FD Atlanta: Through My (Wet) Lens
Keyboard Warriors

We are a skeptical generation aren’t we? When one of those ‘first 20 purchasers get something free’ ad comes up on the radio we don’t pick up our phones and dial like a madman at the thought of saving money – we are the keyboard warriors. If we go into a car dealership, there’s a high chance we’ll know much more about what we’re looking at than the kid working the showroom floor.

Drifting can be a hard sell. You see it in videos and you see it here on Speedhunters. But have you actually ever been to an event? If not, what’s wrong with you?


Watching Vaughn Gittin Jr. claw his way to the top of the podium last weekend at Formula Drift Atlanta was absolutely amazing. It’s funny to hang around my friends who are not into car culture and listen to them talk about ball and stick sports. That stuff puts me to sleep so fast, and I’m sorry – if that’s what real men like, then I am just not a real man.


Give me horsepower. Give me tire smoke. But most of all, give me the sideways action that I crave. These cars are pushed so hard; something you get an indisputable sense of every time they pass by.


Atlanta has always been home to the rowdiest fans out of all the Formula Drift rounds all across the world. Maybe it’s the fact that 11 years ago – in this very spot – North American pro drifting became reality. Whatever the reason, these guys and girls know how to party.


At one point during the weekend I found myself in Tyler McQuarrie’s Chevy Camaro hitching a ride to the start line. It was already hot and humid outside, but sitting there with the engine idling waiting for the marshals to open the track gates was just plain miserable. I’ve known Tyler for nine years now and very recently watched him help pilot an MX-5 to second place at Laguna Seca. Tyler is one of the few guys on the grid who is actually a professional wheel-to-wheel racing driver, rather than the majority of the pro field which is dominated by drivers who only get paid to go sideways.


I kid you not, but as we sat there at least 20 fans stopped by asking Tyler for a photo or an autograph. Some even mentioned they had watched him on TV earning that podium I just mentioned. This was not an autograph session, we were just waiting in the car to get on hot grid, which made me wonder if Tyler receives this kind of attention anywhere else he races. ‘It’s not even close,’ he says.


So, why is it like that? Is it because during a sports car championship race weekend there may be hundreds of drivers, and not 60 or so as there are in Formula Drift?


Or maybe it has to do with the fact that these drivers are more accessible to the public? Since drifting appeals to a younger audience, all the teams and drivers are super active on social media.


While not every fan may understand the ins and outs of competition, I think there’s universal understanding about the appeal of driving sideways.


Formula Drift fans can relate to professional drifters much more than they can to IndyCar drivers, for example. When I walk through the parking lot of an IndyCar race, I may as well be walking through that of local shopping mall.


When I walk through the parking lot at Formula Drift, it’s like going to Cars & Coffee – with a sideways twist. VIP sedans on air bags, stanced-out rides, front-wheel drive monsters, and most of all: street drift cars.


The lots almost always looks like a set from the original The Fast and The Furious movie.


Outside of NASCAR, Formula Drift has the most presence on social media and that thing called the Internet, and it’s largely thanks to this new generation of motor heads – bench racers and forum trolls included. Eleven years ago something amazing happened, and I am so glad that it hasn’t stopped.


I wanted to touch on some highlights from the weekend that you guys may have missed, beginning with last Thursday’s practice…

House Keeping

I won’t go into detail about Speedhunters driver, Fredric Aasbø and his run to the second step on the podium as the Norwegian Hammer will be telling you himself in a driver blog next week. His battle with Vaughn was absolutely epic though!.


Fredric’s fellow Speedhunters team driver, Charles Ng, has been struggling getting to grips with his brand new car and did not qualify for Top 32 in Long Beach back at the beginning of April.


He really came out swinging in Atlanta, but still had to contend with a bunch of teething problems. I’ll let him talk about that in his next blog, which is coming soon, too.


It was a typical Thursday practice at Road Atlanta; scorching heat beating down on my back and drift cars at full noise blasting out my ear drums.


Regardless of how humid it is outside, and how much my eyes sting from sweat pouring from my brow, I always have the comfort of knowing that the drivers –  donning helmets and wrapped up in their race suits, and sitting, waiting inside their million horsepower cars – are suffering much more.


Of course, the heat was the least of Vaughn Gittin’s worries in Georgia.


He had a championship to battle for, so nothing else really mattered. Plus, a little sauna session is good for you every now and then, right?


Vaughn lined up with Justin Pawlak during practice, but little did he know later on in the weekend he would be taking part in the Mustang versus Mustang battle of the decade. More on that shortly…


At Long Beach there’s only one measly hour of practice before you have to qualify, but at Round 2 at Road Atlanta everyone had the opportunity to officially shake down their cars for an extended period, for the first time in the season.


Rookies, privateers and veterans all got four hours of practice in on Thursday, which went a very long way in helping everyone prepare themselves and their cars for competition ahead.


What’s also nice about Atlanta is the fact that the autograph session happens before qualifying.


It gives a chance for the drivers to relax and joke around with their peers before things get serious.


Even one hour of distraction from the pressure of competition helps out. Plus, it allows fans to personally meet and greet all the drivers.


Japanese, Irish, big and small – everyone can be friends during the autograph session.

Groundhog Day

Right after signing session was one short, final practice session before qualifying.


If the amount of smoke pouring out of the rear wheel wells were anything to go by, Ken Gushi was very comfortable in his brand new 2JZ-powered Scion FR-S.


Although Matt Field showed up at the first round of the championship in Long Beach, but he couldn’t get his newly-built Silvia’s motor running so he had to sit out the all-important opener. The team got things buttoned up in time for Atlanta, but I think Matt still has a way to go before he’s got things fully dialled in.


The Rookie of the Year race is seriously heating up, with Geoff Stoneback already tying with 18-year-old Alec Hohnadell for first place.


The Club Loose driver put in a great showing in the Top 32 agasint Vaughn, and is showing so much promise for his first year of Pro competition. If I didn’t know any better, I would have guessed that Geoff had been driving in Formula Drift for years.


There were quite a few disappointments this round, including Ryan Tuerck not making it into the Top 16 due to a mechanical failure.


Despite looking top-notch during practice, Dave Briggs also ran out of luck when his transmission failed during his first qualifying run.


The forecast mentioned rain, and it worried everyone on grid looking to secure a good spot on the battle ladder. Last year in Atlanta the wet weather really threw a wrench into works; cars getting run over and all that jazz.


And wouldn’t you know it – on cue the heavens opened up and the track was soaked to its core.


Little did the drivers and teams know it at the time, the ensuing qualifying session turned out to be the longest in Formula Drift history, lasting over four hours to get through all 62 drivers.


Being an asshole photographer and always hoping for something different, I was smiling from ear to ear.


Let’s just say that I may or may not have done a little rain dance as soon as I saw some dark clouds coming in. And although I felt a little bad for the drivers, this was what they signed up for.


A true professional drifter should be able to put down an amazing qualifying run rain or shine, and despite the atrocious conditions there was some amazing driving. Dean Kearney is never afraid of a little sprinkle; running with the top down in his 1000hp SRT Viper.


I love the foresight that Charles Ng had when he placed that #MaximumAttack sticker on his fuel cell. Bumper? What rear bumper?


The reason why it took so long to get everyone through was because ever driver had a practice lap before their qualifying lap. That meant all drivers had four runs, which added up to around 250 passes in total.


Some drivers definitely seemed more used to slippy-slidy racing than others. And it got worse and worse as the night progressed due to mud seeping onto the driving line.


Kyle Mohan had no trouble at all, bouncing off the rev limiter pretty much the entire way in his triple Dorito-powered RX-8.


Kyle has a new tire sponsor this year, and I think it’s the best thing that has happened to him, because  I’ve never seen him drive as aggressively. There’s seemingly always a silver lining.


The most amazing thing about qualifying? The fact that the weather-hardened fans hung around until midnight when the last cars finished their runs. Night practice was canceled, and I don’t think one single soul in the paddock was complaining.

Smoke ‘em

Despite the testing conditions, the Formula Drift staff worked tirelessly to make sure everything ran as smoothly as it could – even with equipment being damaged by the downpour. I know exactly what they were going through, as the supplied hair dryer in my hotel spent a long time wedged inside my wet shoes after qualifying, and then put on foggy lens fixing duty. #JoyOfBeingAMotorsportsPhotographer.


Out of all the signs and funny props the Atlanta crowd brought out, these die hard s’mores eaters were the most original. They stood as close to the track as possible, and were rewarded with a pelting from dirt, rocks and lungs full of burnt rubber smoke on every single pass. Roasted marshmallows anyone?


Poor Kenny Moen getting left out of the Achilles Tire Top 16 formation. Sorry bro, no S-chassis allowed.


DMac made it through to the Top 16 with the ‘most powerful drift car in the world.’ Although he didn’t have as much power at this round last year, he still managed to make it all the way to second place then.


He very nearly took the top spot too, but as he told me afterwards, couldn’t see ‘a ****ing thing’, following Daigo.


And then the rain clouds rolled in again. This time I was ready though, with rain gear on-hand and ready to brave that wet stuff out of the sky.


The sky turned all sorts of funny colors and reminded me of a scene from the movie 300. I was waiting for Leonidas I to appear in a drifting chariot yelling, ‘This is Atlantaaaaaaaa.’ It was the perfect backdrop for the epic battles happening on the track.


Last year Mr. Wang Chung battled Daigo in the rain, but this time the ground was still dry enough for Forest to give Mr. Saito a taste of his own medicine. Despite this, Daigo moved on, but his car broke right afterwards. What luck!


As Vaughn and Justin Pawlak rolled up to the starting line the dark skies opened up and it started to drizzle. It wasn’t enough to blanket the entire track, but just enough to make the entry as slick as ice.


By now you guys have probably noticed from my header image, that Vaughn went for a bit of an off road excursion on his lead run. The amazing thing is, he simply plowed through the dirt like nothing had happened. I guess practice makes perfect! Keep in mind that this man entered the corner at 100mph. In the rain.


After Vaughn lightly corrected his throttle and steering inputs to get his Ford back on track, Justin – being the nice guy that he is – decided to give him a push uphill. What a fine gentleman he is!


But due to his selflessness, Justin himself went off course. It was just two Mustangs going all-out. And it was beautiful.


Justin and Vaughn have battled six times in the past and Justin came out on top in four of those.


Just one more win from Vaughn now and they can call it even.


This was one of the best series of battles I have seen in a long time, with each driver making errors and dealing blows to each others runs. You can check out the full battles as well as the rest of the event on Formula Drift’s Dailymotion Drift Stream.


I don’t know what it is about the fans in Atlanta, but they won’t leave the venue until the last pair of tires has been reduced to a huge cloud of thick, white smoke. I look forward to this round every year because of this fact alone, and I suggest you guys make a trip one of these years too. Believe me, you won’t regret it.


It’s still early in the season, but we can already see how it is shaping up. Despite his best efforts, 2013 champion Michael Essa is not having the same dream season he had last year. Sitting in 8th place he still has a chance to make it up, but it’s going to be an uphill battle every step of the way.


Formula Drift’s 2012 champion Daigo Saito is in a worse position than Essa, although some of that can be blamed on mechanical failures. I think it’s time for a new build. The Lexus has done him well, but it’s tired and definitely showing its age now.


Vaughn has not seen the top of the podium since Formula Drift’s fifth round in Seattle in 2012 when he was making a late season charge for the championship.


He may not have had the results he was looking for in Long Beach, but after just two events he’s now sitting in 2nd place behind his Drift Alliance brother Chris Forsberg.


After last year’s bitter battle for the championship, Chris has turned to the dark side.


With two back-to-back podiums now in the bag, it’s obvious that he and his team are out for blood.


Chris is currently the most experienced competitor in the series to have won a championship, but that was all the way back in 2009. The game has changed so much in that time, but if this year’s results are anything to go by, he’s definitely evolved with the sport.


As more and more career drifters evolve to build their drifting legacy in such a fast growing sport, staying relevant is key. As Vaughn said before, who knows – maybe the top drivers of today will be the big name team owners of drifting tomorrow with five-car teams under their wing. I guess we will all have to wait and see…

Right now though, I’m just itching to get to Miami in two weeks time for FD Round 3.

Larry Chen
Instagram: larry_chen_foto



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Kyle Mohan's entry on page three is a killer shot Larry! KILLER!


So was it hard to get the Sharpie off your lens? Clever shot.


That first image Larry....

... Now I'll go read the rest of the article.


Kyle Mohan had some angle in his RX8....damn, that was almost 90 degrees right there. Can he spin his car if he wants or is it driftable all the way? :)))))




As usual, killer article Larry! :D Loved the epic battle photos between the two Mustangs!


Great article! I've never been to a FD event (I'm an Aussie) but hell, it looks like a fiesta! That shot of Vaughn on the dirt and the RX8 are absolute stunners! Good job Larry!


I think as a collective group of shots as a post I've seen you make Mr Chen, this could be the best I've seen.. It seems your final shot and edit has changed a little lately - maybe its just me and the weather you had..

That said, I packed up my 'warrior board' about a year ago, and four weeks later found myself landing in Narita and starting my own journey. More people so need to do this as you say.. I'm back there in a few weeks and will continue to build dreams and experiences, and hopefully get some practice in to reach a greater level of photography.

Credit to yourself and the team, keep up the good work, people could do a lot worse than take this post as inspiration in terms of quality and good advice.

Have a good day all


Sick shots Larry!  Do you use extenders with your 400?

Seeking Perfection

Outstanding coverage, but I am not sure if I am going to watch another FD round. They say 10 years and still sideways, I say 10 years and still buffering. There is not a chance this venture is going to be a globally accepted product when they have not figured out how to make the driftstream work decently for the international fans who have to stay awake until late. Slowmotion seems to be another poor decision like the elimination of speed from the judging criteria. Can someone who is more cultivated than I am enlighten me on how you can determine whether a driver has better style than another? As far as I am aware, tire smoke is not a factor anymore and style seems to be a completely subjective matter that can be interpreted in several ways.

I reckon that speed which is an objective element should become again one of the judging criteria for the qualifying runs. If style is such an important matter, then Conrad was the king of style (insane backwards entries) in Atlanta and should have won the event. I might be one of the forum trolls and bench racers, but some things are very standard when it comes to FD. Tony cannot qualify in top 16 no matter what car he is in, judges will keep disagreeing with each other making the decision process seem less and less clear and Gittin will still be the boss of the series since drift veterans and actually better drivers like Samuel and Tanner are out of the game. Moreover, Daigo is suffering with mechanical issues with a car that seems to have difficult handling and Dai has to iron out the problems of a brand new build. Consequently, I do not see any of my favourite drivers getting the championship, which makes the decision to watch the driftstream more and more difficult and unlikely to happen. 
I am biased, I do not support any of the DA members, Daigo and Dai are my favourite drivers, while I also root for Field and DeNofa (both of them have immense talent). All things considered, I am the typical FD troll but that does not change the fact that the driftstream can be more frustrating that I can.


I know what drifting needs. A dirt track! :P and a really thight low speed track.


To start, I'm not a fan of FD nor competitive drifting in general...So I've been perusing through my friend's FD ATL photos on Flickr thinking to myself, "clean pans and stuff, but they all look the same..."
And then BOOM. Completely fresh and inspirational coverage. Great stuff as always Larry.

Ross Callaghan

Incredible shots as always, Larry! Really inspirational work.


Thank you for the great coverage Larry! 

It's especially poignant since I wasn't able to make it to FDATL this year like I have the past few, so it's nice to have some coverage of the event since the  http://www.dailymotion.com/driftstream was complete shit. I missed 95% of the weekend's event and wasted way too many hours hoping to see some drifting only to be massively disappointed.

I'm with @Seeking Perfection, I think this will be the last time I attempt to watch a livestream event from FD. If it was the first time this had happened I'd be more forgiving, but this is the culmination of 3 years of frustration with the piss-poor livestream.

Looking forward to Frederick's and Charles' POV posts - it looked to be a very challenging weekend all around.


They need to give that cardboard chick an umbrella


JR's car finally where it belongs off-roading with the trucks. Great pictures and coverage Larry!


@Ross Callaghan  I like the one of Kyle Mohan steepling his fingers like Mr. Burns.
That photo is "excellent..."


FunctionFirst  Hey man, you know what happened to the stream?
I missed the whole top 16 onwards! it was terrible


That lead shot of Vaughn in the dirt is great, and makes me wonder: when are you guys going to hunt some speed at a dirt track on a Saturday night?  I'm a road-race & rally guy, but to me there are few things better in motorsport than a night at Santa Maria Speedway, my local 1/3 mile bullring. I mean, it's monster V8s, 3 car-wide drifting & wheelstands, and roostertails of dirt.   Plus, 32oz beers and shitty nachos, all under the lights on a summer night. What's not to like?


Saved every picture of that Mustang battle.  So awesome.


SVT_Bryan  Best battle of the year so far by far.


ShaunDoom  Haha, you guys are too funny.


therealsinic  You are right, I'm sure they wouldn't want her to get wet.


FunctionFirst  It's really unfortunate what happened with driftstream, although on the plus side you can still watch it in it's entirely right now. I know it's not the same, but it is a free service for you guys to enjoy drifting wherever you are in the world.

I never talk about results because you can get that stuff anywhere else on the internet as well as from watching the drift stream. I do try to give just a little bit of insight that I do have from being on the ground.

I know it's not in everyone's interest to make it out to one of these events, but it may be well worth it for some of you guys to save up your pennies with some friends and check it out for once. It's crazy how many Norwegians come from Norway just for FD Long Beach and Irwindale.


midgeman  Thanks for the kind words. The best part of Atlanta is the fact that you can shoot great photos from all the spectator areas, and there is no fence blocking your view.


@Seeking Perfection  I applaud you for sticking with it for as long as you have. It's hard enough to keep any racing series going for this long, and FD comes out of pocket to provide things like the Drift Stream.

It's hard because they really are at the forefront of this sort of technology. What other racing series provides this service for free? As time goes by it will only get better.

It was hard enough as it was for me to stand out there in the pouring rain soaked to my underwear to bring you guys coverage, but I bet it was just as hard for the Drift Stream guys to scramble to get things working. Think about that.


@imogen184  I do, but I didn't use any for this event because the track is very small, plus its nearly impossible as it is to shoot through the massive heat waves.


Roughsmoke  Thanks for the kind words. I try to push myself even further recently because many more photographers have stepped up their game in the recent years. There is so much good talent in motorsports now.

I am happy to hear any of our readers going out to hunt some speed of their own, and shooting in Japan is always very inspirational for me. Post some of your shots here!

Enjoy your next trip to the land of the rising sun.


Lachys114  You should try to make it to FD Australia later in the year.


Robo_No1  lol, thanks for the kind words as always :D


KeithCharvonia  I am never telling you any of my secrets.


@T Fritch  You forgot to mention the fist fights when someone crashes. :)

Sadly they closed Manzanita here in Phoenix and the closest tracks are too far for me to justify now.


KeithCharvonia  Sir, Please.


Larry Chen  I forgot all about that feature, thanks.  You keep on globehopping... but isn't Mike Garrett out in the Valley somewhere? Heaps of tracks out there, send him? If he makes it to SM, I'll buy him a beer & we can pour some out for the SH homies not in attendance.


Outstanding write-up Larry, however I have to say I think the best battle was between Forsberg and Aasbo, that pass then Forsbergs furious retaliation chase lap gave me goosebumps!


@Fielding Shredder  Yeah, you have a point, but they didn't go two OMT


I was lucky enough to attend FD Seattle last year (I live in the midwest nowhere near any of the tracks that Formula Drift uses) so it was a huge deal for me. I had been watching every live stream since 2011 but I quickly realized that nothing is as awesome as being there yourself. I think I talked to almost every driver there and I made sure to get every possible autograph in my #MaximumAttack book including Larry's.


Speaking of Daigo and new builds, wasn't there something about him building a Ferrari??


Jake Mills  Wow, so cool. Thanks for sharing. I realized that I have been following the series long enough where I can pretty much memorize everyones car numbers, haha.


Atlanta was the first FD event I've gone to, and as much fun as I had, I can't help but be disappointed in the judging. It's fairly obvious that the judges tended to lean towards the few fellows who happen to make the sport money. Stoneback, in particular, should have done much better by the judges.


@T Fritch Are you hearing this @Mikegarret ?


Beautiful photos man the quality is outstanding.


Dbee  haha, well at least the important thing is you had fun. What is the fun in your favorite drivers winning all the time? Root for the underdog and one day your head will explode when they actually do win.


Larry Chen Roughsmoke Hi Larry, thank you for your kind words also.

I just thought what could go wrong. Booked a hotel in Hanzomon, and got out there. loved it so much I thought I'd do a longer trip this time.

I'm honoured by your invitation to post as above, but not to tread on your toes, I've pinged you an email instead with some information of which you may find hopefully interesting.

Keep up the good work sir.

Kind regards and have a great day.


Got a whole new batch of wallpapers from this article. Wonderful write up, and some absolutely gorgeous pics, Larry.


Larry Chen  @T Fritch Note to self: Send Mike to a dirt track :)


It was a great pleasure seeing you at work! Amazing quality stuff as usual. Very inspirational stuff if i ever get to shoot coverage in the future. Maybe next time I will even say Hello D: lol.


I'd love to! Where is it held?


Denis Korol  Thanks for the photo. I was quite damp when you took this shot, haha.


Lachys114  I am guessing Melbourne again. http://formuladriftasia.com/


Larry Chen Denis Korol  <3 <3 <3! And, Oh I think quite a few of us were fairly damp at this point  lol. Again great seeing the master in person <3.


I might just go then!


MatsNorway Just add some trees for clipping points! O hang on that rallying! hahah.


From now on, Every rotary on here shall be called a dorito engine.


Larry Chen Hello Driftcorp.


Larry Chen FunctionFirst  "I know it's not in everyone's interest to make it out to one of these events, but it may be well worth it for some of you guys to save up your pennies with some friends and check it out for once."

"It's especially poignant since I wasn't able to make it to FDATL this year like I have the past few" 

- Unfortunately for me this year it wasn't about the pennies... Hopefully next year I'll be there and competing in GTA.