Not only was Evergreen Speedway host to the 5th round of Formula Drift competition, but it was also the site of the second round of Formula Drift’s newest series: Pro 2. Designed to be a bridge between ProAm and Pro, the series is a welcome addition to the Formula Drift program for a number of reasons.
Given the ever-increasing popularity of drifting a significant number of drivers were earning their professional licenses through their local ProAm circuits, and were fed directly into the highest level of FD competition. A glut of talented drivers that were spending considerable amounts of blood, sweat and tears (and money) to travel to and compete in FD competition were leaving events frustrated, as they were unable to get enough seat time to be competitive and even when they were able to qualify the chance of being matched up against drivers like Aasbo or Gittin was high. Pro 2 offers these newly licensed drivers a chance to compete against the best drivers in other ProAm programs across the nation. More seat time at different tracks is always a good thing, and plus it’s a chance to be part of the big show! That’s the other great thing about Pro 2: IT’S MORE DRIFTING. How could you not want more drifting?
Before we go any farther, I want to cover something: the out-of-town media personnel are unfamiliar with the local drivers, and they were eager to know who was behind the wheel of two particular cars. These cars belonged to Victor Moore and Jeremy Richter. To those of us who stomp across the grass and dirt of Evergreen and Pat’s Acres on a regular basis the high-quality performances put down by Moore and Richter were expected, but to the foreigners these guys were enigmas. After Richter rode Vaughn Gittin Jr.’s door around the track on Thursday I recall one photographer exclaimed loudly: “Who the f*ck was that?”
(Sorry Phillips and Jeanerett,I think you guys are radical too!)
After qualifying the day before to set the order, the Top 16 Pro 2 drivers made their way out onto the track for introductions. Two of Evergreen’s finest made it into the main competition: Mike Phillips and Victor Moore! Will Parsons, the driver I was working with for the weekend, also made it into the big show. Will and his green AE-86 have been around for a long time (remember XDC at Seattle? The dirt-drops?), and I highly recommend that you make a point of meeting the man. As one of the friendliest and most personable people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting I can safely say it is simply impossible not to cheer for him and his quietly intense driving style. I’ll be talking more about Will (and Jeremy Richter!) in an upcoming article, so lets move on.
Following driver introductions the media hordes were shooed off of the track so that the drivers could do their burnouts and donuts. After filling the stands with smoke and cording their qualifying/practice tires a gust of wind revealed the infield to be suddenly empty, the snarling race cars now lined up at the start line. I’ve never had the chance to use a wide angle lens for more than ten minutes at a time, and as my father’s friend was kind enough to lend me his Nikkor 12-24mm f/4 for the weekend I made sure to get as much use out of it as possible. Hopping over the wall near where the cars come off the bank and into the infield, I set my camera up and waited for the owner of the screaming rotary engine on the other side of the track to come over to my side of the oval.
The first match of the day was between Jeremy Lowe in his RX-7 and Hiro(?) Sumida in his classically-executed Toyota Cressida. After learning the hard way that I probably shouldn’t be shooting at such low shutter speeds when I was literally right next to the cars, I set about trying to capture Sumida’s struggles against the top-qualified Lowe.
The Cressida had been looking shaky all day today and yesterday and was fighting to stand up to the #1 qualifier. Unable to shift into the infield, the Cressida put its back end and two tires off of the course on the first run, giving the RX-7 the advantage and eventual victory.
Next up was Jeff Stoneback in his white, V8-powered S14 and my driver, Will “Kill” Parsons and his F20C AE-86. Stoneback’s power advantage was clear and plans to deal with it had been discussed at length in the pits. One of the primary judging parameters for FD is proximity, and the fear was that Stoneback and his S14 would simply walk away from Will on the long bank and create a gap he could not close.
Gears were churning in the Drift Viking’s head, and this was the most intense I had seen the otherwise relaxed and laid-back Parsons all weekend. Will had looked solid in practice, but to my admitted disappointment so had Stoneback. As a potential Rookie of the Year Jeff was no slouch, and it would take all of Will’s considerable experience and skill to beat him.
On the other side of the track I saw a green Corolla line up against a white S14, and my heart rate doubled. As expected, the Silvia ambled away from the AE-86 and initiated well ahead of the Toyota. Yet before I could so much as sigh Stoneback’s bumper caught on the 5/8ths wall, the forces of friction snatching the car out of drift and smacking it against the wall! Parsons sailed on by, and the match looked to be in the bag for Parsons. No driver wants to have a win handed to them due to a crash, but now all Parsons needed to do was put in a solid lead run.
As is the nature of competitive drifting nothing is guaranteed. Jeff’s car thankfully drove away from the sudden introduction to the wall mechanically sound, and both drivers could do battle once more. Coming off the bank with Stoneback on his door, Parson’s Corolla suddenly lost drift as he apparently shifted from 5th into 3rd. The white S14 navigated the struggling green Corolla, which spun just before exiting the course. Unsurprisingly the judges called for a One More Time, as neither driver had truly given a proper demonstration of their skill. Back to their respective pits they went, shucking corded tires and mentally preparing to square off once again.
The next pair of drivers in the Top 16 were Jeff Jones and Victor Moore. Following Jones onto the bank Moore stuck to the CX-Racing S14’s door, and a good battle looked to be in the making. The drift gods have not taken kindly to local drivers doing well at Evergreen when Formula Drift has come to town in the past, and Moore’s otherwise beautiful follow-run was suddenly interrupted as the Drift Office S14 wobbled and came as close as possible to losing drift.
Building a gap on the bank during his lead run, Moore looked as if he might be able to push the judges towards an OMT. But the drift gods are cruel, and another wobble and loss of drift sent the drifter with the biggest smile back to the pits. This is said all too often of many drivers, but I honestly believe that Victor Moore has what it takes to compete. The car underneath him is solid, although it does seem to misbehave on occasion. Once Moore and his team figure get his setup figured out he will be a force to be reckoned with, and I can’t wait to see him back out on track again.
With their cars primed and ready, Stoneback and Parsons were once again sitting on the starting line. As he had on the first set of runs Stoneback built a considerable gap off of the start line during his lead run. In a testament to the strength of his character, Will appeared to be undaunted by the large gap between himself and the white Silvia ahead of him. In their haste to close up to the lead car many drivers at Evergreen will cut down into the faster inside line on the bank, a choice that often leads them to ruin. Despite closing up on Stoneback and his S14 at the end of the course, lamentations from the announcers as to the lack of proximity could be heard loud and clear. If Stoneback had not done well on the infield despite his separation from the chase car perhaps the judges might have placed less weight on the lack on proximity, but while Will was catching up Jeff took the opportunity to remind the crowd why he was the leading contender for Rookie of the Year.
Riding the door the green NST Corolla around the 5/8ths bank, Stoneback appeared to be set to deliver another solid run. Yet while Parsons made the outside clipping cones wobble as he soared past the bumper of the white and purple Nissan passed by with more than a yard to spare. Deftly guiding his car within inches of the rest of the clipping points, a glimmer of hope began to blossom as Parsons and Stoneback finished out the course. Maybe, just maybe, the judges would recognize that Will simply could not catch up to Stoneback during his follow runs and would show some leniency. Unsurprisingly the victory went to Jeff Stoneback, the judges ending the Drift Viking’s weekend early. There’s no way to get around it: Jeff Stoneback is damn good at drifting. I have not followed the contest for Rookie of the Year too closely, but unless something unusual happens Jeff is a very solid contender. Grey, white and green, the reptilian Sikky RX-8 contrasted sharply against the freedom machine that is Mike Phillips Ozzy Motors Nissan S14 on the start line. Phillips earned his FD Pro license at Evergreen, and is still a constant presence within the Evergreen drifting community. Practice had gone well for Mike, and the #FormulaNASCAR Silvia navigated the bank in spectacular fashion as it chased the Mazda RX-8 down into the infield. During Phillip’s lead run the Sikky RX-8 ran wide on the exit from the bank, and things were looking up for Mike until he spun just before the transition into the last clipping zone (or so I believe, my notes are not the best). As frustrating as it must be to lose in such a fashion during one’s first competition, Phillips honestly could have won had he not spun.
Equally as comfortable at Evergreen as it would have been on the tarmac of Zandervoort during the early years of DTM, Hateley’s orange BMW E30 was looking consistently solid for the first time this season. Squaring off against the wide-body BMW was the pink and black Nissan S14 of Mike Pollard. Mechanical issues sent Pollard to the pits(?), and Hateley moved on to the Top 8.
James Evans delivered two concise runs to beat out Eric Hill in his blue and pink Nissan 240SX. With years of road racing in his motorsports resume, Evans was proving himself to be just as good at going sideways as he is at going straight quickly.
Unable to decide once and for all who had the better livery, Matt Coffman and Juha Rintanen took to the track to settle their differences. Having won the European Drift All-Stars Series last year, Rintanen was clearly a force to be reckoned with but Coffman was on top of his game. Twice they went around the track, but the judges were unable to come to determine a victor and an OMT was called for.
The #1 qualifier Jeremy Lowe in his black RX-7 was set to face off against the Scion FR-S of Jeff Wolfson in the first of the Top 8 runs for Pro 2. Throughout the weekend Wolfson had either been on or off; during practice he would either put down a quality run or violently spin and usually tear off a bumper. Unfortunately Wolfson appeared to be in the “off” position for his first run against Lowe, as he lost drift on the bank and drove off of the course. Uncharacteristically Lowe also lost drift, and the judges called for a One More Time.
Two LS-S14’s were the next set of cars to do battle, with Jeff Stoneback and Jeff Jones raring to demonstrate just exactly why the LS-swap was so popular. After two runs the judges felt that they could not properlydecide which Jeff was superior, and again called for an OMT. Personally I have no problem with all of the OMT’s that were issued, more drifting is always better!
Coffman and Rintanen, shod in new tires and ready to decide upon a victor, were the next pair of drivers to roar out of the bank and into the infield. Yet while Coffman drifted into the infield Juha had lost all angle as he was preparing to come down off the bank, and coasted off course with all four tires pointing in the same direction. Despite a stellar effort from Rintanten on his follow run that involved him driving within inches of Matt’s door, the Achilles S14 could not best the War Machine and its stalwart pilot.
The fortunes of Wolfson did not improve during his OMT runs against Lowe, and the RX-7 sent the black and white FR-S back to the pits. The screaming rotary of Lowe was akin to the song of harpies, luring drivers to their doom. After qualifying first Lowe looked destined for the podium; the only real question was on which step.
To finish out the OMT’s Stoneback and Jones took to the long bank of Evergreen once again, each determined to prove that they were the better Jeff. The victory went to the ravaged CX Racing S14 of Jeff Jones, sending him on to the Final 4.
Dan Savage was storming through the Pro 2 field in his Sikky RX-8, and Hateley was now the only driver that stood between him and the Final 4. The competition had reached a point where completing two solid runs would no longer secure victory; proximity, line and angle were now more important than ever. Savage had quickly adapted to Evergreen on Thursday and was now running the course with metered precision, and it was all Hateley could do to keep up. The efforts of the orange E30 proved to not be enough, and the lizard-like RX-8 moved on.
For Matt Coffman the Top 4 was tantalizingly close, and to achieve his best result so far this season he only needed to dispatch the other half of the Sikky duo: James Evans and his Nissan 350Z. The grizzled veteran of many different racing series was not a man to be trifled with, and for the first run Evans lead Coffman around the track. Both Coffman and Evans filled clipping zones with ease and matched each other perfectly; the deciding factor would likely be Matt’s lead run. It was during this run that the Top 4 slipped through Matt’s fingers as he flew off the course where the bank ended, gifting the win to Evans.
Their meeting on the tarmac was demanded by destiny; the two Sikky drivers were the next pair of drivers to engage in righteous conflict. While the victor would go on to challenge for first place, the loser would take fourth. With nearly two decades of racing experience between Dan Savage and Jeremy Evans, the outcome was far from certain. A mighty roar echoed off the foliage ensconcing the track as throttles were pressed to the floor; tires howled in agony as the reptilian duo tore down the massive bank and into the infield.
With nearly seven years of drifting experience burned into his nomex it was Dan Savage who walked away the victor; his compatriot in the Z33 was unable to match his proximity to the clipping points in the infield and was thusly subdued.
Arriving at the final battle, Jeff Jones had spent nearly twice as much on track as Dan Savage due to a series of One-More-Times. Whereas Dan Savage had deftly guided his Mazda through the field, Jones seemed to use his V8-powered Silvia to bash his way to the top. How they arrived at the final battle did not matter as the two drivers left the start line; their performance right at this very moment would determine whether or not their efforts were worth the tolls exacted.
Try as he might, Jones could not match Savage. Where the white S14 wobbled and balked, the green and grey RX-8 powered through. Should Jones come within a foot of a clip, Savage would place his rear within six inches of the plastic cone. Both drivers were terrifyingly good, but as with all good and just competition only one man could be the victor.I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone so beside themselves with joy; Dan Savage leapt into the air with his fist towards the sky at announcement of his victory and nearly fell to his knees after coming back down to Earth. Savage was practically dancing on his toes for the entire time he was out of his car, and only stopped to deliver a deep bow to the audience. What was especially satisfying about all of the Top 4 battles is that they were all true contests of driver skill; those in attendance really got to see a proper show. To my knowledge no-one suffered any mechanical failures mid-run, and a crash did not gift any wins. To participate in just competition is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and Dan Savage walked away with the prize that makes that feeling all the better: victory.
Congratulations Mr. Savage, you earned it.
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