How Drifting Works

With a burgeoning race scene so powerful that it gets films named after it, drift racing is definitely an up-and-comer in the racing world. This exciting style pits high-performance machines against physics and skill in a breathtaking struggle for control. If you’d like to learn more about the drift style, read on.

What Is It?

Image via Flickr by

Image via Flickr by

Drifting is a maneuver in which the driver of a car uses the car’s momentum rather than the motion of the tires to propel the vehicle in one direction while turning it in another. The result is a kind of slide. The first deliberate drifting occurred in Japan in the 1970s when adventurous young racers favored mountainous roads for practicing radical turning techniques. The technique caught on, and although drifting is not necessarily the speediest way to get around turns in a regular race, specialized leagues soon developed around highlighting the breathtaking spectacle of a drifting car at high speeds.

How Can You Do It?

Drifting involves a bit of applied physics; don’t worry, though — we promise it will be painless. Basically, the drifting car has lost traction on the road, with its tires and propulsion no longer serving as the primary factor moving the vehicle. If you’ve ever lost control for a moment in rain or snow, you should recognize the feeling. But although a car skidding out in inclement weather has lost control, the drifter has made a deliberate choice by oversteering, or turning the wheel harder than the turn merits. As a result, the tires temporarily lose traction, and the car “drifts” along its original path of momentum.

Performance Considerations

The best cars for drifting are sedan-style cars in the light to medium weight classes, with rear-wheel-drive being preferable to front- or all-. Of course, formal drift racing has spawned a cottage industry of specialized parts better suited to the specifics of the style, but a beginner drifter will probably lack the finances to access such goodies. Tire grip deserves special attention. Although a lower amount of tire grip will allow the drifter to oversteer and loose traction more easily, most racers actually use higher-grip tires. The reason is that the speed at which the vehicle reestablishes traction coming out of the drift is crucial to getting better times than one’s opponents.

Safety Concerns

Of course, drifting is a dangerous game when played incorrectly. It’s important to remember that the drift racers in films and competitions are professionals who have trained long and hard to pull off the stunts they’re performing. If you’d like to learn the fine art of drifting, be sure you do so in a safe way. Find a large, abandoned, flat area in which to practice, and be sure to be aware of anyone around you. Racing can be fun and lucrative so long as the racers are making safe choices and being respectful of those around them. If you want to find your own place on the starting lineup, start practicing today.