The Adrenaline Rush of Drifting

Not all who drift are shiftless

photo by krystle crossman
Kayleigh Robertson and Thomas Brisendine work on a rescued Nissan 240SX.

If you asked me five years ago what drifting a car meant, I wouldn’t have had a clue. Now, after being involved in what some call a reckless automotive hobby, I can confidently offer this definition: Drifting is when a driver of a rear-wheel-drive vehicle executes a moving burnout while maintaining a smooth line through technique and variable levels of traction through a designed course.

I can also tell you that a perfect drift is like watching a paintbrush make a bold stroke across a clean canvas.

Most people know me for the work I do at Montagne Communications, a strategic communications firm located in the heart of downtown Manchester. I spend most of my days writing press releases, planning events, creating videos and providing support to some of New Hampshire’s most exciting businesses and organizations. When I’m not at work, my colleagues, family and friends know they can likely find me at a small shop in Hampstead assisting my significant other, Thomas Brisendine, as we work together to build his dream drift car.

Thomas introduced this adrenaline-rushing automotive pastime to me back in 2011. I was not exactly a full-time car fanatic at the time, nor did I know what a Nissan 240SX was until we made a three-hour trip to Middle-of-Nowhere, Maine, to dig one out of someone’s yard to bring home and restore. At that point, I only knew drifting as it’s depicted in the movie “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” and the few videos I had seen on YouTube, but my education had begun. A few months after our trek to Maine, Thomas invited me to tag along with him to a drift event being held at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. One of his close friends, Joe, would be putting his drift car, also a 240SX, to the test that day. As it turns out, the New Hampshire drifting scene is a bit different than in Japan, but with all the same excitement.

When we arrived at the track, we were greeted with the sounds of loud exhausts, roaring engines and screeching tires while a wall of tire smoke cascaded through the air. The energy was palpable and contagious. This was a completely different environment than I was used to seeing at NASCAR or IndyCar races. I could tell after only a couple of hours that Thomas was hooked and would be yearning to feel the rush of being on that course drifting his own car. Sure enough, a month later we were back at the same track, and I was sitting in the bleachers watching him push the limits of his lightly modified but mostly stock car that we had just dug out of the woods six months prior. From that day on, drifting became a pivotal part of our relationship. Now, two cars later, we’re working towards building the last race car we’ll ever need ... hopefully!

Weekends where other couples may be off adventuring or laying low at home are, for us, spent at the shop. The summer bronzing that comes from sunning at the beach has been replaced by T-shirt tan lines earned at the track. Together, we’ve disassembled full interiors for weight reduction, performed motor swaps and suspension removal, and spent hundreds of hours reconditioning and detailing to prepare the race car for a weekend of showcasing and tire shredding. At the track, I’m a pit crew member. I help to replace worn-out tires after Thomas’ run group is done and provide support as a passenger by spotting when he’s on the course completing a tandem run with another driver. We discuss the runs once they’re completed in order to figure out how tight or wide the car needs to go on the course to complement the car’s suspension and Thomas’ unique driving style.

I’ve gotten to know the drivers — called gearheads — and the story that each one has to tell. Some spend their lives building their race cars, travel hundreds of miles to drive at events or competitions for one day or skip out on family functions just to feel the rush of being behind the wheel. They all support one another by talking over techniques or lending a hand with repairing a broken part. The resiliency and camaraderie of this crowd is inspiring and infectious. I’ve seen drivers crash their cars and then pass along their non-broken parts to other drivers or even drive home to retrieve a part that another driver desperately needs, just so they can continue their day at the track.

There are only a couple of facilities in New Hampshire where drifting events take place. Most commonly, drivers and spectators make the trip to either the New Hampshire Motor Speedway or Canaan Fair Raceway. Drifting at the Speedway is held in a large parking lot with tires and cones marking out the track layout for drivers to follow. Canaan Fair Raceway, a recently opened track that first allowed drifting last fall, provides the more technical and high-speed road course for both low-powered and high-powered drift cars that is preferred by the more experienced driver. Drift enthusiasts and their friends who venture to Canaan appreciate the scenic views and small-town environment and enjoy supporting the local businesses such as Papa Z’s and Canaan Village Pizza, where drivers go to refuel their energy with delicious meals throughout the day. Canaan Hardware is also the go-to place for drivers in need of specific hardware when making repairs to their cars.

Technically challenging, potentially expensive and, yes, risky, drifting is not a sport for just anyone, but it is an incredible experience for all to take in. You may have not heard much about this underground “adrenaline community,” but it draws spectators from all over New England and along the East Coast and, at least from my perspective, the number of fans seems to be growing every year. People of all ages are welcome to these events to see what drifting is all about and, for those who want to know more, drivers are always happy to show off and talk about their cars.

As I write this essay, Thomas and I are in the process of preparing the engine bay and interior for painting and determining a color scheme that Thomas and his friends will use to designate their cars as a team. If all goes to plan, you’ll see us back out on the course this fall shredding tires with huge smiles and fragments of rubber plastered on our faces and helmets. Join us at the track, and I can guarantee you’ll be smiling too.

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