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SoCal SoCool

This last weekend, I was blown away (literally, as well as metaphorically) by two events that were held in Southern California. Two events that, on the face of it, appeared as different as two automotive-related events can be. Yet both are tied by the common bond of car-culture, and, as I am a car-nut, and I am visiting SoCal, both were also firsts on my dance card.

The first of the two events on my weekend schedule was an event of youth. The finals of the Formula Drift professional drift championship were held at the Toyota Speedway in Irwindale on Saturday. Packed grandstands, full of the young and the young at heart, baying and cheering on the gladiators competing in the area beneath.

And what a way to drive your chariots. fast and sideways, trailing plumes of acrid smoke, all under floodlights. The sport seems, to me, hugely technical, requiring a fine balance of speed, car control, and bravery. Ben Hur was never this exciting and the smell of burning rubber will be, for me, forever associated with Irwindale…

With roots in Japanese Car culture, and now adapted for American Car culture, drifting is automotive entertainment for today’s generation. It is a sport of the youth (and youthful) and it’s appeal is closely linked to gaming. There is very evident manufacturer involvement as well as involvement from associated and sympathetic industries. Plenty of effort goes into presenting the show.

As fans drift away from circuit racing (no pun intended), I was left wondering whether or not I had just witnessed the future of automotive entertainment?

The second event I attended was the 2008 California Hot Rod Reunion that was run over the same weekend as the Formula Drift event.

Organised by the National Hot Rod Association Museum, it was a weekend of an older style of car-culture, including the Hot Rod reunion itself and the NHRA’s nostalgia drag racing series. The event was held out at Famoso Raceway near Bakersfield. Nostalgia Funny Cars and Top Fuelers were the top billed classes, but, frankly, just about everything that was out there, both running and in the various static displays and parking areas, was a star.

Harking back to an older generation of car-cool, as this event does, the demographics of the crowd were, perhaps predictably, somewhat different to those of the night before. But oldies are goldies and boy-o-boy what an event, and what an experience those dragsters are to witness and to shoot.

Some will no doubt point out that the current top fuelers are quicker, but cars with 2500 to 3000 hp, running quarter miles in 5.8 odd seconds with terminal speeds in the 250’s (mph, not kph) are plenty quick enough for me.

Old-style they may be.. Slow-style, they ain’t.

Stood mere feet from the passing cars, the ground (and my insides) shook with the sound pressure and forces being dissipated. These cars are spectacular an stunning to watch, tyres buckle and bend under the rotational forces, streaking the raceway into a sticky pad of black rubber, whilst the V8’s nonchalantly spit fumes and unburned fuel like oil was still 10 cents a barrel.

I was totally mesmerised, and the packed grandstands, and packed photo areas, are testimony to the fact that I am not the only one who feels this way.

Before this weekend, I had never been to either a drift event or a drag meet. It seems to me that both types of competition require nerves of steel and an uncanny feel for car control from the drivers. Great preparation is also a must have.

Both events were huge fun to document. If entertainment at events like Formula Drift represents the new generation of auto competition, then the number of people at the CHRR, and the evident entertainment on offer there, means that there will always be a place for this type of entertainment, also.

Long may they live together.

As for circuit racing? Well, having witnessed a fair few major events this year that would have loved to have had crowds like those at either Irwindale or Famoso, then I am left to wonder if racing around tracks has much of a future as a spectator sport?

Southern California is a place of the car, and of automotive culture. This could just be paradise…

Enjoy this taste…

David Lister
Los Angeles
October 2008

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