Retro Rides

Drifting wrings out the kinks on a Sunday afternoon

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comNovember 7, 2013 

Many people who like old cars and trucks also enjoy racing, myself included. I’m a fan of most forms of auto racing but stumbled upon a new one – drifting – by dumb luck the other day.

Watching freight trains at the Stockton railroad yards while my co-pilot shopped at Dillard’s, I was making a U-turn at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds late on Sunday afternoon when I spotted several dozen cars engaged in drifting.

For about an hour I watched these cars speed through a twisty course in a fairgrounds parking lot. Drifting appears to be a modern, slightly less-civilized form of autocross events that have been held for years. It’s definitely fun to watch.

Cars race to a corner when they go into a high-speed skid or drift, tires smoking and squealing, and then go sideways through a series of tight turns marked by cones. A few of the drivers practicing their laps seemed proficient but a number of others did a series of tight spins as the course apparently mastered them rather than the other way around.

Racing’s not the safest of pursuits but all drivers and their passengers seemed to be wearing helmets and the cars had roll bars in the interiors. Concrete construction barriers separated the action from the spectators and course marshals were wearing bright-colored safety vests.

Most of the drifters were using late-model Japanese compact cars with four-cylinder engines that developed considerable acceleration despite their limited displacement. There were two early-1970s Datsuns, one a 510 two-door sedan and the other a four-door station wagon, which were surprisingly pretty stout performers.

A couple of late-model Mustang coupes went through their paces, one sporting what sounded like a full-race V-8 engine and no mufflers. Heavier than many of the vehicles, the Mustangs weren’t all that great in negotiating the cones but it’s always fun to hear a big V-8 wound out anyway.

The best of the bunch appeared to be a primer gray mini-pickup with no top. It had bright green wheels and also sported a souped-up V-8 engine. This driver knew his stuff, swiftly navigating the cones with his left hand out the window, much like a saddle bronc rider does at the rodeo.

Drivers kept making the circuit and then lining up again, when they were flagged off in pairs or threesomes. A few cars spun right in front of their competitors but no collisions were noticed and nobody got upside down while they were out of control.

I’ve never seen any of the drifting movies that were popular a few years ago. But the Stockton experience whetted my appetite for more when it comes to drifting. It’s got noise, speed and a little bit of drama.

The drifting drills appeared to be a good opportunity for amateurs to test their driving skills while wringing out some extra performance from their rides, all in controlled circumstances rather than illicit street racing.

After a couple of hours’ practice, the tires had to be worn out to say nothing of the suspensions, motors and the drivers. The experience jarred me from the lethargy of a lazy Sunday afternoon, getting a chance to witness the squeals, billowing smoke and the familiar sounds of racing.

Sun-Star staff writer Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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