A sold-out field of 40 drivers took to the Sportsdrome Speedway in Clarksville, Indiana last weekend to set the initial points bracket for the 2012 season of Formula D’s regional pro-am feeder series, the Midwest Drift Union.
Though the rain held off, mostly cloudy skies and temperatures in the high-40s, coupled with almost constant 20-mph winds, made for a less-than-pleasurable day at the track. However, the unfavorable conditions didn’t stop some fantastic action out on the asphalt. And as always, emergency personnel were alert and ready for anything.
Head of MDU, Edgar Sarmiento, said the event produced some of the best tandem action he’s seen, especially for being the season opener.
“I think this was one of the top eight tandems I’ve seen in the Midwest ever,” he said. “I think it’s only going to get better from here on out.”
Last year’s round one winner and fourth-place overall season finisher Kris Hackenson was present but not driving. An unfinished car being the culprit, a plea was made during the driver’s meeting for someone to let Hackenson use their car to be able to shake things up on the track and attempt to accumulate some points, but the only thing that ended up shaking was the chain link fence on which he climbed. Hackenson said the car should be finished by the next round in July.
The trio of blue “BREAKING” cars, which we showed on our Facebook page the other day, had its most notable performances given by Derek Bianski and his RX-7.
To best describe the sound emanating from his FD, imagine a swarm of a million angry bees confined within a small metal container, with the sound pumped through an amplifier cranked to eleven. It’s not only fantastically loud, but it’s also very fast.
Despite being up the entire night before helping to install a new motor in friend and (other member of the team) Derek King’s S14 and making the drive straight to the track, Bianski remained enthusiastic about the kickoff to the season. (And here, Bianski is told about an alteration to the course layout by MDU starting grid coordinator Nick Swann.)
“Once we arrived at the track, things couldn’t have been better because the drift season had officially started and it was time to see my second family,” Bianski said. “While walking around looking at everybody’s winter projects and labors of love-hate I noticed a lot of new faces and that made me smile.”
Bianski also laid down a series of intense tandem runs with Mike Pollard (who I’ll elaborate on later) to much applause from the small but dedicated crowd. For Bianski, he said it’s all about being on the track and loving what you do.
“I’m not trying to go pro or get 100 sponsors,” he said. “I’m here to make the best out of every second and have fun with my friends. Driving hard and learning is the main focus for me when I’m on track. I see more and more people taking themselves way too serious year after year. Goals are good, just don’t be a tool.”
Brian “Nackers” Vrchoticky’s appearance at round one last year saw him behind a camera instead of the wheel, but that changed for 2012.
“This past weekend was amazing,” he said. “The Z did have a few faults this weekend, but considering this was its first true test since the year off, I was not disappointed. A fresh built motor, brand new turbo kit, and super sweet angle thanks to the Powered By Max kit really livened this chassis right up.”
Last I saw Nackers drive was back in 2010 at MDU round four at Gateway International Raceway, where the supercharger setup he was using at the time made an unforgettably amazing racket. Since then, though, he’s ditched the supercharger in favor of a turbocharged arrangement. He’s shown here going tandem with Anthony Covey.
“After all that’s happened in my life and my driving during my break from drifting, fifth place never felt so good,” Vrchoticky said. “I’m looking forward to tweaking a few things with the car, and go over some of the weak points I had found and show up to round two looking for a win.”
Residents Chris Gonzalez and Peter Chrisikopoulos of America’s Hat (a.k.a. Canada) were demonstrating how to operate a right-hand drive cars in a drift-oriented manner. Driving his flat black S14, Gonzalez finished seventh on the day after almost not being able to get his car started. His car looks entirely different from last year, when the car was white with green graphics.
Chrisikopoulos also made a strong showing, coming away with thirteenth. His maroon S13 photographed extremely well to boot.
Other strong performers that day included last year’s third place season points finisher Cody Tobe in his green S-chassis…
…as well as Dustin Pizzino, one of the few drivers to produce serious clouds of smoke.
Bringing home third place and securing his first MDU podium was Jake Maturen. I had met Jake a year ago in the Wal-Mart parking lot about five minutes from the track, asking him what I realize now was a stupid inquisition of “so, are you drifting this weekend?” Well drift then and drift last weekend he did.
“Today was just a whole bunch of fun,” Maturen said. “I have no idea how else to explain it. I worked out problems with the car over the past winter, and have been building it for the last six months.”
His gold S14 runs an S15 SR with a Power FC tune by Togue Factory and 3 Mile Garage manifold, which Maturne said he wouldn’t have been able to do as well as he did without their assistance. He said he’s pushing around 370 whp, but the focus over the winter was more on driving dynamics than power.
“This year I focused more on alignment and suspension settings,” Maturen said. “This year’s more about learning how to drive the car.”
Netting second place was “Magic” Mike Pollard, who had also placed third in last year’s season opener driving Chris Naujokas’ car. This time though, Pollard was piloting his own 180SX and doing a damn fine job of it at that.
Since his win at Street Life Tour in Ohio last year, Pollard said his car has gone from running an S14 SR to a 2.1 S15 SR with a Z32 transmission, beefing up numerous other parts in an effort to increase reliability.
“Considering all the V8s, I’m kind of the underdog and want to make her reliable,” Pollard said.
But beyond finishing second, Pollard expressed enthusiasm for the progress of the grassroots drifting community.
“Everyone’s been out here stepping it up,” he said. “That’s kind of the theme I want to bring back to the grassroots is stepping up the tandems, because everyone tries to play it safe. I think it’s better to lose while going hard than just spinning out on your own.”
Pollard said he is uncertain if he’ll run the remainder of the MDU schedule this year, as he’s also competing in DMCC and XDC. He said he ran this event in particular due to its closer-to-home proximity.
“I’ve got the crowd and that’s always the best,” Pollard said. “We’ll go for the win next time.”
In only his second time driving an MDU event, and also securing his second first place finish with the organization, was Missourian Tyson Schmidt. Having driven round four in Nashville last year as his only time with MDU prior to the 2012 season, he will be running a full season with the organization this year.
“This was my first time at this track and it was awesome,” Schmidt said. “All I wanted to do was come here and do good and I ended up winning. The car did great and didn’t break”
His LS2-powered S13 coupe with plaid interior is insanely fast, with him nearly passing his tandem partners on several occasions due to the car’s power. His car remained unchanged from last year. It provided for some fierce battles with Pollard.
“There were no changes to the car in the last two years except tires,” Schmidt said. “It’s all I change on this thing. It didn’t go through any tires today.”
“We’re going to see a lot better competitors coming out of the Midwest, especially at events like Street Life Tour and other pro-am events,” Sarmiento said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the rest of the U.S. won’t see drivers coming out of the Midwest that aren’t awesome.”
Sarmiento added that No-Star Bash, held at USAIR in May, will be put on by the same Drift Indy staff that operates MDU, in conjunction with Club FR. While not an official stop on the MDU tour, he emphasized that it’s an event not to be missed.
“I want to give a big shout out to Zerolift Autolabs, Kenda Tire, Enthusiast Apparel, Fleet Graphics and ACT clutches for helping make this season of MDU possible,” Sarmiento added.
The next round of Midwest Drift Union will be on July 7 at Lake County Speedway in Cleveland. As of the first round, these are the points standings:
Tyson Schmidt 49
Mike Pollard 41
Jake Maturen 37
Cody Tobe 36
Brian Nackers 29
Dustin Pizzino 27
Chris Gonzalez 26
Shane Whalley 25
Devin Callahan 23
Brian Waggoner 19
Anthony Covey 17
Michael Tung 15
Peter Chriskopoulos 9
Derek Bianski 6
Chris Conley 3
Hooman Rahimi 1