previously the journal.

Browsing Posts tagged irwindale

I just randomly found this picture of me on a french website.  I guess it’s somehow related to Mulsanne… I remember befriending an older French guy with Mulsanne on his business card.  I think that same business is somehow involved with a local drift team in Southern California.

Anyway, the picture is of me driving the KAAZ car at Irwindale in front of the D1 judges.   Funny – I can’t even remember what event this is!  The combination of me not remembering plus the picture shows barely any smoke tells me that I probably didn’t do very well.  But it’s still nice to see new pictures from the past!

Preparing for D1 was sooooo hectic. There’s so many things a person needs to do for something like this… I’m lucky Richard, Nadine, and Alex were so supportive of me. I took like 2 days off work so that I could run around and buy a Nomex racing suit, pick up tires, get tires and wheels mounted, etc… Richard and Alex helped out a ton by taking the car around to get suspension aligned, the engine tuned, seats installed, etc. It really was A LOT of work… and plus they helped me out a lot so that I could get my rest… guys, I appreciate it a lot. Len, Gary, and Jensen were gracious enough to install a driver’s side door beam to Richard’s Safety21 cage for me at the last minute… thank you guys. You did a great job. Alex Pfieffer was nice enough to go to Apex while the car was getting the door beam done, and align the car for me! Alex, thank you… I will definitely take my car to you when I’m ready for an alignment. Nadine went along with me when I had to run errands all over Southern California, and she was my biggest source of emotional support when I thought that maybe I didn’t deserve all the help that people were giving me. When everything seemed upside down, she kept me focused and reminded me that no matter what was happening, I was still me, and she was still there for me. That helped more than I could explain.

So finally the day came… It was Thursday, and the D1 course was approved and finalized. Thursday night was open for practice… so I went and prepped the car with Alex, Josh, and Richard. It was truely a strange night… with famous drivers were walking around like Nomuken, Fukuda, Taniguchi, Koguchi, Kamimoto, and even celebrities like Top Secret’s Smokey… and what was weirder was realizing that those drivers were in the same position that I was in… wondering what was going on, when we could get out on the track, how the car will hold up, etc… It felt strange, like I’m a nobody kid from Los Angeles who doesn’t even think that he’s that good… Yet I was going to try and compete with these guys. Needless to say I felt awkard and I didn’t know what to expect… I guess the best way to explain it is if you were moved to a new city and started high school as a senior at a completely new school where nobody knows you. What was weird was also knowing that I was going so that I could lose… I thought that maybe I can make it to the top 16, or maybe I won’t even be able to make it that far… Yet I was dedicated to trying. It’s a strange thought…

Anyway, at this point, Richard’s car had new suspension (my Tanabe Sustec DDs), a new alignment, and was now making 290hp to the wheels instead of 200hp. I had NO IDEA what to expect… a brand new car… a brand new track… the best way to go at it is just by keeping an open mind and seeing what happens. So I put on my Sparco Nomex suit, shoes, and driving gloves and got into the seat of Richard’s car. We were heading towards the infield when Richard starts explaining the car to me… he was telling me where the car starts boosting, where the rev limiter cuts off, and that he disabled the speedometer. “Why?” I asked… “So it doesn’t make you nervous.” Haha, that was awesome. If I had enough time to look at the speedometer while drifting at the top of 3rd gear, I think that maybe it’s time to take out some D1 drivers. So Richard tells me to hit the accelerator so that I could feel the way the car responds… A quarter of the way through first gear, when the boost kicked in, my 235/40/17 Yokohama AVS Sports just started spinning. “Hmm, I think this car will drift”, I said. Haha.

So I got into the infield… Taniguchi, Kazama, and Maeda were staged… Ken and Ernie just came back in from the course. Man! I suddenly got soo excited! I was watching D1 drivers drive the course that I was going to drive on! At that point, pretty much all of my mental focus went right out of the window. I was asking Ken how the course was… he pointed at the judging table corner and said “that turn is SCARY!”. From where I was standing, it looked like a k-rail wall forming a corner jutting out right at the car as it comes in for the last corner – if you go a little too wide… your car is toast. For some reason, it didn’t bother me too much at the time… probably because I was so star struck by everything that was going on. Without studying the course layout, I jumped in the car and got in line… Right behind Nomuken (!!!). The course worker flagged us out, and I jumped on the throttle to warm up the tires a little bit. I immediately starting trying to get a feel for the car, and gripped the first couple of laps… and at the same time, realized how scary the course was.

Through Irwindale’s banked oval, there were cones lined up to force you up towards the outer wall… mind you, this is where most of the speed is gained on the course. This was a left hand corner… Coming out of that corner was a change in direction to the right, where the banked oval pulls your car down towards the center of the infield. There were cones directing your car away from the outer wall… and viola… a red/white plastic barrier on the outside of the corner, squeezing you in again. After this, there was a left hand corner, where you really had to know the gripping point of the tires, because you had to enter the corner with maximum grip so that you can gain enough speed, while drifting, for the last corner. Again, if you went too wide, the k-rail wall in front of the judges would stop you, or the wall in front of the specators would stop you. This final corner was very long… you had to gain a lot of speed going into it, and to top it off, the end of the corner tightened up a lot into a reducing radius corner… with a plastic barrier to make sure you didn’t go too wide.

3rd lap came around, and I decided to open up the throttle and get the car sideways for the first time… Man, the car had so much throttle response and I started drifting the oval. This was a weird experience, because I never had enough power to drift the oval in my own car… This was my first time… and in somebody else’s car… AND with Nomuken sideways in front of me! A couple more laps and I realized how tight they were squeezing us in between barriers and walls… Nomuken spun in front of me, and I let off the throttle… For some reason, my car wouldnt stop sliding towards him… lucky for me, Nomuken was far enough ahead of me that I had lots of room to go around him. I was drifting the oval with too much countersteer… I was at full counter at some points through the oval and I know that it was really keeping me from gaining enough speed. Here’s where I made a mistake… I was out there trying to learn the car, watch other drivers around me, and I was trying to learn a new course. Usually, when I’m at a new course, I will make mental notes during my first time on the course. I’ll note what line I think is best, what speeds I should be at, and where I should be initiating, where I should be changing directions of the car, where I should point the nose of the car, where I should place the rear end of the car, and where the clipping points on the course were. This time out… I didn’t do any of that. I was acting like a total amateur and I was learning by driving it… That’s almost like putting me out there blind. Needless to say, my line was far from where it should have been if I was focused, and it was dangerous with the way the walls were everywhere. After a couple laps, I was still uncomfortable with the way the car was handling… countersteering felt strange… the car was understeering… yet the car was sliding too much… If your mind was filled with all the things I was experiencing, you’d understand how confused I was. But I kept going instead of pitting in as maybe I should have… Anyway, I was getting more comfortable and I was drifting almost the entire oval, and around my 5th lap, I was a little too far away from the oval wall as I entered the course… I ran over the top 2 cones nearest to the wall, a
nd as I came back down I realized… “Oh no… I’m too low… I’m coming in towards the plastic barriers…” Knowing that, I straighened the car out as much as possible, to make the hit as soft as I could. I ended up brushing up against the barrier instead of hitting it dead on or t-boning it. CRAP!!!! I was so determined to figure out the course and figure out the car, that I ignored my thoughts telling me to pit in and figure out why the car was understeering. Instead I stayed out on the course with a million things running through my mind and I ended up hitting the wall.

I came off the course thinking I didn’t hit the barriers very hard… but it didn’t feel that way… I felt HORRIBLE… like I totalled the car. I came into the pits and I couldn’t say anything… the door was scraped up… the fender flares were cracked, and the wall put some dents in the rear quarter panel. It took me about 10 minutes to really get a good idea of what I did to the car… most likely because I was in shock. I apologized to Richard for ruining his beautiful car… He didn’t seem to mind, and he was more concerned about getting the car back out onto the track. I didn’t know if I wanted to… I didn’t want to be the one to smash his car. Suddenly, Alex found a leak coming from the car… it was coolant. We dismissed it, because we knew there was a small leak coming from the radiator cap anyways. A few minutes later, a big puddle was under the car… Alex looked underneath… a piece of plastic from either a cone or the barrier went under the front bumper, and went right through his radiator. Damn… There was no skid plate protecting his v-mount setup! The car couldn’t drive like that, so we put it back on the trailer and took it to Rotora to try to repair it. Our buddy Pete came by with his welder to try and by-pass the hole in the radiator. At this point, I had about an hour or so for everything to sink in about what I just did. I was sad, and I was sorry. Richard told me to go eat with the boys and get some sleep, since there was one more practice session the next morning… and that he would try and fix it.

I went to eat with Josh, Alex, and Marc… they helped me out a lot… they told me that it could have been much worse, and that the course was very very technical, fast, and difficult. It was almost as if the course designers were out to seek destruction on our cars. I realized how dumb I was being, and that I should have focused on my line and come up with a strategy instead of just going out there and figuring everything out all at once. Josh told me that he got a video of me while I was out there… my 4th lap… right before I crashed.

And as a present to you for reading my humongous journal entry, here’s that video! You can see how close I get to those white/red plastic barriers when I come down from the outer wall… that’s the barrier that I hit. I am not going very fast, since I am still feeling everything out… Moto said I was going 57mph. That isn’t bad, I think, for feeling out the course. I was probably driving at 37%… I never did get that last sweeper, since I was having trouble realizing how long that corner was… You can tell… I let off the accelerator too early, thinking that the apex would show up around the corner, but it was much further ahead. You can also see where I am talking about the gripping point of the tires… when I throttle out of the corner away from the plastic barriers, I have SLIGHT countersteer… that is because although I am still drifting, I use as little countersteer as I can so that I can use the grip of the tires to help me gain speed for the last sweeper… it’s kind of a strange thought… gaining speed while drifting. Anyway, here… enjoy:
Practice Run

Stay tuned… I still have a lot to talk about!

I wasn’t supposed to say anything, but since people have already found out, I was invited by D1 Grand Prix USA to qualify for D1 this year. This is a pretty strange time for me… This is the time when I ask myself, “How badly do I want to compete? And for what purpose?” Obviously, D1 is the king of all competitions… SOME the best drivers from Japan, and SOME of the best drivers from the USA. At the same time, it is the most commercial drifting event ever created. Well, I could sit back, and watch it happen… or I can take hold of this opportunity and get on the track with these professionals and experience driving in a new light. Am I ready to take out Ueo? Nope… not everybody in D1 is able to accomplish that, but they all do their best trying. That’s what I’m going to do… but mostly, I’m going to have a hell of a time having fun. I’m doing this for myself.

So you may be asking… “But Benson, your car is smashed… how are you going to drive it?” Good question! I’m not sure how I’m going to drive it. So I’m not. Richard offered me JDM Rice 2… I think that is one of the nicest gestures somebody can do… i refused at first, because he has put so much time into it. But Richard does a good job in believing in me. His car is so beautiful, and of course, I am going to make sure that I take care of it to the best of my abilities. He tuned it for me to make some more power out of it, and make sure that it’s reliable. The car is now making 290hp, compared to the 200 it had before. Since then, it’s received my Tanabe Sustec DDs, my tires, a new Bride seat, door beams, and a new alignment. It’s a lot to get used to at an important event like this, but I think I can handle it. I just need some time… to get used to it and fine tune it.

You wouldn’t believe how much there is to do to prepare for something like this. Actually, I’ve been sick all week and part of last… Nadine’s just gotten sick and she is throwing up and not feeling well at all. I’ve been doing my best to make sure that I bet better by eating well, staying extra warm, getting enough sleep… Nadine is starting to feel better. She will be working with media during D1, so she needs all the rest that she can get, also.

While I’m trying to relax and prepare myself physically, mentally, and preparing schedules, tires, etc… my friends have helped me out SOOO MUCH. Richard has been so great, he’s been staying up late to get the car tuned, picking up various parts for the car… Alex Chang swapped my suspension over from my car and installed his new Bride seat and Takata harnesses while I was taking care of Kristy and Nadine… Alex Pfieffer drove over to A’pexi at the last minute yesterday so that he could do the wheel alignment… Len Higa helped me out with getting door beams in the car and helped me to get my racing equipment from Sparco (Nomex suit, shoes, gloves, etc.). They’ve all lost sleep over helping me get ready and I really really appreciate it… I’ll figure out how to pay you all back, somehow. Nadine has been a great source of support too. With all this craziness going on, I get lost in all of it… I wonder why I’m doing it, if it’s worth all of my friends’ efforts… Nadine has always been there to keep me grounded and clear my mind. Thank you baby… I couldn’t do this without you.

So, tonight I’m going to get some practice in the pink machine. Hopefully everything will go well and I can get enough seat time. Tonight I’m just going to focus on finding the limits of the car and having a good time. Tomorrow is qualification and if that goes well, then Saturday, I will be there driving. What a thought! If you asked me a month ago, I couldn’t even imagine being in the position I am in now. But since then, somebody has given me a rare opportunity, and I’m not gonna let it flash before my eyes. I’m going to take hold of it, and do my best to earn my way into the biggest D1 event ever.

Wish me luck… I’ll talk to you all after it’s over.