This is really what we came to Round 5 of the 2019 Formula Drift Championship for: to catch up with friends and, more specifically, to sit down with Matt Coffman and follow the Coffman Racing team for the weekend.
For Sara and I, this event wasn’t so much about who won which battles, but rather an opportunity to reconnect with the sport and our friends we haven’t seen for a few months. Like I mentioned in a previous article, there’s a 50% chance the winner at FD Seattle/Monroe would ultimately be one of two guys based on the 20 previous events, so that’s a bit of a trite tale at this point.
Also, Sara’s parents traveled to the event from California to check out drifting for the first time (and to see us, I think), so the ‘Throwdown’ at Evergreen Speedway really was a bit more about kicking back and having a good time than it was about getting photos of every run.
In fact, we actually put the cameras away once the Top 4 started and just relaxed in the stands to watch the event play out in real time. It was nice.
While I would have much preferred to get photos of Matt fighting for a podium — a milestone which has narrowly evaded him on two occasions now — this just wasn’t in the cards for Coffman Racing on this particular weekend. And as we tend to usually focus on the very small handful of teams in Formula D that seem to finish nearly every event in the top three, it was never fully apparent to me how hard it is to actually climb the FD Pro ladder.
Every motorsport discipline has its struggles, and it doesn’t take a genius to realize that many factors contribute to a team’s results season after season. While we all wish that driving ability was the primary force pushing a driver through his career, everyone knows that luck and money can play just as big of a role in an individual’s ultimate success.
Take the teams from any sport with the biggest budgets and you’ll almost always find them on top. Look at the drivers who were born into racing families and you’ll notice they have disproportionate success due to their parents’ existing connections. It also helps to have been racing from the age of four or so, like many of Formula 1’s superstars from both the past and present (and future).
While it sucks that money seems to be the deciding factor in so many racing series, it isn’t surprising that this is the case. In any other sport the equipment certainly makes a difference, but for some all you really need is a decent pair of shoes. Motorsport seems to be the only place where an athlete’s equipment is just as important as their ability, and racing is expensive.
Of course, I’m not trying to take away from the accomplishments of any of the top drivers in Formula D, because they’re all very talented and they’ve all worked very hard to get where they are. But success isn’t quite the same when it’s handed to you in some way, be that through knowing the right person or being born into a family with cash to burn. This is the way of the racing world, but I’ve always loved hearing the stories of a kid who just really liked cars and grew up grinding away when they found something they were passionate about.
The results mean a lot more when you really have to fight for them each step of the way.From Farmland To Formula Drift
This is what I like about Matt Coffman’s story in particular. Matt has always had tons of support from his mom and dad, but his first experiences behind the wheel were as a young teenager bouncing around the family farm rather than a racing circuit.
Matt’s describes his dad as “a long-time gear-head with fascinations not only with cars but with all forms of mechanical engineering. Planes, trains, cars, machinery, tractors… anything that was designed with a purpose in mind held the attention of my father and subsequently that rubbed off on his son,” he says.
You can see the influence of his father’s interests in vintage warplanes on his current FD car, but it wasn’t until Matt was 17 that he found his way into his first S13 hatchback and attended his first Drift Evolution event in Southern Oregon that he finally got firsthand experience going sideways.
Well, something tells me that Matt might have been sideways on the farm before — where he says he had plenty of experience driving “random things around” — but you get what I mean.
At the Drift Evo event it’s clear that something clicked, but Matt didn’t see it happening until it was too late. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” he says.
Matt kept driving at local events, but it was clear the hook had sunk in pretty deep. In fact, initially he had no intentions beyond wanting to drive at grassroots-type events near where he grew up, but suddenly things took a turn. Describing the jump from these grassroots events to competition, Matt was pretty candid: “It started as just wanting to drive little local events, then the next minute it’s a corporately-supported 24-hour-a-day dedication. It goes from a hobby to consuming 100% of your thoughts and emotions pretty much overnight.”
Even after making pro status, Matt continued to attend and support grassroots events around his home area in Southern Oregon. Looking back, I think Matt was the first Pro2 (actually, I think it would have been Pro-Am at the time) driver I actually saw drifting in person. The year was 2015 and the event was Bash To The Future 3.
Safe to say, I was absolutely blown away by the sheer amount of smoke pouring out from Matt’s car on the tight and twisty karting track at Jackson County Sports Park. In a way, Matt was a major contributor to getting me hooked on shooting drifting, and it was a couple years later when I ran into him again at Pat’s Acres Racing Complex.
I had driven up from California to the Portland, Oregon area the day after Formula Drift Seattle, as I was more interested in the grassroots gathering of pros and local drivers than I was in the actual competition series. I camped out at the track and again basked in the glory of smoking tires.
It’s at these smaller events where you get a chance to meet the drivers and make friends, and these relationships are really what keeps me coming back to Formula Drift and other grassroots events. Obviously, the cars are awesome, drifting is a great sport visually, but it’s the people that really matter and have the ability to make an impact.
This brings me back to Matt, as I’ve always looked up to him and associated him with shooting drifting. The first photos of drifting I got which I was really happy with were of Matt tearing up one of his local karting tracks, and these experiences are what fuelled me to continue to shoot the sport.
And these are the moments, when you can share your passion with someone else and get them excited about it too, that make drifting special.
On the topic of Matt’s cars, his FD-spec S13 is on its 5th season now. “The poor thing,” he says with a laugh.
He also pointed out that the original S13 I saw years back has been owned for nearly a decade and is still running strong. Actually, he “jumped it at like 130mph the other weekend… still drives great.”Round 5: Throwdown
Now that you have a bit of a picture of where Matt’s coming from and what he’s about, let’s dive into his experiences the weekend before last at Formula Drift Monroe. Evergreen Speedway a track that Matt considers a home away from home, being that this was the first FD track he ever tried his hand at thanks to the grassroots events held here.
As for the S13, Matt said: “The car felt great after getting used to the changes made before the round. We lowered the engine and lowered the car… lowering the center of gravity [along] with the chassis made for an interesting first couple of runs.”
Matt also mentioned that he learned after the fact that the track had been repaved, meaning that he was getting used to a new setup and a new track surface, neither of which he had any familiarity with. During practice there was a bit of contact made with the outside wall of the bank early on, but no serious damage was sustained.
No harm, no foul, and Matt went on to score an 88 in qualifying, which was good for 16th place in the bracket come Saturday.
Saturday afternoon featured a pair of hard-fought battles, the first of which Matt won handily against Kazuya Taguchi, allowing him to move up to the Top 16. It was here that Matt faced red-hot Piotr Więcek, and I’ve already given away the result of this battle.
I’ll let Matt take over: “Piotr is one of the best drifters in the world, and as I make some of the lowest horsepower and torque numbers in the series, I knew I had to try as hard as possible. I had a decent chase but just had too much sauce in the lead; I knew I had to go fast but maintained too much speed through the bank and hit the wall like I had earlier in the weekend.”
So that was that, and the unstoppable force over the weekend that was Piotr went on to win the event in dramatic fashion after a OMT battle with his Worthouse teammate, James Deane.
After the fact I asked Matt how he felt going into St. Louis, which he seemed expectedly excited about. “It’s a new track layout, no one has any data, and we all have to start over essentially. It makes things a bit more interesting. I didn’t have the power for the old layout only making around 500ft-lb of torque, so I’m down for a new layout.”
I second that, and although I can’t make the trip out, I’m curious to see how the event goes for Matt and everyone else.
Over the course of competition there was very little drama that the team had to deal with beyond routine maintenance. While it might have made for a more exciting story if there was serious contact or a mechanical issue, I’m sure the team enjoyed the relaxed pace of the weekend.
It’s also worth pointing out that Matt’s friends and family prepared some of the best food I’ve ever had in a racing paddock. Actually, scratch that… The tri-tip, salmon, and potatoes on Friday and the chicken and steak tacos on Saturday were definitely the best paddock meals I’ve ever had. Thanks is due to Matt’s mom and everyone else who helps keep things running behind the scenes.
Back to the team. Matt is quick to credit his crew as being the greatest group he could have hoped for. “I’m truly blessed with the people I have around me,” he said, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that this includes his role models as well as his team. When I asked if he had any drivers in particular that he looked up to he said “sure… but none of them compare to the strengths I’ve witnessed in my parents.”
As for drifting, Matt is looking straight ahead towards what the future holds. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other possibilities, too.
“Obviously I want to progress through FD until I am a champion. But I could also go win a rally championship with minimal effort compared to FD. I think one of the things I’ve learned is that you really just can’t plan for the future. Life is ever-changing, so I try to just plan for what I can see ahead. So, for now, I’m going to keep my head down and keep moving with my goals for FD.”
Trevor Yale Ryan
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