Competitive drifting has evolved and improved dramatically over the past 15 years. It has been an incredible journey against plenty of opposition. Event presentation, entertainment value, driver ability, media coverage and competitive machinery have increased in quality year on year, but there are some fundamental issues which need to be addressed in order to guarantee the future success of the sport that means so much to so many. Our team have spent months dissecting all elements, rated their effectiveness, evaluated their necessity and are now ready to present a very innovative, unique and controversial championship format for Ireland and Great Britain. This however is not change for the sake of change, but one fuelled by frustration and ambition in equal measure.
Personally, I have grown very impatient with drifting. Despite it being the most visually dynamic motorsport, offering head-to-head competition and having an unrivalled variety of machinery, the sport hasn’t reached the heights once expected. This impatience stems from my apparently undying love of the sport and how desperately I want more people to attend, view and appreciate the incredible people that make it so special. I genuinely believe they deserve and need a bigger audience. Their talent, bravery and commitment has created fans worldwide, but gaining national recognition has proven difficult. We essentially find ourselves in the ultimate chicken and egg scenario. Larger attendances would provide increased options for series re-investment, necessary to constantly improve and evolve each event. Larger attendances are attained by putting increased funds towards promotion or venues. The championship and drivers need fan and sponsor support to help with the increased costs. Sponsors want to see higher attendance and viewership in order to increase the investment gamble. So essentially high-end competitive drifting is at a constant stalemate and relying on a false economy.
The time invested and monetary gambles are only balanced by hope, passion and the pride within every member of the community. Grassroots drifting is affordable and less time consuming, both to organise and take part in. Practice days and amateur events use driver entries to cover costs and most return a calculated profit. In comparison, driver entries cover an estimated 10% of the cost of a national-level event, with the other 90% difficult to guarantee. Most professional championships face bankruptcy more often than they would like to admit and operational costs continue to rise every year. Likewise, competitors must increasingly invest each year to compete at the top level with little or no financial return. I believe the majority of professional drift championships and their drivers are in this position and the future worries me if this continues to be the case. Professional drifting is at a critical crossroad and the 2017 season needs a fundamental change of direction.
It is extremely difficult to take a step back, look at the whole picture and figure out why this false economy exists. For me the issue is both external and internal. External referring to the general perception of what drifting is and internal referring to our extended drift community.
Firstly, 95% of the general population have no idea what drifting is or have a complete misconception. This is actually a good thing in many ways. That means that only 5% are making the decision to attend or not and the sport has not been rejected by the masses. Therefore our simple and significant task should be to give a much higher percentage of people the option. The fact that we are seeing attendances of over 10,000 at certain events, from 5% of the drift-educated population, is a good indication that the potential for mainstream success is there. For 2017, we have redesigned our marketing strategy to include numerous crossovers with other motor-sports, sports, celebrities and events. We are planning on attending over 20 non-drift related events to promote the championships and perform demonstrations. Our in-house media team have partnered with numerous magazines and online blogs, both nationally and internationally, providing in-depth reports and reviews on all events. We aim to produce over 180 videos and 4 documentaries during the season and have constant behind-the-scenes content streaming online. Our improved free live-stream service can be viewed on any device and will rival conventional TV broadcasts in terms of quality and production. This initiative, combined with confirmed national TV and newspaper deals, means drifting will certainly be reaching further than ever before. It is an incredibly time-consuming and ambitious attempt to attract new fans, but it will undoubtedly increase appreciation for the incredible personalities and stories within.
Our existing fans and newly converted must then be offered the most spectator-friendly drift events possible. This means breaking from the tried and tested formulas, predictable outcomes and extended downtime and pioneering a world-first event format focused on constant action and entertainment value. This is undeniably a huge gamble for two of the most established championships in the world, but will subsequently allow them to become the masters of their own destiny. We will be releasing multiple videos in the coming weeks highlighting these dramatic changes and explaining the extent of this re-design. With both championships primed and ready to attract new audiences, is the current drift community ready to receive them and able to provide them with a new home?
Internally, those that have been involved in the sport for a number of years can take it relatively for granted. Drifting is a lot more than skidding cars, hitting walls and wasting money. We have become numb to how important it is and how much it has changed our lives. We forget how many friends we have made and how much it has changed our social dynamic. Drifting has given many socially-awkward or bullied people the confidence to perform in front of thousands, drifting has helped some get through hard times and introduced more to like-minded people from every walk of life, background and part of the world. In extreme cases (like me) it gave purpose to life. Take a moment to realise how different your life would be without it, how many people you would never have met, how many experiences you would have missed. Think of how many great companies it has created and how many people rely on it to put food on their plate. Consider how many people live for the weekend and what surrounds it. That is why we all have a responsibility to protect and promote it positively, so that more people can experience how fun it is. I understand that our generation gets dopamine kicks from over-compensatory bashing on social media and those that currently invest very little in the sport are ironically the most critical, but I worry the fear of criticism will outweigh encouragement at some point. Drifting is subjective by its very nature. It represents unregulated freedom to build whatever car you want, with whatever setup you want, in whatever style you want. Elitism in a sport that only 5% of the population has any awareness of is a luxury we can’t afford. Simply put, if the drift community promotes a positive perception of drifting, more people want to be a part of it, the audience continues to grow and drivers benefit from increased sponsorship and better venues. The sport is held together by the people within it as they are its only ambassadors. It is not a punching bag for personal problems or a provider of unjustified internet fame. It is simply a place to have fun.
And I think that’s where anybody who decided to dedicate their money and time to this niche immature hobby began their journey. Competitive drifting has evolved spectacularly in recent years and with expensive machinery, polished production and increased popularity, many have forgotten that this is still a fragile, commitment-driven and self-sacrificial sport. The dedication shown from all involved is a matter of pride, not financial reward. It’s a simple mission to promote what we love to the masses and most importantly, achieve it together as a team. That is the fun part. Win or lose, being part of a successful event is enough reward for each driver and no motorsport can rival that unique ethos.
But like any sport, drifting needs fans to physically contribute to its success. As mentioned before, attendance and sponsorship are critical to the success and future of any championship. Professional live-streaming is so expensive, few would believe the cost. It was introduced with the intention of promoting championship events to new audiences across the world and to facilitate those who physically couldn’t make it to an event. It was never designed for convenience. At some events over 40,000 people nationally, some as close as 10km away, tune in to watch 12 hours of drift action a weekend. This raises an interesting point. If everybody stayed at home and watched the live-stream, the championship would cease to exist after one day. If everybody who was watching at home actually attended the event, all drivers would be on professional paid contracts on top of full sponsorship deals, every event would be in a concert-style stadium/custom-circuit and drifting would be the biggest motor-sport in the country, again after one day. Can you see where my frustration and impatience stems from? That is one hell of a see-saw.
We enter 2017 with more financial backing than every before, from incredibly supportive new partners, who believe in our dream and ambition. However, every penny invested will be returned to the fans in terms of presentation and production. The future is in their hands. Drifting doesn’t have the corporate or governmental backing like most national sports. If you are sitting at home for a season out of convenience, watching a live-stream that the championship is paying for, the championship is essentially picking up your cheque. A true drift fan should experience the sport live and meet the people that make it amazing. That is where those friendships and experiences I spoke about earlier are created, not on your couch.
We approach the 2017 season with a greater opportunity to achieve our combined goals than ever before. We have the most talented roster of drivers, dedicated staff, committed sponsors and creative media teams the sport has ever assembled for one year. We have more sponsored drivers on the grid than ever before and our current series partners are eager to join us on our new journey. With this in mind, I am willing to throw every resource available, every hour in the day and every penny in the bank at this season. I wholeheartedly believe those who are sacrificing so much to help make this sport the best it can be deserve greater recognition and to have their hope rewarded. I am confident this will be the greatest season of competitive drifting either country has witnessed, but if fans truly realise the power they hold over each championship and consciously support in unison, even just for one year, the future and opportunities are limitless.
Support your local grassroots scene, support your national series, support the sponsors who gamble on your sport and most importantly support the drivers. A little support can make a lot of people’s dreams come true, and they need it this year more than ever before.
If each person in the extended drift community currently holds one piece of the puzzle, let’s all put them together for one season and finally figure out what the final picture is.