Before I started working on the Sikky race team, I had this idea of how the average FD event went down. Now that I’ve been there and done that for almost two years, here’s what I’ve learned. (In no particular order).
1) The tracks are smaller than I imagined
I’m a grassroots drifter with absolutely no aspirations beyond that. The only track that I worry about actually completing in my own car is Seattle. I’m not saying I could do these tracks at the FD level. IE hitting all the clips. But I could link the whole course. All of the tracks are much smaller than they ever appeared on the live stream. And that hit me like a ton of bricks.
2) I get gross and shit funny
Good number 2 right? Get it? There are only a hand full of porta-potties and they are very abused after Thursday, let alone once fans start showing up Friday and Saturday. I used to refuse to use them. But now I carry wet naps and lots of purell sanitizing gel. Even then, dehydration can set in and irregular food intake causes interesting intestinal issues.
But I get covered in tire bits, dirty from changing tires and working on cars (sometimes in gravel), and sunscreen makes everything stick to you.
3) You will value a hot shower and a bed
You get sweaty. We use things like baby powder and what’s literally called “ball powder” and apply several coats through the day. I’ve had times where I’ve slept on a floor. I’ve had nights where I didn’t sleep because we were fixing a car. I’ve had days where I couldn’t shower. Sometimes we sleep in the rig and it has a shower. It’s maybe 3 foot by 3 foot and drools warm water on you (I’ve been told it’s fixed). I now do my best to find a hotel room and get a hot shower and a bed. Then I pray to get to use it.
4) SO MANY TIRES
One of my biggest duties is tire management for two drivers. On most tracks, a set of rear tires will last 2 runs. 3 if you really try to stretch them. Most teams rely on the tire tents supplied by the tire companies to physically change out tires for them. But you have to bring your own tires and usually take back the left overs (aka “scrubs”). After every two runs, I have to take that set of rims over the tire tent and come back when they are done. But this can take a while and can cause issues during competition time. In an average event, I’ll change 20-40 tires depending on how well we do and how much practice time there is.
5) Food is an issue. But sometimes great
It’s hard to get in and out of a venue so you either have to stop off, ask someone to stop off, or get track food. If someone stops off, it’s usually a drive through or some sandwich makings from a grocery store. In either case, we are usually so pressed for time you don’t get much of a choice. Sometimes we don’t have a refrigerator and only have a cooler so food can’t last too long.
Track food is very hit or miss. NJ has generic fried foods that don’t do well when you’re moving around all day. Orlando Speed World had some of the best pulled pork I’ve ever had in my life. Seattle has good Yakisoba with chicken. But no matter what, track food drinks are minimum $5 for something like a bottle of water.
6) Drivers/crew are very friendly to each other
Most drivers will do a round at the beginning of an event to say hi. Now and then a crew from another team will come by and ask if we have something like a welder or an AN fitting. Some times, I’ve seen mixed crew hanging on top of a rig to watch the race. I figured the pro level would be much more cut throat and cold. Don’t get me wrong, it still is pretty cut throat.
7) I learn something new every event
I’ve met so many people. The owner of Rocket Bunny, the owner of Wisefab, the Engineering Explained guy (Jason), and all of the guys I used to watch on TV. Just listening to some of the conversations and asking questions have made my learn so much about things like suspension setup or why do X, Y, or Z.
8) Friday is the longest day
Thursday is usually a short practice day if we get time to practice at all. Friday is minimum 4 hours of practice then straight into qualifying. This is the time where you dial in all of your suspension settings, burn through the most tires, and then qualify. It’s easily a 12+ hour day. That includes setting up for the day and closing down. Spectators visit the pits so we have to be presentable and pack things up over night in case it rains or someone has sticky fingers.
9) You sit and wait a lot
You set up in the morning and wait for the driver’s meeting. You practice then sit and wait for qualifying to start. You do your first qualifying run then get out of your car to grab a snack because it’s a while before your next run. We even watch the live stream on our phones waiting for the top 32 bracket to pair down to us. If you get knocked out early or don’t even qualify, you’re essentially just waiting to go home. It is nice to be a regular spectator at that point.
10) The venues vary greatly
Texas motor speedway is an amazing facility. Well organized and designed for tons more people then actually come. It’s a track inside of another track. It’s actually staggering to stand in the middle and notice the big NASCAR circle around you. OSW on the other hand had the second part of the pits paved the week prior to us showing up. In some spots, you could stand on the asphalt and watch it bubble up somewhere else. The facility had 1 bathroom for the whole pit until the porta johns showed up friday.
On the other hand, NJ was small but was well designed for so many spectators. It’s tight but easy to get around. Irwindale is similar but slightly larger. Road Atlanta, while a great track itself, wasn’t logistically easy to get around in or out of as it wasn’t originally designed for drifting.
11) The spectators are awesome
I still do get people that walk by and ask if I’m a driver. Most spectators are very friendly. They come up and ask for autographs or just want pictures of the cars. We try to speak with as many as possible to answer their questions and just say hi. I’ll never get why they want the free used scrubs we give out (btw, 99% of drivers WANT you to take their scrubs and will give them to you for free).
I love the open pit concept and all the engagement between everyone. People in Atlanta seemed very open to chatting while Seattle had a large mix of natives and non natives (Canadians). Long Beach and Irwindale always has lots of Japanese people. I’ve even had some fetch us coffee one morning.
12) The guys behind the scenes get little credit and work incredibly hard
Last one, I promise. I am gloating a bit since I’m one of them. Aasbo’s team swaps engines like fuses. That 5 minute rule and watching the teams try to fix the car could be an event in and of itself. The guys running the tire changing tent run themselves ragged changing all of those tires. Even the regular teams that maintain and dial in the cars do incredible work to see their driver on the podium. These guys have serious passion and determination. I never thought it was that much work until I did it and saw it for myself.
13) Every team is poorer than you think
I’m tacking this one on after the initial post since I think it’s so important. Everyone has harbor freight jacks. Many drivers drive their own rig to and from events. As far as I know, even the big dogs penny pinch here and there to make ends meet. Body panels are stitched back together to make it through another day, tires are conserved, trailers are small and hauled by regular trucks, and the average team has just enough guys to work and sometimes barely work. I was astounded at how little money is in each team and even, in some cases, FD itself. This is definitely not a rich sport.