Entering the turn, aboard a NISMO 370Z, I stabbed the clutch, hit the gas, and turned a hard left. The backend pivoted heroically, the rear tires bellowed smoke, and I felt like the most badass motherfucker in history.
That was, until I transitioned into the ensuing bend. As I bounced through the undergrowth — muttering, “What the fuck am I doing?” — I quickly realized I was, in fact, not a badass drifter at all. I was just bad.
I was supposedly an IndyCar driver; an automotive gourmet showcasing my meticulous skillset. Instead, I was a hack. A chump, foraging through the wilderness, with onlookers whispering: “Dude, I thought you said this guy could drive?”
I quickly realized, the ability to hustle an IndyCar means nothing when drifting. Let’s face it: The only drifting an IndyCar driver does is moments before visiting the emergency room. So, if I wanted to redeem myself, I needed some help.
From that day forth, I enlisted advice from every badass motherfucking drifter I encountered; and whenever the chance arose, I practiced. I’m now competent, less of a hack, and can somewhat hold my own. While I won’t pretend I’m an expert, in an attempt to turn from chump to champ, I did pick up some valuable tricks.
This is what I’ve learned.
The basics are simple: start with a stick shift and a rear-wheel drive car in a safe space with nothing and no one to hit. While having a RWD/manual car isn't imperative, this is the purest (and most fun) form of drifting. Despite the pros entering a 90-degree bend at 100-mph, we amateurs should be aiming for around 40 mph.
Dropping to second gear — with your right foot on the gas and left foot on the clutch — simultaneously apply full throttle, turn the wheel into the corner, and kick the clutch. Stabbing the clutch shocks the drivetrain, the power spins the rear wheels, and the steering initiates the slide.
Hey, look at you! You’re drifting.
At this point, the key is maintaining throttle; you needn’t be flat-out, but you do need to keep the tires spinning. The temptation for a newbie is to release the throttle and prevent the slide with steering. The latter, it must be said, is human nature. We are hardwired to avoid crashing, and when a car begins to spin, our brain will pull the plug. Don’t let it. Allow the car to rotate through a 45-degree angle before applying opposite-lock, all the while keeping the throttle constant. You must sustain power until the corner is complete and the car straightens up; if you don’t, the weight transfers instantaneously to the front, increasing the slide, before the rear grips and spits you into the shrubbery. You too will become a lawnmower.
A tip I treasured was to avoid fighting the wheel; when the back slides, simply release your hands, letting the car rotate. Then, when the car is at the correct angle, grab the wheel until corner exit, where we, again, release our grip to straighten the car. This technique makes life a shit-load easier.
With a bit of practice, drifting a bend is not that hard. What is hard – and where I turned into a John Deere D160 – is transitioning the slide into the following bend.
In an S-curve, a short, sharp release of the gas pedal will cause the rear to pendulum. But – and this is what I neglected – returning hard to throttle immediately, and maintaining throttle, is paramount - keeping the drift smooth and continuous. At first, it feels counterintuitive, but once you master it, everything’s coming up Milhouse.
Of course, if you’re hooning a high-powered car – like a Viper – then you won’t always need to kick the clutch; a heavy right-foot will suffice.
If your car has an automatic gearbox, then a lead foot is all you’ve got – unless you have a working handbrake, or can muster a Scandinavian flick.
If a front-wheel drive car is all you own, fear not; you too can drift (sort of). You’ll just use the handbrake to slide, and the throttle to recover from a drift that has exceeded the limit.
In my experience, once you’re accustomed to incessant throttle — and controlling speed via scrub, by manipulating the slide angle — everything falls into place. The best tip I received: “Stay on the power, fully commit, and don’t chicken out.”
While I may never be a true badass motherfucker; with a little practice, a closed racetrack (or an abandoned Wal-Mart parking lot) you too may dream you’re the next DC Shoe salesman. And that’s a good thing, because at this time of year, grass doesn’t typically need mowing anyway.