Going with the drift

Mar. 10, 2013 @ 10:35 AM

In the middle of Northgate Mall’s center court, four small cars, their headlights flashing manically, sped down a straightaway Saturday and then took a sharp left — drifting around the bend, back to front.

They took a right turn then, back to front again, sliding as if they were on ice, but elegantly avoiding the bumpers that divvied up the pathways and the metal fence that enclosed the area.

“It might look easy but it’s hard,” said Carlos Gomez, who was operating one of the remote-controlled cars with his Spectrum DX 3 C control. “It takes a lot of skill to do it.”

Drifting, in fact, wasn’t the result of lack of control at the Ho-b Max Dar Drift Racing Event. It was the intent.

Using techniques that balanced steering, accelerating, braking and shifting, the remote-control operators tried to over-steer their cars so when going around corners they would lose traction in the rear wheels and drift.

“But the idea is, you still have to retain control,” said Gomez. “You really have to have a lot of coordination to do it well.”

Developed and popularized in Japan, car drifting is also a professional motorsport, with competitions held worldwide and judged according to the speed, angle and line taken through a set of corners.

Gomez has been working with remote-controlled cars, he said, since he was a teenager, and has been honing his drifting techniques for the past several months.

“I practice at home,” he said. “I have tile floors, so that helps a lot.”

It’s not an inexpensive hobby. Standard price for a 1/10 scale car is about $200, but Gomez said he had spent “about a thousand bucks” on his car, modifying the motor, the gearing and the lights. “It really drives beautiful now,” he said.

But Jose Vasquez, the owner of the Ho-b hobby shop in the mall that sponsored the event, said it’s not so much about what you put in the car. It’s about how good the driver is.

“A skilled driver on a crappy car will drift amazing,” Vazquez said. “He’ll do much better than a bad driver with a great car. It all depends on how much play time you get.”