2012 Dopeness >>> Midwest (And Beyond) Year End Recap (56K Death)

Well, I seem to still be alive, and if you’re reading this, I assume you are too. No doomsday apocalypse here, so to celebrate, I present my year-in-review post. I traversed nearly 11,000 miles and spent over $1,100 in fuel, on top of hotels, food, camera gear/repairs/rentals, supplies, etc. The end result of those expenditures follows (you’ll find links to each event’s main article within). More after the jump!

The first stop on the 2012 calendar was just outside of Memphis at Traction Optional’s season opener, Pinch Me I’m Sideways.

Pre-event storms had turned the infield into a swamp, so off-road adventures by wayward drivers slung more mud than a politician during an election. Elijah Clarke demonstrated this with his E36:

It was also the first event at Memphis International Raceway for several drivers, including Panun “Tony” Vongkhamchanh and his ’93 S13 hatch with SR20DET power. I’d see more of Tony over the course of the year, with him getting better and better each time.

About a month later, it was time to head to Clarksville, Indiana once again for the first round of Midwest Drift Union pro-am competition of the 2012 season. Like Memphis, the weather sucked, but nowhere near as bad as Michigan from the year before.

Here, Derek Bianski in the FD and Mike Pollard in the S13 go on a tandem run later in the day. Pollard would go on to finish second to Tyson Schmidt, who was participating in his first MDU competition.

“All I wanted to do was come here and do good and I ended up winning,” Schmidt said afterwards. “The car did great and didn’t break.”

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The event also marked the first time I’d seen Brian “Nackers” Vrchoticky driving since round four of MDU the previous year. He ditched his supercharged setup this year in favor of turbos, but never made it to any more events I was at.

A week later, I found myself back in Memphis at Traction Optional’s second event, “Regulators.” Last year’s MDU fifth-place finisher and Formula D rookie Nick Thomas was out damaging the environment this time, stating he was trying to work out some problems that had hampered his performance at Long Beach. Unfortunately for Thomas, a problem with his driver’s side front wheel lugs put an early end to his day.

Traction Optional regular Jaime Burnett had only a minor wastegate problem. In fact, Burnett would go on to have a largely problem-free year, but we’ll get back to him later.

Probably the funniest photo I took that day, a passenger in Tyler Kvetko’s car can’t seem to figure out what the problem is. The guilty tire had had enough of the left rear wheel and dismounted itself.

Next on the list was one of the longest journeys I made, making the nearly 10 hour drive to USA International Raceway in Shawano, Wisconsin for MDU and ClubFR’s collaboration event, No-Star Bash 2012. A would-be two-day event was cut semi-short on the first day, as rains became too heavy to safely allow the event to continue.

Day two, however, was a whole different story. Multi-car runs were the name of the game, and rarely did anyone head onto the track unaccompanied by at least two or three other drivers.

The cool thing about this track was that it was actually TWO tracks. While the drift trains ran on one, solo runs were happening on the other. Drivers could freely choose between them, and many jumped back and forth all day.

Making the trek to Wisconsin from southern Illinois and standing in an infield for two days straight was one accomplishment, but the biggest was finally coaxing my girlfriend, who joined me to many of these events, into a car for a ride-a-long.

That ride came courtesy of my favorite Canadian, Chris Gonzalez. His vehicle setup meant that her and I had both made our first ride-a-longs in a RHD vehicle (mine was in a Toyota Chaser). Despite that “did he seriously make me get in this car?” look she has in this photo, Gonzalez said she enjoyed the ride. I was just happy her first experience was positive, for had she ridden with him a tad later, her thoughts on climbing back in might have changed…

No-Star Bash had probably the longest driver list of any event from this year at 60.

It was also where I experienced the loudest non-Formula D drift car of my photographic career, courtesy of Mike Hahnen.

“A week before the event I decided to change up the exhaust to some blast pipes, and in the process I removed the resonator I previously had on and it became LOUD,” he said. “I think I am going deaf since it’s a convertible, and it was piercing my ears for the four hour ride there and back. I felt bad when I took off from the line because everyone was plugging their ears.”

At the end of June, it was back to Memphis for round three on the Traction Optional calendar, this time at comically-titled “If Ya Skurred…Go To Church.”

I had tried unsuccessfully to catch a fireball from the previous event, and when I saw Alex Flick’s S13/blowtorch, I got my chance again. This time, I didn’t miss.

Chris Hanley used this event to debut his new S14 chassis, the end result of his former S13 essentially becoming a rust bucket.

And John Sutherland, who normally drifts a white S14, was out with his Subaru STI grabbing GoPro footage instead.

Two weeks later, I drove another 10 hours to Cleveland for the second round of MDU competition at Lake County Speedway.

It was HOT to say the least, with temps hitting nearly 110 during the early afternoon. It wasn’t unusual to find interesting ways to keep cool.

The event marked the return of last year’s overall second place finisher, Bill “Highlife” Cook. He qualified third, but mechanical gremlins knocked him out early on in the competition.

Going-in points leader Tyson Schmidt was knocked out in quarter finals by Chris Conley, which helped set the stage for the final round between 17-year old Troy Manners in the pink-wheeled S13…

and round one runner up, Mike Pollard.

Pollard would defeat Manners in a close match, putting him on top of the points standings.

Lake County Speedway was far and away my favorite track to shoot at this year.

And while Lake County was my favorite track to shoot, Gateway International is my favorite track to be at, for several reasons that include but aren’t limited to its sheer length and the fact that it’s less than two hours from my house, making it the closest venue by a long shot. Unfortunately, the next event I ventured to, DriftSTL’s Brolex #1, took place in the parking lot instead (redemption came in the form of the road course later on).

In any other circumstance, I’d wager the safest bet that Tyson Schmidt had the best smoke display. But having only ever seen it online previously, and having finally got to witness such a spectacle in person, Nick Neitzel’s colorful display was by far more interesting.

There was really but one good place to stand within the perimeter of the course, and that was inside some k-rails next to a light pole, a port-a-loo and some kind of toxic substance within some trash cans. As such, I wasn’t really able to change perspectives that much. However, when I saw these wheels going around, I knew I found an interesting approach to show just how nice of a day (though a tad hot) it had been. Yours truly is the tiny green/yellow dot just to the lower right of the lug nuts.

Some drivers felt the need to make a declarative statement about their opinion on how many cylinders should or should not be under the hood.

A month later, it was back to Indiana, this time Lucas Oil Raceway outside of Indianapolis, for the third round of MDU.

Last year at this facility, the competition was held on the oval. This year, it was held in the parking lot due to the Richard Petty Experience taking place at the main track. Initially, I had photographic concerns about this, as I loved the layout of the oval for such opportunities.

The nice thing about the new layout was that it allowed for more freedom to move around, allowing for many totally different shots by merely looking a few degree either way.

This event also marked the debut (to me) of Geoff Stoneback, a driver I quickly began to like. He qualified and finished fourth in his first MDU competition.

Bill Cook staved off his mechanical gremlins from the previous round to bring home a solid third place finish.

Mike Pollard made it to the finals again this round as well…

…but faced a new adversary: Dustin Pizzino.

Pizzino put forth a valiant effort, but Pollard defeated him to secure his second victory in a row.

“Today was tons of fun,” Pollard said. “I’m just glad to keep this streak going. I just want to keep this momentum going until the end of the season.”

Not long after the conclusion of that round, I was on a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 headed to Las Vegas for round six of Formula D. My assignment was to stalk a trio of Team OMGDrift drivers, Jeremy Lowe…

…Kyle Mohan…

…and Danny George.

First on the agenda was Thursday’s practice session, where the track and facilities aren’t open to the general public. This was a good opportunity to get some candid shots of the drivers doing their thing. Here, Jeremy Lowe adds some last-minute decals to this black FC.

It didn’t occur to me until after taking this photo of Danny putting gas in his car that my lens was visible in the photo. See that black semi-circle in the bottom left of the mirror? That would be my Canon 10-22…

And Danny’s son Jack was, well, jackin’

As the sun began to sit over Sin City, it was time for practice (on a very dim track, might I add).

The biggest news of practice was Odi Bakchis’ big crash. He was shaken up but okay, and came back to qualify in a borrowed car.

While cleanup of his spilled fluids and shed parts was underway, the staging area became a parking lot of high-powered machines.

Going into Friday, the first thing on my menu was the driver’s meeting, which Rhys Millen used to entertain Ken Gushi.

Next up was the autograph session, and of course our trio was present.

With the conclusion of that session began the qualifying round. Unfortunately for Lowe, he wouldn’t make it to top 32.

However, Mohan would net the 16th spot…

And George would end the night with 11th.

Saturday brought more practice, and another chance to get car setups squared away for top 32. Said Mohan:

“After practice we always give the car a full inspection — can’t win an event or even try to if the car breaks, so preparation and maintenance is a must.  We found a small leak and set about fixing it, while we were there we checked all the drive train components  and new fuel system before the competition started. Normally, I let the crew get dirty on race weekends but it was so hot I didn’t want to just be that guy that was sitting down giving orders. I’ve always believed it’s good to lead by example. Want every one to work hard in 100+ degree weather? Better be prepared to work hard yourself.”

It was amazing to have light to shoot under once again for this practice session, so here’s a few shots from that brief period.

As the main event was about to begin, the skies opened up in a brief torrential downpour.

It helped to cool things off, however, if not make it more humid. Tyler McQuarrie did a burnout in his pit to help dry the tires and heat them up again.

Our Mohan faced Dai Yoshihara in the second battle of top 32. Mohan spun on his second run, gifting Yoshihara the win.

Not long after, the carnage began. Everything went fine on the initial run of Tony Angelo and Daigo Saito.

But on Angelo’s follow run, an impact with the wall separated a few key elements of the car from, uh, the car. Tony, I don’t think the problem is under there.

As for Danny George, he suffered a minor bumper impact on his led run against Walker Wilkerson, but wouldn’t advance on.

One of the biggest stories (and surprises) of the night came a bit later on, when Daigo Saito replicated what had happened with Angelo’s run, albeit facing Rhys Millen.

The final four came down to Fredric Aasbo and Vaughn Gittin Jr…

…and Rhys Millen and Robbie Nishida.

Both Millen and Aasbo would make the finals, with Aasbo smashing the wall I was standing directly behind.

His crew worked hard to get the car back to the start line as a calm Rhys Millen waited patiently. Though the Norwegian Hammer brought the car  back to the line, the wounded machine wasn’t enough to upset Millen, who secured his second victory in a row in Las Vegas. It upsets me, as I’m sure it does many of you, that Formula D won’t be returning to Vegas next year.

About a month later, it was back to Ohio, though this time to Xenia at Kil-Kare Raceway for the conclusion of the MDU season at Street Life Tour.

There hadn’t been a more perfect day for drifting yet this season. Here’s Chris Conley attacking the first turn during practice.

It had been a year since seeing “Rapper” Dan Savage on track, and it was a welcome sight, especially with such an untypical design.

It’s always exciting to see hatchbacks that open themselves up mid-run, as demonstrated here with Devin Callahan’s S12.

There’s always a huge car show at this event, but out of everything there, this pristine Toyota Century was the hardest to ignore.

Between practice and qualifying, I went over to check out some of the drag racing action, where there was many a wheelie to be popped.

And a speeding motorcycle is much harder to lock focus on than a car or truck.

Keith Carlos came into the event as the number one qualifier in his LS-powered 350z.

Bill Cook finished the event in seventh, but secured a third place overall standing in the points. It was his second back-to-back acquisition of a Formula D license.

“Hopefully this time I can do something with it,” Cook said. “I’m pretty happy, it was a really good year. I only ran three events and did really well. I didn’t finish as well in this one, but the competition level was that much higher.”

Dustin Pizzino encountered mechanical issues, but still finished this season in second.

“I personally feel that I got a lot of learning to do,” Pizzino said. “Obviously it’s only my second year, but I’m loving the sport. I’m going to try and get out to California for the pro-am all-stars and see how we can contend with the rest of the nation. For the overall season, I’m happy.”

Troy Manners was back, netting his second podium finish (third) with the MDU organization this year. Despite only running two events, he finished the season in eighth.

“I want to thank my dad for helping me get to events and stuff and paying for fuel and other things, my buddy Jimmie Caldwell for all the work he did this winter and my sponsor Blasfome,” Manners said after the event.  “Definitely will need a rebuild for next year but I should be a lot more competitive with a lot more power, fix the car up again, make it a little prettier, and probably do a full season of MDU next year.”

The final match came down to Mike Pollard and Geoff Stoneback. Pollard slammed into the wall going into the initial sweeper, and Stoneback had nowhere to go but into him, sending the pair spinning around each other through the first turn.

The incident set Pollard up for a second place finish.

“After this season wraps up, it will be pushing hard with MVP racing and all the companies that do support me: NEO motors, OS Giken, Tomei, Achilles, Zerolift, all those guys,” Pollard said. “This car I’ve had since 2007. I’ve been t-boned six times and it has seen walls on every corner. This will probably be my missile. I’ll probably build something for myself to compete in secondary series’ again, like DMCC and XDC, but definitely have a different car to drive that’s not mine. Probably more horsepower and an inline six, maybe RB or 2J.”

This of course meant Stoneback was the winner at Street Life Tour. He finished fifth on the season overall.

“I didn’t want to win like that,” Stoneback said. “It sucks – he’s Mike Pollard, he’s awesome. I wanted to have him follow and see what happened. When I initiated with him, I was like ‘shit, I’m really high on the bank,’ and he was even higher. All of a sudden he washed out, and I was like, “fuck,” I think I’m just gonna shallow out. But I guess when he hit the wall it knocked him right into me. When I spun, it spun real fast and I was like “fuck, there’s the wall,” but it wasn’t that bad. I broke my steering wheel, but I went back to the line. Troy Manners gave me his steering wheel which was really cool. It sucked that he broke his car that he couldn’t just change his tire and get back out there.”

The final standings had Mike Pollard as the 2012 MDU season champion, with, as stated previously, Dustin Pizzino in second and Bill Cook in third.

It would be another month before I covered another event, but when I did, it was eastward to Bowling Green, Kentucky to Beech Bend Raceway Park for Tennessee Drift and Cause Factory’s event, Driftoberfest 3.

The event acts as a charity drive to raise money for the Williamson Medical Center for women with breast cancer. Around $500 was raised for the cause, and drivers shrugged off chilly conditions to make the best of one of the last regional events of 2012.

The walls in the small arena claimed a few cars, such as the S14 of Tennessee Drift founder, Barry Clapp.

Brent Brooks, driver of the car two photos up, was one of many drivers giving ride-a-longs, and this particular one was with his daughter.

Nick Thomas also made another cameo appearance. There were lots of new faces here, but several familiar ones as well, like T/O regular Tony Vongkhamchanh…

…MDU driver Eric Daugherty…

…and Jonny Kommavongsa.

I finished my 2012 season with a double-header weekend in early November. First on the list was DriftSTL’s Brolex Matsuri, which much to my excitement was held ON the road course.

This was probably my favorite shot all day, as my timing just happened to be right. Dustin Doherty, a KC Drift regular, traversed Missouri to be at the event.

MDU driver Andrew Lewis didn’t have to drive quite as far, being one of the locals about an hour away. He put on one of the better smoke shows.

Personally, I felt that Richard Fisher had the best smoke of anyone. I had last seem him at No-Star Bash.

Keith Carlos was back as well. “I’ve been itching to drive (Gateway) since 2011,” Carlos said. “Videos do this course no justice. You have to drive it and experience it first hand. I’m looking forward to returning again and again.”

Hooman Rahimi, also driving a 350Z, had smashed his car into a wall a couple times earlier this year, but kept coming back to events over and over again.

And speaking of “over and over again,” I headed back to Memphis the evening after the Brolex event to be at Traction Optional’s season closer, “Get Out & Slide!

Daniel Hodges caught some air during an early run. He plans on doing an LS-swap over the winter.

He was also presented with the T/O “Dedicated Driver of the Year” award.

Jaime Burnett was one of only a few drivers who stayed out until the very end.

He was awarded the “most improved” driver award at the driver’s meeting.

Forrest Luster threw me for a loop with his blue S14. I was so used to seeing it in a burnt orange scheme, I didn’t realize it was even him until the event was almost over.

And of course, who could forget Team Waffle drivers Eric Patton, with his upturned air intake…

…and Jay Strobino, in his rag-tag S13. His car may look rough around the edges, but this guy is in the sport for all the right reasons and the guy is as dedicated as they come.

 And that concludes the presentation. I aim to be back next year covering more events in more places. It’s been a blast meeting and getting to know so many drivers, fans, photographers, event organizers and more. Can’t wait for 2013!

1 Comment

  1. Adam says:

    Xenia! Woo! Also, MDU round one was indeed freezing balls.