Drifting - Hazardous Fad or Spectacular Sport

Dear Topspeed,
What exactly is "drifting"?

Julie N. from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Hello Julie,

Drifting, as it pertains to cars, is basically a specialized driving technique. Also known as oversteering, power oversteer, sliding or hanging the tail out, drifting is driving a vehicle with two or more wheels losing traction. Usually on purpose. While it is not necessarily the fastest or safest way around a turn for most driving situations, it still fascinates many people due to its sheer spectacle. Drifting, when done on pavement, usually produces a lot of tire squealing and smoke. Even when performed on other road surfaces such as dirt, snow or ice, a drifting car often looks like it is out of control and this catches people's attention.

The truth of the matter is that drifting is simply navigating a turn at an extreme slip angle through careful and controlled use of the steering, throttle, transmission, and brakes. Drifting is usually performed in rear-wheel drive cars although front-wheel and all-wheel drive cars can drift as well. Most drivers can only accomplish a two-wheeled drift but an expert driver is capable of a four-wheel drift, depending on the vehicle being driven.

Many people mistakenly believe that drifting was created in Japan but the Japanese can only take credit for popularizing drifting and making a sport out of it. The phenomenon of drifting has been around since the invention of wheeled transport. It wouldn't surprise me if Henry Ford himself had drifted the Model T. It is likely that even the Romans used drifting in their chariot races.

Most drivers have actually accomplished drifting without even realizing it. If you have ever gotten your car sideways during a winter storm and not crashed, then you have engaged in drifting. If you have done donuts or figure eights with your car in a snowy parking lot, then you have practiced drifting. The drifting that has become a competition in many parts of the world is simply an extension of these simple driving feats. Drifting is routinely used in dirt track and rally racing; it is especially useful for getting around hairpin turns very quickly.

Drifting is considered a legitimate sport by many people but then again, so is lawnmower racing. The judging of drifting competitions is mostly subjective and burning off your rear tires is one criterion for getting points. With that being the case, I think many of my readers would be able to score points in this "sport". While the popularity of drifting may be on par with that of skateboarding here in the United States, it is a different story in Japan. The foremost drifting competition in the world is the D1 Grand Prix of Japan and its drivers are revered as superstars. Sponsorship of drifting drivers and events by Japanese corporations is commonplace because it reaches a vast young demographic. Mark my words folks; it won’t be long until American companies start exploiting this growing fad here in the states as well.

If you think the popularity of drifting isn't growing in the U.S.A., you only have to look at the fact that someone coughed up the money to produce another horrible installment of "The Fast and the Furious". This movie is going to be titled Tokyo Drift and I'm sure it will make the original Fast and the Furious look like a masterpiece in comparison. I predict that this movie will be a flop but given the number of import cars that fart around many urban neighborhoods, it may attract enough viewers to make a profit. Lord knows I won't waste my money to see it.

Speaking of awful movies, "The Dukes of Hazzard" also had some drifting. There is a scene in the movie when the General Lee is driven around a circular street in a complete drift. The car is sideways as it travels the entire street with the tail of the car just feet from smashing into parked cars. While the scene in question was a superb display of car control by professional rally racer Rhys Millen (hey Rhys, how do I go about moonlighting as a stunt driver?), in real life it would be totally unnecessary and completely treacherous to attempt the navigation of any street in that fashion. Even if one were being pursued by the police as was the case in the movie. It is interesting to note that drifting performed on any public road is illegal but in Japan, the police usually ignore the practice as long as its participants confine themselves to isolated areas.

There is a lot more to say about drifting which I will save for a future column. For the most part, drifting is harmless fun and entertainment for a large number of young males that need to release some testosterone. It is also a cheap way of developing emergency driving skills. Unfortunately though, it is only a matter of time before some imbecile decides to try it in the wrong place and ends up injuring or killing people. All readers please take heed: if you must go drifting, please find a deserted area and do it by yourself. The simple fact remains - production street cars are not meant to be driven sideways.

If you found this article helpful, please like/tweet/share it with the buttons below. Thanks!

Copyright © 2005 - 2017 Topspeedracer.com All Rights Reserved