Whether you love it or you hate it, you can’t deny that drifting has had a huge impact on global car culture. It’s been eight years since my first Formula Drift event at Long Beach, but it feels like it was just yesterday. Just like thousands of other fans that day, I was utterly hooked the very first time I saw tire smoke billowing out from the wheel wells of a drift car. Its popularity has certainly changed my life for the better.
Next week, Formula Drift Long Beach will mark the start of its tenth season as a professional championship series. I wanted to have a chat with Formula Drift co-founders Jim Liaw and Ryan Sage about the series and about some of the trials and tribulations they have had over the years, starting with their very first event.
Larry - What it was like in the beginning? What sort of obstacles did you guys encounter that day back in 2004 at the inaugural Formula Drift event at Road Atlanta.
Jim - From what I remember it wasn’t too bad. Ryan and I have already produced a huge event with D1GP and we also had SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) sanctioning the first Formula Drift in Atlanta. They helped us quite a bit to establish a technical foundation.
I do remember distinctly that we were tested from day one. One of the top drivers that committed to the series, who was also sponsored by one of the main sponsors, did not make the Top 16 cut.
Ryan and I were literally sat down by the sponsor and told something to the effect of, “Hey, we understand that you guys want to keep your integrity, but for the sake of the show you have to figure out a way to let this driver in. You guys are at season one, event one, and you really need to put on a good show and make sure your sponsors are getting the most of this.” They told us to go and take some time to think about it before Top 16 intros.
Ryan and I were like,“What the hell is going on here?!” We struggled a bit with this dilemma but at the end we stuck to our guns and we told them, “Rules are rules and results are final, sorry.”
Larry - I guess it wasn’t only a defining moment for you guys because it was your first event, it was a defining moment because they really tested your commitment to the series that you started.
Jim - I think that set the tone, because I know we went into it saying, we are going to be different from the other guys. We are not going to become a secretive dictatorship. We were not going to say, okay look this is what it’s going to be like in Top 16, this is how its going to look, and not really care about anything or anyone else..