Irwindale came, and Irwindale went. The tire smoke has settled and the modern gladiatorial spectacle known as Formula D has ended, but the ink is still drying from the tales written in the FD history books. However, there was one particular gladiator that stuck out from the rest. It was a story of "David and Goliath" proportions, retelling the classic children's book The Little Engine that Could. A student from San Diego California and the only privateer with zero sponsors, Matt Powers pumped up the volume to eleven and gave his all during the last round of the 2009 Formula Drift series. When the dust finally settled, the little green S14 that could had fought its way to the top four. The only thing that stopped it was one of the mightiest gladiators of them all: Tanner Faust. Still, Matt Powers walked away with his best ever result this season. Finishing fourth is definitely one step closer to the top of the podium!
As things calmed down toward the end of the event, I had the opportunity to sit down with Matt at his pit area and have a quiet chat with him. The following is an excerpt from a recorded interview with the rice deity himself:
LINHBERGH NGUYEN: First off, congratulations on your result at Irwindale. Being the underdog, it came as a complete surprise to many of us, and I'm sure it surprised you the most. But you deserved it! Anyway, on to the questions:
You went from being an absolute grassroots ricer, to professional driver, to almost rockstar status; what was that transition like?
MATT POWERS: It's been pretty crazy, and it’s been the best year of my life. Everything is just wild….
LN: It is wild! Does it blow your mind when you think of where you're standing now?
MP: It's definitely a bigger place. It's pretty cool but I wish that more girls thought I was a rock star too….
LN: …so go on about this girl thing!
MP: Irwindale blew my mind, but I'd like it if girls blew my mind too. To all my girl fans out there–I love you and thanks for the support!
LN: What're your plans for next season to kick ass and chew bubble gum? I know you're looking for sponsors to help you do a full season next year….
MP: I'm mostly looking for a tire sponsor which will help me attend every event next year. That's the main thing. The next would be more power. I'd really like to do a full season next year, but we'll see how it goes….
LN: Do you like pizza?
MP: I try not to eat cheese, because I'm vegetarian. Pizza does taste good, but I still try not to eat it.
LN: But, if you were to have a pizza, what toppings would you have?
MP: Plain cheese, sauce, some vegetables and no mushrooms. My cat like pizza too, he always eats my pizza.
LN: That brings us to a fan question from Chris Pang via Facebook: will you be switching to a new chassis next year since your current chassis is getting old?
MP: I like my car. It's well put together, and it'll save me a lot of money and time. I could switch to a new chassis, or even drive someone else's car, but I'll most likely stick with my car next year.
LN: Let's just say you do switch to a new chassis and you start to get more serious with the FD season; would you compromise what you're most known for: your slammed ride height?
MP: Like on a new car?
MP: It depends on how the car feels. As of right now, my car feels good and the ride height will stay the same next year.
LN: Your fans thank you for that.
MP: (laughs) I mean, who knows … I'd like it to look cool, but other cars might not be able to go as low because of wheel clearance and what not. But if it was to get a new car that couldn’t go super slammed but made me a bit more competitive, I’d do it.
LN: That kind of saddens me to hear this!
MP: I mean, ride height isn't a huge deal. On my car it looks good, but Justin's car, which isn't that low, looks just as good.
LN: But a lot of your celebrity status now is due to your ride height!
MP: Yeah, that and the wheel fitment!
LN: What’s your personal best moment on the track? It could be at an FD event or a grassroots event….
MP: I had a ton of fun at All Star Bash this summer. During the night time, it was myself, Nate Deck, Tommy Roberts, and Cody Parkhouse. You couldn't really see anything. The course was super tight, and we were running super close tandem all night. It was so dark because there were barely any lights on the track other than our headlights. It was just super fun–I really liked that event.
LN: Do you have a favorite moment with a pro event?
MP: Irwindale was really cool. Especially when I made top 16…
LN: I was in the pits for most of the event, and I remember every single time you made top 16, then top 8, then top 4 … I'd see your friends running to your car as you pulled in to congratulate you. I think that was one of the best things I witnessed at the event.
MP: Yeah, it's just crazy because all year we've been hoping that I would make top 16, and that I needed the points to get my FD license next year. We were really stoked and wanted to do the half-time opening ceremonies thing….
LN: Do you want to explain this whole half time thing?
MP: At D1 Anaheim, My friend Nate Deck and I dressed up as 80s hair metal rockers for my friend Dave Blunt who made top 16 that day. And we were in his car for the opening ceremony and it was just super fun. And so, we always wanted to do the same with Nate and myself when I made top 16. So I've been trying to make top 16 all year….
LN: … which came as a complete surprise to you here at Irwindale.
MP: Yeah, Eric O’Sullivan spun at the end, and my friends and I went nuts!
LN: What's your dream drift car?
MP: Lately I think it'd be funny to have an S15 with S13 flip-up lights, with left hand drive and maybe even KA turbo just to piss people off … but I actually do like that idea, too.
LN: So instead of a dream drift car, how about a dream car? Because you are a car guy, right?
MP: Ehhh kind of … I'm not really a car guy. I used to drive a hybrid daily driver, which I sold to pay for FD this year. Now I drive a 1976 BMW 2002 which is pretty cool. But, because it's a 4 speed, it sucks on the freeway. I think a Subaru rally car would make an awesome daily dream car.
LN: Are you related to Austin Powers? (Thanks Billy Nelson via Facebook)
MP: In spirit yes, and in chest hair.
LN: What made you decide to keep the KA-turbo? (Thanks Jeff Deitrich via Facebook)
MP: I don't really give a s**t about KA or not … but I had a KA, I turbo'd it, and just stuck with it. I blew that motor and Tommy's dad, Big Tom, rebuilt it, and that's the motor I've had since. I don't do FD to validate the KA turbo, wheel fitment, or a low car. My friends and I are just out here to have fun. But it just happens to be like that….
LN: Gosh, I dislike technical car questions…
MP: (laughs) Don't worry, it's cool that we answered that previous question. But technical questions really are the worst … I did an interview before and they just had the worse f***n' questions, I just came across like a total dork!
LN: Do you like dogs?
MP: Yeah! Actually, I do like dogs…
LN: …but you have a cat!
MP: I do have a cat, and I love my cat, and cats are cool because you don't have to take care of them (… not like I'm irresponsible or anything). I go surf at Dog Beach Jetty in San Diego sometimes, and I get super happy seeing all the dogs playing. It always cheers me up because they always seem like they have so much fun!
LN: What type of dog would you want?
MP: Probably a Husky, they're really cool. A Labrador would be a second choice.
LN: Who's your favorite drifter, or motor sport related driver, that inspires you to come out to FD and do what you do?
At this point, the interview was interrupted by Vaughn Gittin' Jr., who wanted to personally come over to Matt Power's pit area to congratulate him on his result. JR also wanted to have a few serious and not so serious words of advice to Matt. I overheard them talking: "when you're ready to make your car faster, like I said, you might be able to get second or even first! It might be time to give in just a little bit … your car is holding you back right now. You're one f****n' hell of a driver, that was good s**t." Matt thanked Vaughn for his words, and returned to our regularly scheduled interview….
LN: Back to the questions! So, favorite drifter or driver?
MP: Yeah, I have three. First I'd say, just because he's a maniac, is Justin Pawlak. He's super nice, and super helpful with me all the time. He's crazy…. Second would be John Rushcroft from San Diego. He sometimes drives the blue corolla in FD with the s2000 motor. He's always pushing it super hard and is a really nice guy and I like his style. Last is Nakamura from Team Burst in Japan. He's crazy at tandem and seriously doesn't give a s**t about anything. You can tell just by looking at his pants and hair. He's super good at tandem, has mean initiations, and good transitions. Of course, I also like his style
LN: Who influences you that isn't a ricer or a driver?
MP: Napoleon, the philosopher, Nietzsche, Nikki Sixx. Napoleon is powerful as s**t, he's little and doesn't care. Nietzsche is a super badass. Nikki Sixx just rocks super hard and brings it.
LN: Do you have someone that you personally know that pushes you toward what you do and how you live?
MP: Biggest influences on my life would by my friends.
LN: Family, yes?
MP: My family is awesome and they are super supportive, but my friends influence me more right now.
LN: I remember in the Slide America documentary that there was this one segment where a kid ate ramen to pay for drifting. Did you ever have a moment like that?
MP: I try not to spend money. I've been running my car for about four to five years. My car’s been built in a very slow and gradual progression during that time. I don't really spend money outside of drifting. And like I said before, I sold my car to pay for FD this year because its just super expensive. Running 17" wheels also helps make drifting cheaper.
LN: How do you feel when you're on the track throwing your car around? (Julien Delabre via Facebook)
MP: It's pretty nuts being on track. Like, you're in line and Tanner Foust is doing a burn out right next to you. And you're thinking, "s**t … I wish I could afford to do a burn out…."
LN: I remember when you were going up with Katashiro Ueo at FD Vegas; I couldn't help but to be blown away with the thought of, "holy cow, a local San Diego boy is about to go up against a drifting titan!"
MP: I was actually stoked with that. My goal this year was to go up against super famous people this year. Mike Essa and I drive a lot together, and when we come to FD and drive together and it kind of sucks because we're friends and all. I just want to go up against the big guys!
LN: You grew up watching these guys' VHS tapes and videos on YouTube, and now you're out here playing with them on the track!
MP: I actually didn't watch that many drift videos when I first started. I just went out and did it…. But yeah, that video of Ueo dancing around in his car and just throwing it was just super out of this world.
LN: You've become the "Lucy," or the missing link, between grassroots and professional drifting. That's how a lot of your fans perceive you. And so, what do you recommend to someone who's just getting into drifting? (Julien Delabre via Facebook)
MP: If you want to start drifting, start with low power. I had an S13 at first, then got the S14 which I drove stock KA for a year or two. That really helped my driving a lot to be more aggressive. I'd do that first, then get coil over suspension and finally go out to lots of events and have fun. Having fun is the key ingredient!
LN: I'm about to ask you the most boring question of this whole interview … but, how important is having proper alignment to all of this?
MP: This could be a funny answer actually! I haven't had my car on a proper alignment rack in over a year and I've been in a huge crash since then. I replaced my links and all that … I do my alignment in my dad's garage with toe plates and craftsmen lasers. If I'm lucky, I go to Part Shop Max for all the baller alignment stuff….
LN: So, did you do a specific alignment for Irwindale?
MP: Nope! I messed up my alignment actually. I have positive camber on the rear driver side with toe in, and the rear passenger side had negative camber with zero toe or toe out and I did that on accident. I redid the alignment Cody Parkhouse's place because my tire was getting chewed up by my fender. And I guess that became the secret Irwindale alignment setting! It really helped me ride the bank all high and close. At first, it was scary and a bit sketchy, but it rode the bank like a champ. So we decided to keep it.
LN: So now that we're talking about secret setups and what not, do you also think that a second secret "alignment," so to speak, would be all your closest friends pushing and cheering you on?
MP: Oh totally! That's actually more important than the secret Irwindale alignment. If you don't have backing and support, like my buddies, there's no reason to go out there and perform the best you can.
LN: What's your poison? What's your favorite beer/drink?
MP: I don't drink actually. Odwala orange juice and rice milk will have to be my 'poison.'
LN: What do you think of Steven Seagal? (via Facebook)
MP: I saw that question on Facebook and it blew my mind. But, for some reason, it makes me think of a life-sized Jean-Claude Van Damme cardboard stand-up that my mom had in her room when I was a kid. And for some reason, Steven Seagal makes me think of that.
LN: What's your favorite non-american food?
MP: I like Burritos … I like curry too.
LN: So that leads us to the next question: what's your favorite food of all time? What can you just keep eating over and over again?
MP: Chip and salsa all day long!
LN: Can we hear the origins of the story of how your friend Nate Deck ended up in your S14's trunk in basically nothing but a pair of Speedos for the opening ceremonies and introductions to the top 16 drivers?
MP: My buddy and fellow FD driver Cody Parkhouse just got here and he will tell that story
Cody Parkhouse: I used to play water polo back in the days, and because of that, I would have a lot of speedos laying around. We were at my house this morning getting ready to come out to Irwindale and my sister brought up that Nate should wear Speedos. I went and found a lovely pair of Speedos that just happened to be red with yellow vinyl. I showed it to Nate and he just couldn't turn it down when he saw how great they were. He mentioned that the Speedos will not happen unless Matt made top 16. And sure enough, Matt did make top 16. Subsequently, Nate's pants came off and the Speedos came on….
LN: Thank you, Matt, for taking the time to sit down and havie a chat with me. And thank you, Cody, for the insight into the opening ceremony’s antics! Any closing thoughts?
MP: That's pretty much it. Thanks for all the support and see you all next year. It's going to be awesome!