The whole point of motorsports photography is to be fast: quick to be at the action, quick to file your photo. Here’s the complete opposite.
Formula Drift likes to operate (and to present itself) as professionally as possible. Drifting is still on a meteoric rise in the States and abroad, and FD is busily working to ride that wave of grassroots momentum as far as it will go. Cars as powerful as possible. Sponsors as big as possible. Big, big big.
Which is why I love when the series goes to Wall Township Speedway every year for its round in the Northeast.
I packed my old Pentax Spotmatic full of Velvia slide film and went out for the 2017 round, eager to catch the vibe rather than any exact moments of action.
Wall is a tiny little track in the middle of New Jersey, a quarter-mile paved oval, which normally runs local circle track races. I mean four-cylinder classes and V8s, but nothing close to top-tier sprint cars. The stands look like they were pinched from a high school football stadium right before they renovated, and they look down on the track like a bowl.
The most notable part of the track itself is its ultra-steep banking, about as steep as Dover. Many Formula D drivers hate the place because it feels so unnatural, so very different to the conditions where somebody typically learns to drift. This is not wet parking lot. Also, it is remarkably easy to wreck a car here.
Which is exactly what I saw the moment I walked in the gate.
Chelsea DeNofa, in his then-new Ford Mustang RTR, over-rotating on a transition, checking up, and getting toasted by Jhonnattan Castro in his Dominican-flag GT86.
I darted over to watch the RTR team take in DeNofa’s wrecked car at the team’s pits, only to find team boss Vaughn Gittin Jr.’s car also rolling in, also trashed. The mechanics were a blur.
Every photographer had an eye on the chaos. I ended up next to official FD photog Larry Chen and official RTR photog (and drift idiot) Sam Nalven through the whole mess.
Things calmed down after that, with the pits opening up to fans, lining up for signatures from drivers, staring longingly at the cars that they all dreamed they could build or drive themselves, if they only had the time, the opportunity.
Another joy of watching FD run at a circle track is the mix of old hot rod-style facilities and tattoos-and-gauges occupants. Everyone made room for this little track cart utterly covered in speed part stickers, and a few drift stickers overlapping.
Once competition started back up, smoke quickly engulfed the bowl, blanketing the crowd.
The judges watch just behind the stands. Here Ryan Lantagne talks with one of the spotters on the next tower over. Or he was asking for a sandwich. I can’t remember which.
Odi Bakchis’ team was watching from the stands. He went on to win the event, a total underdog. If I recall, he blew his engine on the last corner of the last lap.
A fun thing about film is you can take double exposures, a trick I stole from Andy Sapp, who coined the term Keep Drifting Fun. Here are two runs, a lead and a chase, (sort of) laid over each other in one frame. You can see how the two runs are nearly identical, both cars just about as close as the other, though one has more angle in the follow.
The FD championship ended up going to James Deane from Ireland. Deane in his Nissan S15 Silvia pretty much dominated all year, though Kristaps Blušs from Latvia in the BMW took him out here.
Another foreign driver, the pretty-much-a-SoCal-surfer-dude-at-this-point Fredric Aasbo from Norway in his rear-drive Toyota Corolla iM with a thousand-horsepower minivan engine.
Essa in the BMW, resurgent after a few years’ slump following a championship win, lost to Odi in the fnal.
Again, smoke blanketed the place.
People started to file out against the final cracks of Odi’s LS V8.
Many stuck around to see the final announcement, then the crowd lazily formed around the winner’s stand to see the champagne spray.
Odi’s team is pretty small-scale compared to some of the bigger names in the series, so it was nice to see him at the top spot. He has a bit of a background in rally, as well, and makes his money selling some nice suspension, called Feal.
But I nipped off to the pits to see all the other teams pack up and shoot the shit. It’s interesting to see who is just happy to be around with their friends, who is crestfallen at their losses and who is some mix of the two.
Please forgive the blurriness. You need a steady hand to shoot a daytime-biased film at night, but sometimes something pops right up and you just have to snap away. Here a very excited fan gets a chest signature from Alec Hohnadell, who used to race jet skis until he saw too many decapitations.
DeNofa’s signature purple blended in well with the fading light.
Ryan Tuerck, whose last name is a byword for stuff breaking, very much lived up to his name, with a bit of a bodykit graveyard by his pit.
The 2018 season is starting up soon. I can’t wait to see it again.