As much as I love seeing art exhibits, sometimes I’m like, why am I not in a Nissan 370Z hurtling sideways through a controlled slide at 100mph? Last week I couldn’t have told you where the nearest racetrack was in Los Angeles. Today I’m here to tell you that race cars are extremely difficult to get out of and that Chris Forsberg is an amazing guy. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet and interview the self-taught, Formula Drift championship driver. He handled my lack of knowledge about the sport with a smile and took me out for a little drifting, pro-style.
Most drift videos follow a similar pattern: tandem cars sliding sideways across tracks set to hard charging music. The effect is surprisingly graceful. The cars’ balletic movements showcase the beauty of a sport judged on the driver’s execution and style, rather than speed. When I arrived at the Irwindale Speedway to watch Chris’s practice laps in the NOS Energy Drink Nissan 370Z, I expected to be amazed by his proficiency and skill, which I surely was. But I was not prepared for the volume of sound emitted from his V8 engine.
What looks quite graceful in videos is actually a violent event of rubber tearing across asphalt, gunshot-like pops ringing out and the noise of the engine’s lightning-quick acceleration to wild speeds. My adrenaline raced to match the overwhelming sound but my stomach did an altogether different thing. Was I really going to be out there on that track hugging the walls sideways?
While my stomach churned at that thought I sat down with Chris for a chat. We spoke about the upcoming race on Saturday, the immediacy of drifting and those reassuring game-day habits.
What brings you to LA?
We’re here in LA this weekend for the Formula Drift Irwindale final round event. I actually lived in Los Angeles for about eight years. I recently moved back to Maryland. I grew up in Pennsylvania so this is like a second home to me. I do enjoy the LA area and have been here for about a week preparing for this round.
What neighborhood are you staying in?
I’m actually staying at my stepfather’s house. They live down in Orange County. We stay down there with family and during the actual race we come up and grab a hotel right outside of the Irwindale track.
What’s your favorite part, the drifting or the speed?
The drifting, for sure. If it was the speed I’d be probably doing road racing. We don’t go as fast as most road races but the whole point is that the action happens all at once. It’s not just that there’s a three mile circuit and you see us for a quick second. It’s all stadium-style driving. It’s kind of like Trophy Trucks or RallyCross or Freestyle Motocross. It’s like putting all the action from start to finish right in front of your face for 30 seconds at a time. So it makes it really exciting. It really hits the new generation of ‘ADD I want to see it now and I don’t have the patience to wait for an entire day to see who wins.’ It’s a very entertaining sport, especially as we get into Saturday with the head-to-head battles. Every time someone hits the track that is potentially the last time they’re going to run. So every battle is someone fighting to move on and the other person is going to lose.
Do you have any race day traditions?
I’ve had several throughout the years. I’m almost trying to break free of those habits because I feel like I focus so much on them. On one hand it’s good because it helps you not stress out about the car and you’re worried about something very minuscule that’s not really going to have any effect on your weekend. But yeah, I’ll put my belts on a certain way. I have a Play Like A Champion sign hanging on my RV; I hit that on my way out the door every time. I just try to have fun with it and not stress out too much about the actual race. It’s the best way to try to keep a clear mind.
Now it was time to separate the bloggers from the posers (I promise you there’s a difference.) I got suited up, racing-style (surprisingly slimming), sent a few plaintive cries for help over text, posted the requisite humble brags on Instagram and then attempted to get into the car. Um…how’s that go again?
Embarrassingly, I asked if they could open the white cage door thing so I could get in. Turns out, the cage is an essential piece of safely gear that you don’t want to be able to open casually! That roll cage will save your life if things get tricky. I awkwardly folded myself into the passenger seat and then had to be belted up much like a baby in a car seat. Another tip for newbie racers, wait to put on your full face helmet until after you are seated. The chin guard makes it impossible to see anything and people will laugh at you as you attempt to operate simple click and release mechanisms.
When Chris started the engine, I knew from the powerful idling that I had never been in a car like this. We crept to the entrance of the track like a secretly powerful beast. I waved to the paramedic in the ambulance standing by. We met earlier when he asked me to sign a release of liability form in the event of my death. It’s fun to wave to that person.
Next thing I know, Chris floored it and we took off with a power I have never felt in my life. Instinctively I attempted to brace myself but there is really no way to do that. I hung on to my old friend and former nemesis, white roll cage, and just gave it up to GOD. Chris steered masterfully just inches from the wall. Folks, I have never felt anything more exhilarating in my life. This rush puts everything else to shame. In this moment I can’t imagine that there would ever be dirty dishes to wash again, or laundry, nothing mundane can ever happen to me again because racing is ALL THERE IS.
Then we started drifting. How that looks is Chris drives straight towards a wall going around 100mph or so. I ask the white roll bar to tell me a funny story but it only laughs. In the last possible moment, when YOLO is looking more like an epitaph then a funny hashtag, Chris grabs the emergency brake, spins the wheel and we are flying sideways at 80mph. The wall passes before my eyes at an angle I’ve never seen before. I start clapping giddily but then wonder if that is proper race car etiquette. Possibly not. It’s also decidedly not cool and for once in my life in this heat suit and helmet I actually look a little bad-ass so I decide to adopt an impassive race car cool which lasts for about five seconds and I’m clapping again.
Good luck on Saturday, Chris! I wish I could be down there with you but I’m certain that I would be OF NO HELP. There are a few tickets left for Saturday’s title fight so head over to Irwindale for an experience of a lifetime.