did) you have a drift missile/beater? If so, what is it and what have you done to it?
VGJr: This might sound funny, but I never really ‘started drifting’, meaning I never said to myself one day, ‘I am going to start drifting tomorrow’. It was truly a natural progression of my life experiences and a result of my love for cars. At 4 years old I got a little go cart, it had a paddle brake that when you pulled it, it locked down on the tire and forced a skid. I loved going as fast as I could, pulling the brake and ‘skidding out’. Fast forward to my teenage years full of skateboarding, BMX and motocross, I was all about action sports and challenging myself. When I was 18, I purchased a wrecked 240SX not knowing anything about drifting at the time. I used to go to industrial parks and parking lots similar to where I rode my go kart years before, and would do donuts, powerslides, and just hoon around for fun. I was introduced to a online drift video by a friend and I was blown away of this sport where you could show your style and personality from behind the wheel of a car. Not long after that, I attended my first drift event at Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ. This is where I fell in love with the sport and the scene, and I very quickly decided that I wanted to do this as often as possible. Indirectly, that was when I started chasing this dream/passion.
The first car I drifted was a 1993 240SX coupe. It had a K&N intake, a fart can, and some whack polished aluminum wheels on it (I don’t have one photo of it unfortunately). My first true drift car was a 1991 240SX coupe with a SR20DET that I installed in my garage. It had some adjustable shocks (not coilovers), and a viscous limited slip from a 300ZX out of a junkyard.
Have a read of this article I did with Speedhunters back in 2012 for the rest of the story on how I started my drifting career.
Luke Stogden1 asks: What’s a good, cheap car to learn the drift basics in?
VGJr: Up until a few years ago I always said the Nissan 240SX/Silvia/200SX was a good choice. Now they are hard to find and have a ‘drift tax’ associated with them. I have recently realized the Fox Body Mustang is the best kept secret in drifting. They are affordable to buy and fix, make good torque in with the stock 5.0/302 engine, and are very easy to make power cheaply. They are also lightweight and super fun to drive. Final answer: Fox Body Mustang!
bearclaw_181 asks: If you could try any other motorsport what one would you choose?
VGJr: That is a tough question. I absolutely love driving and being challenged behind the wheel no matter what the motorsport. Stage rally, short course trucks, and even UTV racing looks like a lot of fun. I would love to experience them all in the upcoming years!
e_alex1 asks: Why do you love Mustangs so much?
VGJr: This might be shocking… I only started liking Mustangs when I drove one for the first time and realized what I was missing out on. That first time was in 2004 when we bought what would be my 2005 competition car from a dealer. Coming from a low displacement 4-cylinder turbo to a V8, I quickly learned what torque was. I loved the way it sounded, how it looked, and how it reacted to inputs despite the size and weight. I pretty much fell in love that day. Driving the car for the first time got me ‘over the hump’ and it was really just the beginning of my relationship and love for the Mustang. The camaraderie of being a Mustang owner is pretty epic as well, and I have had the opportunity over the years to meet some really awesome people around these cars. It’s hard to explain, but the Mustang is so much more than just a car. Ten years later the new Mustang is unbelievable on all fronts, so it just adds to the awesome. Short answer… I like fun and I have never not had fun from behind the wheel of one!
Andrew Dang1 asks: What advice do you have for someone who wants to get into Formula Drift, but is only just starting to drift? Things such as where to practice, how to be ready for Pro Am, what obstacles there are along the way, personal experience, etc…
VGJr: My first advice is keep passion and reality in check. Meaning keep your goals realistic to your personal reality. Reality for sake of this discussion consists of available time, budget, and current skill level. I have seen so many people run themselves ragged and empty bank accounts to get to where they thought they were ready to be and learn the hard way. While drifting by design is very accessible, Formula Drift should be looked at and approached like any other professional sport such as NASCAR, Grand Am, rallycross, and even baseball or football. There is thousands of people that play the respective sport but only a handful that make it to the top level of that sport for one reason or another. This means that you have to be willing to put the time and effort in to catch up to those that are already there and get ahead of those that are already on the way there – not to mention have the available resources and equipment to make it reality. Once you decide the reality is there, you need ask yourself if you want to dedicate your life to chasing this dream. I am basing this from experience, but unless you have unlimited resources (which I did not), it will 100 per cent consume you on your quest to get to the top. You will work to earn money and spend every bit of it – plus all of your time – just for the chance. Assuming you are still interested in the commitment and sacrifice to try to make it to Formula Drift, here is a very abbreviated suggested path:
Practice makes Perfect: Go to every possible event you can to get seat time, ask questions and get tips on setup and driving from the top local drivers. Anyone more experienced than you can help you progress at a faster rate then you learning on your own. (Use this tool! This is a huge advantage to upcoming drivers and something that guys like myself and Chris Forsberg did not have 12 years ago – we had to just figure it out.) Once you feel like you are on the level of running with the top local guys solo, start running tandem with them as much as you can. Focus on proper technique and using all of the tools in the car until they become subconscious movements that get you around the track. Learn what setup changes do to the car and how to achieve the setup you prefer. Once you are comfortable and on par with the local talent, start doing local competitions to get acquainted with the pressure and challenges that competition brings. Start forming a team to support you as soon as possible!
Competition: Once you are dominating the local competitions, start trying regional competitions. Once you are dominating at the regional comps, you will have a lot more knowledge of what it takes to be competitive at that level. Once you grasp that level, imagine almost two-times the needs of money, skill, time, and equipment. If you can make it happen and still want to, then your next step is Formula Drift Pro2 (you will need to meet the licensing requirements).
Pro: Assuming you decide to go to Pro2, this will be your first experience at a very concentrated high-level of competition where everyone is really, really good. I would estimate the step from Formula Drift Pro2 to Formula Drift Pro is another two to five times the money, skill/experience, time, and equipment needs. Still in? Then get after it and go kick those pros asses!
I am not in anyway trying to discourage anyone, simply putting the reality of going pro in perspective to help you make an educated decision and choose your path wisely. You are human, and have the physical ability of anyone else that makes it pro. It really comes down to being up for the challenges and having the reality to support the goal/dream. If you decide you just want to leisurely enjoy drifting and the lifestyle around it, I highly recommend doing just that as an awesome alternative full of fun and challenges. Did I mention fun?! All the best to you!
VGJr: Flubbing on a run and moving on is not really something that happens at the top level of competition these days. However, we all have gotten some luck tossed our way at one time or another, just like we all have gotten some bad luck when it comes to calls. I don’t remember any examples off hand, but it is always better to earn a win than to have it handed to you because the other driver makes a bigger mistake or vice versa. Nothing can make a victory feel more shallow than knowing you did not fight hard to earn it.
Recovering from a mistake on the track is tough. It’s very easy to beat yourself up over a mistake that cost you, and it’s also the easiest way to lower your confidence and put yourself in a slump. For me personally, I have had ups and downs over my 12-year career. I know I am not perfect, despite how hard I work to stay on top of my game. It took me years to learn how to deal with mistakes and accepting the fact that ‘perfect’ is next to impossible – no matter how good you are – and that mistakes are usually the result of pushing a bit to hard or getting greedy in the heat of the moment. When I make a mistake like I most recently did at Formula D Round 4 in New Jersey, I replay the scenario in my head. I access what happened, and if I could have done something different to avoid it. Once I dissect it and feel confident, I know what to do to avoid it the next time. I store it in the brain vault and move forward. Once the initial frustration has passed, I make each mistake a positive by looking at it as a learning experience. Experience is 99 per cent of the time a good thing to have and can be the difference between winning and losing the next battle!
Oscar Argueta9 asks: Like most of us, when you started off you didn’t have money for everything the car needed. From your experience, what are some essentials that need to go into the car first in order to build a successful drift car? Basically, if you had a stock 240SX, what would be some priorities?
VGJr: Here are the top five priorities in numerical order from my perspective for someone just starting out. Once you are ready to get beyond this basic setup, you will know what you need from that point on. I highly recommend a cage regardless, but since this is about making a car work for a beginner I have left that out.
1: A good racing seat, harnesses (you must be held tight in the car so you can feel the car and be ahead of its movements), and both rear tires spinning (welded diff or limited slip).
2: Suspension – adjustable coilovers and adjustable sway bars to allow you to adjust the balance of your car.
3: Added steering angle.
4: Adjustable suspension arms to get your alignment exactly where you want it and get rid of the slop of the factory bushings.
5: More power.
(Note: 4 and 5 could be swapped depending on what your goals are)
Ken20323 asks: What does it take to become part of a team working on the cars? I’m going to school for auto body and always wondered what you had to do to be part of a pro drift team.
VGJr: It takes attention to detail, being thorough/meticulous, and having a positive attitude. You cannot be scared to ask questions when you don’t know the answer and you must be a team player. Proficiency and skill is just as important as those key personality traits. If you are interested to get into the industry and have the mentioned personality traits, I highly suggest you start networking and get your foot in the door no matter what it takes. Something also to think about – just like how drivers don’t become pro automatically, their crew has to start at the bottom too. I recommend working for free or little pay for an up and coming grassroots driver first. Get the experience there before approaching a Pro team, or grow yourself with the growing team to the top. There is a lot of opportunity out there – you just have to beat down doors to find it!
shawn Gallagher asks: Hey Vaughn. What’s it like having Mad Mike back in FD? What’s your take on his driving ability and do you think he could take the championship one day? From another #flyingkiwi
VGJr: I am pumped to see Mike back on the grid. He is a great driver and someone I am happy to call a friend and now a Nitto Tire teammate. I think he is a fantastic driver and after a bit more experience and working together with his team in the world of Formula Drift there is no question he can become a championship contender. Mike is super-passionate and a sponge when he is at the track. Those two things are going to take him a long way and I am excited to see how he progresses!
Simon Says1 asks: Hey Vaughn! When are you going to drift your new chassis in FD?
VGJr: 2016 will be the year! I am very, very excited…