"Oh shit, you broke a tie-rod." The man sitting next to me is Formula Drift professional Ryan Tuerck, and he's staring at the right front wheel of my 1973 Volkswagen Baja Bug. We just flew sideways off the road, through a field, and over some huge rock. "Oh, no wait, you're good. You can keep going."
Before I go into too much detail into how exactly I ended up with one of the country's best professional hoons giving me drifting lessons on a farm in New Hampshire, let me give you the brief primer on how to hoon whatever piece of shit car you happen to own.
- Find some place where you're not gonna crash into anyone or get arrested.
- Make nice with the landowners so you're not trespassing.
- Make sure it's dirt. Dirt is better.
- Set up some sharp turns.
- Left foot brake into these turns.
- Mash the gas out of these turns.
- Apologize for everything you've crashed into/run over/destroyed
- Stop before you kill yourself.
So that's the full guide on how to hoon the living bejeesus out of your shitty car. It will work if you have a front drive econobox from the 1990s. It will work if you have a rusty old SUV. It will work if you happen to own a rusty old Volkswagen with no tires at the front and no engine at the back.
Let me break down how I learned this process, point by point.
Actually, before I break it all down, let me say that you don't have to watch too much hoonage to know that beating on a car usually ends with the driver crashing, upside down, into a tree, on fire, with a few broken bones, with whiplash, or dead. So yeah, don't be surprised if you try and emulate any of this and find your car wrecked. I almost did.
Find some place where you're not gonna crash into anyone or get arrested
This is arguably the most important part of successfully hooning the shit out of your crapcan. Doing burnouts on your street can get you shot at, donuts in parking lots can get you arrested, and drifting on public roads can make you hella dead. So where did I look for a private hoonage location?
I found out that a plus of working for Jalopnik means I can e-mail a guy like Ryan Tuerck and he will give me driving lessons. The problem is that I just have to drive 250 miles to New Hampshire in my 40 year old car to do it.
My '73 Baja Bug is not what you'd call a performance machine. It has about 60 horsepower. The tires are supposed to be on a pickup truck. I've rolled it once. The shifter has about four or five inches of play in it, and that's when you're in gear. It dives slightly to the left on very heavy braking and that's when the brakes work at all. The suspension is softer than Drake.
Ryan Tuerck didn't know anything about my car when I e-mailed him a few months ago asking if he could "teach me how to hoon my Baja." He said sure, come on up.
With that, I thought the hard part was over. The thing is, Ryan Tuerck lives in the wilds of New Hampshire and I had 500 miles of driving ahead of me, with a lesson in hooning, drifting, car jumping and whatever else stuck right in the middle. I had never gone more than 120 miles in a day in my Baja, which happened to turn 40 years old that very month.
How I managed to marathon drive up to New Hampshire without my engine exploding is beyond me.
I finally met Ryan the next morning at his house in the country. Ryan Tuerck is a nice guy, the kind of guy you don't meet in Manhattan. He's a tatted-up, ex-motocross, punk rock stunt driver, but he's welcoming and polite. At least I assume he's polite, because when he got into the driver's seat of my Bug he didn't immediately point out that it is a cramped, slow, loud, rusty piece of shit that smells strongly of gasoline.
So I had finally made it to Ryan Tuerck, and I had made it to rural New Hampshire. Now what?
Make nice with the landowners so you're not trespassing
I didn't really know what was driving instructions from a Formula Drift driver entails, but once he got used to the car, Tuerck did what any New Hampshire resident would do and called up his friend who runs a farm. The girl on the other end of the phone gave the ok.
Apparently having friends who run family farms is a thing in New Hampshire.
Make sure it's dirt. Dirt is better.
This particular farm is noteworthy in that the driveway is a half decent replica of a rally stage. Most importantly, the whole thing is dirt surrounded by open grazing fields. Well, when I say that it's dirt, that's not exactly right. It's more like a bunch of car-killer rocks held together with a light coating of dust.
I get to know this when a rock shoots straight through one of my fenders later in the day.
Set up some sharp turns
The driveway starts up from the road with a pair of steep left and right turns, then it opens into a straightaway with a few jumps on it before ending at the farm house on top of a hill. It's where Tuerck filmed this episode of his YouTube show.
It was more than perfect for learning how to hoon the living shit out of my Baja.
Left foot brake into these turns
Tuerck takes the wheel first and discovers that the car had a problem: there is absolutely no grip. When I bought my Baja, it came with a set of 'nearly new' truck tires on the front and when you turn into a corner, they don't really do anything.
This is where rally school training comes in handy - Tuerck is bouncing downhill from the house and we're looking at the first left had turn. He brakes with his left foot, covering the gas with his right. As he's braking, he's turning in, and all of the weight of the car is being pressed to the front. The rear goes light and it slides out.
Mash the gas
All this left-foot braking means his right foot is right where it needs to be and he can gas it out of the turn.
He's steering with his eyes - as the car starts to slide, we're going left but the rear is sliding faster than the front. He's still looking up at the exit of the turn and steering towards it.
The wheel is aiming to the right, and as the back of the car evens out to the same angle as the front, he's dialing the steering back to the left to match.
It's hard to emphasize how fucking easy it looks. We pull up back to the house and swap seats. I'm feeling confident. I mean, how hard can it be?
Apologize for everything you've crashed into/run over/destroyed
I bounce down the road just like Tuerck. I brake with my left foot just like Tuerck. I'm ready to countersteer and gas it out of the turn just like him, too.
We're sliding with way too much speed. We're completely off the dirt and are bouncing through the tall grass as high as the fenders. I'm countersteering as much as I can. We shoot across the road and now we're sliding through the grass on the other side.
Don't flip. Don't flip. Don't flip.
Tuerck laughs. He used to ride motocross, he'd told me earlier. When you crash on a bike, you're exposed directly to the ground. When he's in a car, he's surrounded a safety cage of steel. When he thinks about the comparison, being in a sliding car doesn't really scare him. I'm thinking he's missing the part of his brain that recognizes what fear is.
I would like to say that this all only happens once. I would like to say that after my first off, I got the hang of sliding my Baja Bug, and every slide was graceful, broad, and excellent.
This was not the case. Skidding off the road is pretty much all I do for the next few runs up and down the driveway. Over the course of the day there are two very distinct moments where I am convinced I am about to flip the car. I do not like the idea of killing Ryan Tuerck.
Tuerck is telling me not to just go into the turn and expect to figure everything out in the middle of the corner. I start to plan. I'm thinking a step ahead of the car. Eventually the braking, gas, and steering get intuitive. I'm expecting the slide as I'm left-foot braking, I'm countersteering and hearing rocks ping off the bottom of the car, and I'm feeling the g-forces as I'm gassing out. I only get the 'whoa, I'm drifting, this is awesome' feeling when I'm out of the corner.
Stop before you kill yourself
On any good day of hoonage, you will say to yourself, 'those last turns were great, but I think I could go back for one more run.'
Do not listen to this voice. Never go back for one more run.
The 'one more run' is the one that always ends in you smashing into a tree, or a boulder, or a house, or another car, or your idiot friend who decided to get that one step closer to the road for the ultimate shot. My Baja is getting hot, there are smoothies waiting for us in the kitchen, the two farm dogs outside. It's time to call it a day.
The five or six hour drive home isn't nearly as bad as the ride up to New Hampshire. This time I believe in the car. I know it can go the distance.
And what about you? What about you idiots out there who bought Craigslist classics itching to go sideways and catch air on the weekend? Just remember to stay off of public roads, ideally on some big dirt patch where people won't get pissed, and practice your left-foot braking.
I would recommend moving to New Hampshire and buying a Baja, while you're at it, but hey, that's just me.
Photo Credits: Raphael Orlove