This time last year, Vaughn Gittin informed the motor racing world of his plans to take an indefinite hiatus from competitive drifting.

“What happened friends?” Gitin wrote in his Facebook post. “Competitive drifting has been a big part of my life for the past 20 years. And with that, I’m announcing today that we’ve decided to step back from competitive drifting for a while. This is not a pension. This is not goodbye. See you later. I’ll keep drifting anyway.”

Fast forward one year to Irwindale Speedway and the asphalt creaking Formula DRIFT PRO Championship. Gittin was on hand to guide Team RTR Vehicles driver Chelsea DeNoff, currently third in the 2022 Formula Drift Championship standings driving the Pennzoil / BC Racing Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5-FD.

“It’s crazy,” Gittin said as he opened a can of Monster Energy. “This is a golden age for sports. I said it last year and even more so this year. Sports are exploding. This year was very enlightening and reflective for me. Drifting continued to flourish beyond my wildest expectations. Sitting back this year and watching, I’ve been to the first two rounds and I was at Irwindale last weekend, and there’s no sign of slowing down in both the progression on the track and the massive and diverse fan base. It all just keeps growing. Events sell out, live streams are huge, and it’s a golden time. I thought last year was pretty epic and this year just takes it to another level. And there’s no end in sight, and that’s very, very cool to see.”

Seventeen years ago, Gittin and his American-built Falken Mustang went head-to-head with Japanese ace Tatsuya Sakuma in the D1 finals at Irwindale. It all came down to a Sudden Death match where Gitin was able to match Sakuma and instantly legitimize American Drift. Nearly two decades removed, Gittin is excited about what he sees ahead of him and the sport.

“I think there are quite a few things going on,” he said. “There are great people who have been in sports and continue to do sports. There are also some influencers from other walks of life who have taken up the sport. Our driver Adam LZ is a huge YouTube content creator who started out in events and moved into drifting. Adam and others simply drew their audience into the scene.

“However, I think the real root of it is that it just didn’t start out as motorsport – it’s a youth car culture. It’s a youthful lifestyle around which motorsport has blossomed, if you will. Even if you don’t drift or compete in drifting, you can have a car styled after it, or you can have a lifestyle and go to car meets and hang out with people. You know, it’s become the hot rodding of today. You go back to the 1960s or 1970s, and my dad and your dad were at the local drag strip, hanging out, driving and building their car in their garage. It’s no different now, but it’s drifting, and the other thing about the competitive level is that you can’t deny how exciting it is to watch drifting.

“It’s literally a sensory overload for spectators and drivers. No matter who or what you are, you can’t say you don’t love 2,500 horsepower on the track, door to door, tires screaming and inches from the wall, it’s like a train wreck that could happen at any time the moment It is very well suited to the attention spans we humans have reached these days because cars are on the track for 30 seconds to a minute in each battle round. I think it’s just a culmination of a lot of things. Movies are based on that, and people just gravitate towards cool shit like drift.”

Gittin believes that drifting and everything that surrounds it adds to the sport, which is as much a lifestyle as it is a competitive discipline.

“When I got into it, I got into it because it was like skateboarding with cars,” he said. “It was a way to show your style and individuality. Skating is so much more than just a skateboard, and for me drifting is a lot like that. It’s like the clothes you wear, the wheels on your car, the style of the car, the way you wire it up… Drifting is just an extension of personality.

“It’s also extremely affordable. Not only are these aftermarket parts that you can attach to your car and things like that, but they are also extremely affordable. I mean the rise of drifting, Ford just released the new Mustang where they announced that they will release a car with an electric drift brake in the car. They came to me and my teammate and Monster Energy athlete Chelsea DeNofa to help them develop it. It was like: “What?!”

“Then there is competition. You’ve styled your car, you’re going to weekend events, you’re going to Pro-Am, you want to go Pro. There’s a way for drifting, it’s affordable, and it’s one of the most accessible forms of motorsports. It’s just fun. It’s so complicated and there are so many elements to it that you’re drawn to. I think the last 20 years in the sport have really come to a head and it’s really just taken over. For someone who has been in the sport since the first wave here in the US, I am very proud of all the riders who have been in it for so long. And over there, the young guns are rising. It’s all very cool. The talent and progress on the track, man, I can’t believe what’s going on there. It is simply absurd with the speed and levels of these cars in the Formula Drift paddock. It’s really crazy.

“Look, the game has changed, right? In 2004, right before I started, my first car had 400 horsepower and 300 foot-pounds of torque. I built in my garage and now there is no car under 1000 horsepower. I mean the tire pressure is single digits. We have shock absorbers that can be adjusted in three directions. We have adjustable rails. Cars received completely carbon bodies. It’s all about traction, grip and driving forward while you spin the tires. These cars tighten up the front corners because they have so much grip. These cars lift corners like a car on a dirt track. It’s just massive progress. All the teams now have engineers and everyone just extrapolates every moment of the car’s performance. That’s what makes it so exciting.

“This Formula Drift weekend is very difficult for the driver and the team because every lap you just try to get more and more. It’s the biggest physical and mental challenge for three days because you have to be perfect. You don’t get 500 laps, you know? Don’t discount NASCAR drivers who do 500 laps, but you don’t get 500 laps for making a mistake or two. You literally have to be perfect or you will get zero in this sport. The sport has just evolved as a result of the passion and commitment of the teams and everyone involved. This is super special, man. It’s only been 20 years and look where we are.

“Obviously, NASCAR and Formula 1 have been around forever. We are still babies compared to their history. Everyone here becomes a professional and develops everything. Everyone here is stepping up their business game.

“One important thing about drifting is that we are very approachable in the pits. The pits are always open and fans can come and mingle and say, “What’s up?” to the people they’re inspired by or want to support, and it’s just been great to see that flourish. I’m proud of the other teams for getting rid of the “Hey, I’m just here to race” mentality. It’s a lifestyle, and that’s what draws people to what we do. They can touch our partners, feel them and bond with them. Formula Drift really gave the racers a great platform to do that.

“The flip side of that is the content. A number of other series want to block content and prevent drivers from building themselves and their partners. Formula D was forward thinking and aware of how important content is to these drivers and teams. At the end of the day, it all just helps Formula D grow. I think that’s another big reason for the success we’re seeing.”

A regular in the 2022 Formula One drift season, DeNofa has been in and out of the top five all season, winning at Evergreen Speedway in Washington. After the season ended at Irwindale, DeNofa finished fourth in points. All things considered, it was good for team owner Gitin.

“I think we had a pretty good year,” Gittin said. “Chelsea was chasing the championship and there were a few ‘it’s the race’ mistakes and here we are in the last round and he’s fourth overall. Our new driver, Adam LZ, has had a season full of learning and we knew he would. The results that he and the team were working for were not there, but it all shows how difficult this sport is.”

So as the curtain comes down at Irwindale Speedway, the 2022 Formula Drift season done and dusted, what’s next for Gittin?

“This break I took from drifting wasn’t forever,” he said. “It wasn’t goodbye, it was goodbye. I’m still in that mood. All in all, it was cool to be a team owner here and experience all of that. I’ve been to three of the eight events this year, so I’ve been involved in the live streams, watching everything and just having fun. It was the first time in my life that I was able to do that, and it was cool.”

How about Gittin getting back into his Ford Mustang and racing again?

“Yeah, it’s definitely in my plans to come back,” he said. “I’m not exactly sure when it will be, but I will definitely be back in Formula Drift.”

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