Ashleigh Monaghan takes a first-hand look at the American way of grass-roots drifting

If you’re lucky enough to live in close vicinity to a nearby race track, there’s no doubt you’ll have attended a local grass-roots drifting event at one time or another and experienced first-hand the thrills, spills and fun that the New Zealand scene so frequently has to offer. With countless local days under my belt, I figured it was about time to experience how similar days on the opposite side of the world stacked up. 

Jumping on a plane I headed to California for JustDrift’s annual All Star Bash, which mixes together around 2000 like-minded drift fanatics, an infamous desert raceway, incredible builds and several world-class drivers — for what is most likely the greatest drift event of my life.

It’s hosted over a weekend at Willow Springs International Raceway (an hour north of Los Angeles), and with over 150 cars entered I knew that ASB14 (as it was coined) was going to be on a whole new level from any drifting day back home. After accepting an offer of a comfortable bed and living quarters with FD Pro driver Pat Mordaunt and his team, I soon found out how lucky I really was. After unloading our rig, it wasn’t long before I noticed just how many people were setting up beds inside tents, among tyres in their trailers, even in the boot of their drift car. 

As the cars began to line up trackside I found myself putting faces to the names of people who had introduced themselves to me, via the internet, prior to my arrival in California. Much like our iconic and tight-knit drifting culture in New Zealand, the sense of community that held All Star Bash together was phenomenal, and I often found myself in awe at the amount of ‘new best mates’ I had surrounded myself with.

I’m not going to lie, one of the main reasons I chose to attend All Star Bash was to be enlightened by its drivers, vehicle modifications and engine choices. Aside from the iconic handful of cars I followed online, and the confusing S-chassis differences between American and New Zealand models, I was surprised to find several similarities to our grassroots culture back here. For sure, V8 engine swaps were plentiful, but I certainly found a lot of love for the more Kiwi style with the trusty Nissan SR–powered motor, basic suspension set-ups, cheap wheels and second-hand tyres. After all, we are one and the same really, scraping by financially in order to fund the next great drift event.

To ensure diversity and accommodate the amount of drivers involved, two tracks were opened for full-length abuse — thus making it hard to decipher what to watch and where to go, as a whopping 60 cars were burning rubber at any given time. Whether tearing up the 2.9km ‘Streets’ course, or venturing further up the hill to witness drivers careen through the incredibly steep Horse Thief Mile, it wasn’t long before we saw the carnage start to stack up. With the 2014 Formula Drift season recently over, pro drivers took their final opportunity to jump on track in their pro-spec vehicles and mix it up with the amateurs. The nature of the dusty tracks, as well as a combination of the drivers and their obvious carefree attitude, definitely kept the excitement alive, while spectators cheered at the sounds of V8 limiters and scraping kits.

As the late afternoons set in, so too did the crowds — right on time for the team drift battles, which were unlike anything I had seen at home. Judged by a ute-load of FD drivers, I watched as teams of up to six drivers drifted in extremely close proximity to earn the right to be named the best in the event, receive an abundance of prizes and win an obtrusively large trophy. I could tell right off the bat that this wasn’t taken too seriously, and lo and behold, teams were crashing, cheering, and even throwing double-cab pickup trucks into the middle of their battles.

Being an end-of-season event, All Star Bash focused primarily on taking care of drivers, crew and media who had taken a battering from the season just gone. It’s a weekend to let loose, if you will, one at which they could burn the rest of their tyre supplies and not have to concentrate on anything other than having a fantastic time. Naturally, after the cars were put away and the trailers locked up, the fun factor was turned up an extra notch — but it was never taken out of control. Respect for the organizers, the facility and team gear was given the utmost priority, making it even more acceptable to get up and explore the pit bays and campout areas of our peers.

Aside from the wicked sunburn and sandy shoes, I couldn’t fault All Star Bash. As usual, Charlie Ongsingco and the JustDrift organization have done a magnificent job to create a flawlessly fun and safe event for what is clearly a very strong grassroots drifting culture. The friendships made and memories I’ve taken from the experience have proven priceless, not to mention my new addiction to the USA drifting culture, crew and more. I would not hesitate to bite the bullet and fly back next year for another round of gratification, however, I count myself lucky to be living in a country with countless race tracks and event days scheduled. 

Till next time.