So you've heard Universal is making another Fast and the Furious movie, but you don't know what 'Tokyo Drift' means. Well, on Saturday, March 4th, I went to Irwindale Speedway to find out all about Drift Racing (yes, the day before the Oscars, I was at a race course).
That's right, racing isn't for Sunday's anymore! But this wasn't some ordinary race, this was drifting. The course was different, the set up was different, and the crowd was certainly different than a normal NASCAR race. Irwindale Speedway is a much smaller venue than the usual, so there wasn't the 100,000 people screaming and cheering for Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Jeff Gordon. We heard more of the Japanese names like Kuma Kuma and Yokahama and names most Americans haven't heard of.
The day began with a nice hour long drive from Los Angeles to Irwindale; when I first got to this place, I didn't even know it existed. It looked like there was an oil refinery and the Speedway and that is Irwindale. But, I knew I was in for a treat, something I had never seen before, and boy was I right.
I parked my car in the very last row of the first parking lot and walked past the grandstand to pick up my ticket. In this area, there were a whole bunch of decked out and tricked out cars; the speakers blasting the base, the doors opening up sideways, and paint jobs you would only see on TV.
I was meeting a few more of my press buddies at the gate, so once we got up to the grandstand, we saw the place was packed. Walking to the other side of the stands, we found an empty Row 29 in Section 8; the four of us saved a few more seats for some of our late arriving crew.
We heard the rules from the announcer, who clearly was having as much fun as the crowd. His first statement was "For anyone who doesn't know about Drift Racing, it's keeping control in a realm of no control." The crowd started stomping their feet on the benches - their way of cheering. Believe me, this came in handy later on in the day.
As the rules were read, we all kind of joked about how much fun we were going to have. But, actually, it turned out we really did have a good time. And by the time the first round of races took place, I was getting the hang of the rules of the race. It's not the overall speed of the car, it's how close they can come to the rails and the edge of the course as possible (without hitting it, of course). Oh, and how much smoke they can make from their tires spinning.
The drivers were introduced and were able to take a warm-up lap; a few times, their practice lap was more exciting than the real ride. In the first round, it's single run races; each driver goes by himself around the course and tries to get the best score. There were 32 cars in the first round; they get narrowed down to 16 as the first round continues.
After the first round, it began to get a bit chilly; luckily, there was a long break in between rounds so lots of people got up and left the grandstands to go to their car. Now, I know from experience, this definitely doesn't happen at NASCAR races; once the race begins, you're in for the long haul.
But, I came back just in time for the start of the second round - Twin Drifting. This is when two cars go at the same time around the course trying to edge out the others on the corners to get their car closest to the course. The announcer read us the rules and made sure to mention "This is where the crashes happen." And once again, on cue, the fans stomped their feet on the bleachers. What was great about that was as the day got colder, we were stomping our feet more cause it kept us warm.
The cars did their lap around the course to say 'hi' to the crowd. One guy, the champion from last year, was driving hanging outside of his car - one hand, one foot! This was impressive.
The Twin Drifts took about two hours to complete, but like the announcer said, there were crashes! But it was amazing to see how well the drivers moved to avoid crashes; these guys were driving roughly 80 miles an hour, some within inches of each other and didn't crash. A couple of the guys I was with were having fun betting on the winning car, a dollar each race; the final tally had one of them up by $2.
The final two drivers were chosen, the green car and the orange car; that's how we kept track of who was who. They both lined up for the race; each driver was able to get the inside lane and the outside lane, then they would switch. The first run through was easily won by the guy in the green car; the second round was a bit closer, but the green car won again. After the race, we all went out to our cars and headed out.
A day at the races wasn't so bad! I really had a good time, and I know kind of have a grasp of what drift racing is. The highlights of the day were the announcer and his partner, who fought back and forth with jabs and one of my guys, Dan, who had one-liners that had me rolling. He really got into the racing the most, getting me into racing.
Fast and the Furious 3: Tokyo Drift opens in theaters June 16th.