The last few weeks have been madness for Dalton Gernhart as he’s finished trashing on his Formula Drift Pro2 Nissan Silvia S15. He says the car is finally running “okay-ish,” but getting the build to this stage has taken its toll on him. In his own words, he’s dead.
While many professional drift cars are created under the guise of heavy sponsorship, the majority of those in the sport get started exactly where Dalton is now: earning his license in the lower division with a car he built himself in his own garage. When I asked his dad how it was building the car themselves, he said that I would have to ask Dalton as “he was the one who did all the work on this thing.” Building any car is always a project, but when it has to meet long and strict specifications and run against teams with loads more experience and sponsored parts, the task becomes exponentially more daunting. Still, Dalton’s finally approached the point where it’s starting to pay off and last month he finally had the thing ripping around sideways.
During the private day at Pat’s Acres in early April, I had a chance to spend some time with the Nissan before any hint of a livery was placed on its bodywork. While not 100% complete it was cool to see the car this way, before any vinyl or battle scars find their way onto the S15. It will never, ever look like this again.
But it wasn’t all roses during the test day and early on the team found they weren’t getting good compression from the engine – an LQ9 block running LS3 heads and intake. At this point the V8 had only been fired up a handful of times.
It turned out that the pushrods in the engine were too long, a mistake that you can’t just live with. Someone ran back to the shop and the parts store to procure the appropriate spec to get the motor running properly. Of course, setbacks like this are just part of the game when you’re putting everything together yourself.
Regardless of the detour, after a day of wrenching the motor was where it should be and Dalton hopped on the course.
As the sun dipped behind the trees I realized the sense of accomplishment Dalton must have been experiencing at this very moment. Starting up any project for the first time is always accompanied with great satisfaction; I can only imagine the feeling of finally getting to go sideways in a fresh car.
After he ditched a BMW E36 for a Nissan 350Z, Dalton had finally completed the step up into the LHD-converted Silvia. And for a build that was done entirely in his own garage, it’s super polished inside and out. But it’s not time to flip the party switch on just yet; loads more work will need to be done to get the car through the two Pro2 rounds – Texas and Irwindale – that Dalton will be competing in this year.
I really wish the 21-year-old the best on his journey, but in the meantime it’s helpful to me personally to look at the near-end result of this build. There are a couple projects of my own that could use a healthy dose of the dedication that Dalton’s put into this S15, and I think most of us could say the same for ourselves.
The result of any build is always directly proportional how much you put into it and how many sacrifices you make along the way. Whether it’s done incrementally or in a one-month frenzy, there is no way to avoid the monumental amount of manual labor necessary to create something truly nice for yourself. For me, this S15 is a reminder to just go out into the garage and get something done.