Fast and Spurious: Formula Drifting with Vaughn Gittin Jr. @ The Forum, 4/9/2009


April 9, 2008. 12.29pm. Inglewood, CA. It’s a cool spring day, and DF sits magisterially at a table in in the shadow of the Fabulous Forum (now home to Faithful Central Bible Church, in case you were wondering what happens to LA sports venues when the sports teams desert them). DF is surrounded by seventeen empty box lunches. Some of these other pansies are looking a little green around the gills, but not DF. The reason for the occasion is an assignment to which DF consented some few days ago. The proffer came through to spend a couple hours checking out a bitchen & souped-up 2010 Ford Mustang and go on a ride-along with a real, live Formula Drift racer. Other Losanjealous writers begged off, fearful of death and/or dismemberment. But DF laughs at death, and he snickers at dismemberment. Serious injury rates a dismissive chuckle, while maiming gets a hearty, full-throated guffaw. You feel me.

Wait, DF, it’s great that you’re doing something insanely unwise and dangerous but what the hell is “Formula Drift”? Sigh. Okay, noobs, here you go:

Excursus: a Formula Drift primer. The term “drift” immediately calls to mind gently tooling along a rolling highway in a luxurious automobile. The name is thus 100% exactly wrong. In fact, Formula D competitors rev up souped-up American muscle cars to speeds in the low three figures, drive straight at various walls and obstacles, and then crank the steering wheel or do God knows what else to effect a controlled skid through a pre-set track. It is like watching the lead up to a spectacularly horrific auto wreck over and over again, except that the driver always miraculously saves his ass just at the last moment. NB: The recent moviefilm Fast and Furious is apparently inspired by drifting, though since DF watches only films in which vermin make gourmet food and/or dogs are lodged at four-star hotels, he cannot verify the claim.

12.35pm. Formula D driver Vaughn Gittin Jr. appears alongside the modified 2010 Ford Mustang and answers our questions about the sport. Formula D, it turns out, was invented by the Japanese, like Hello Kitty and suicide. It is really more an extreme sport than an action sport, a modern hybrid of Nascar and freestyle skating or flatlanding. Though competitors race through the track in pairs, they are not timed but instead graded on the accuracy and artistry with which they navigate a pre-set track. That is, the superior racer may be the one who can do a controlled slide at 93mph within three inches of a concrete abutment rather than only four inches. And oh, yes, my yes, there are crashes. Sweet. DF loves nothing better than a good crash (at which he also laughs, obv.).

12.41pm. The car itself is rolled out, and it for the most part remains the same as any standard American muscle car you might purchase at Cal Worthington Ford. The main salient difference is under the hood: Formula D cars have a retooled cam-shaft with a 30.02 rotor for maximum … ah … screw this, I have no clue what I’m talking about. They’re faster than normal, ok? Even the tires are just regular radials, though of course they are replaced much much more often since after a few Formula D routes, there’s more rubber on the asphalt than there is left on the wheels.

12.49pm. Time now to sign the standard releases: “hideous insta-Holocaust exceedingly likely”, “spleen to be donated to Christian Science so they can not use it”, etc. etc. Whatever. DF snorts with derision at releases. He signs with the sobriquet “Captain Danger”. Note to self: make that name-change legal after doing this drifting gig.

12.53pm. Now the informational part of the program is over and the ride-alongs are upon us. Hm, that’s odd, I’m kind of in a cold sweat here. It must be the cold sweat of steely courage in the face of certain death. Now DF is helmeted and strapped into the passenger seat, secured in place with … A STANDARD SEAT BELT? THAT’S IT? OH JESUS GOD YOU HAVE GOT TO BE SHITTING ME. Ahem. No, this is cool, totally cool. I’m actually disappointed that there’s any system of restraint at all. DF chortles at vehicular restraints.

1.02pm. Vaughn pops into the driver’s seat and says a friendly hello. He has the upbeat demeanor of a guy who makes a living doing what he loves to do, and is 100% conscious of how lucky that makes him. He also clearly understands that DF is a kindred spirit who shares a taste for life on the edge, and also for speed (not meth, that is, just regular physical velocity). Let’s do this.

1.05pm. We navigate slowly to the Forum’s deserted but cone-bedotted parking lot. Hm, seems that the old ticker is beating a bit fast at the momentito. Who cares? DF scoffs at heart palpitations. Vaughn hits the gas and in a flash we’re hurtling perpendicularly toward Manchester Ave. at speeds approaching 100mph. Then suddenly, we’re skidding in the opposite direction, tires asqueal, and we ultimately complete a sliding 270 and end up pointing back across the parking lot. Vaughn floors it again and now we’re traveling at 90 per toward the dear sweet single-family homes next to the Forum, and I’m quite confident we’ll be in their dear sweet living rooms in a moment, until Vaughn engages in some kind of vehicular contrivance that whips us around the other way. And so on. Soon, after a few gratuitous donuts, we wind up in a cloud of smoke and burnt-rubber fumes and the glorious ride-along is at an end.

1.08pm. Truly, this was another triumph of bravery for DF. Some doubted his courage, and in fact post-ride, some other media types assembled insisted that they could hear DF’s high-pitched, blood-curdling screams from the car, even over the whine of the souped-up Mustang’s motor. Well, you know what, guys? That wasn’t a scream of abject cowardice, it was a deep, throaty war-whoop of adventure-lust. You all wouldn’t understand. And the tears that were streaming down my face when I got out of the vehicle? Those were … ah … tears of sadness that the extreme ride-along was over. Oh, and the fact that DF vomited copiously for a good fifteen minutes right after the ride concluded and had to be rushed by EMTs into the waiting ambulance for immediate sedation and re-hydration? Well, that’s just how we bravehearts celebrate a victorious and awesome and courageous accomplishment. It’s how we’re built, kids. Half in love with death, scoffing at mortality, and filling the chunder-bucket of the gods with our utter contempt for the workaday lives you normals have to lead. It’s OK to be jealous.

In conclusion. So I hope this brief synopsis gave all y’all a little taste of what Formula D is about. Since you are not DF, you won’t have the opportunity to actually ride along with a driver, but you can get a taste of the action as it goes down this weekend in Long Beach, where Vaughn and other drifters will be doing their thing as part of the LB Grand Prix. Now DF is off to other extreme activities and thrill-seeking, or at least I will be when I can keep food down and stop having these bravery-related spontaneous crying jags.

Photo & credit.. L to R: Japanese drifter, Japanese drifter, Vaughn Gittin Jr., Japanese drifter, groupie, Japanese drifter. (C) 2009 by Roy Ritchie. All rights reserved.