Tire-Destroying Drifters Raise Tire Hungry Crowds - and Opportunities - Tire Review Magazine

Tire-Destroying Drifters Raise Tire Hungry Crowds – and Opportunities

Clutch drops. Trail braking. Line. Feint. Tansou (speed attack) and Tsuiso (chase attack). Oversteer.  

Oh, and tire smoke. Lots and lots of tire smoke.  

Drifters blend the entertainment of flash driving with the discipline needed to control a car at 11/10ths – just past the absolute limit of adhesion – and into a graceful, smoky and sideways ballet of tin, tires and tarmac.  

The “new” sport of drifting is actually over 30 years old. Originating in Japan, drifting was a popular driving technique in the All Japan Touring Car Championship races. Famous for hitting an apex at high speed, drivers would hot-foot the car through the turn a bit more than around it – smoking their precious tires all the way, much to the delight of the drifting fans.  

And therein lies the rub. The combination of high exit speed and high friction where the rubber meets the road means these drifters aren’t doing their tires any favors.  

Where most motorsports drivers are keen to save as much tire as they can for the duration of the race, drifters are actively trying to incinerate their tires at top speeds to the delight of legions of excited fans and judges. It is quite possible for drifters to destroy several sets of tires in a typical weekend of exhibitions.  

Bias-ply tires of the 1970s and 1980s were particularly prized for their ability to allow drivers to scoot around corners at high slip angles. Drifters like Drift King Keeichi Tsuchiya mastered their derring-do on mountain roads, gaining reputations as the best of the best, and were able to coax their back wheels around relatively easily with the bias-ply setup. (Check out the YouTube video Pluspy, a video from 1987 of Tsuchiya and his driving prowess as he smokes the hides in his mid-80s econo-box.)

Nowadays, depending on the skill of the drifter and the power of the car being drifted, radial HP and UHP tires are employed to varying degrees of adhesion and success.

Most cars use different size (and sometimes, different compound) tires for front and rear. Front tires must be sticky – the softer the better – so that the car can rely on the front end for steering. The back tires can be made of a much harder compound, which is preferred to help swap ends of the car around the track. In fact, many drifters obtain second-hand tires for rear-end duty as they’ll end up getting destroyed anyway – though high-speed drifts require a softer compound for safety.  

Some tire manufacturers, such as Kumho, Yokohama and Nitto, supply tires to drifters from their UHP and DOT-approved tire lines – garnering much-needed publicity for the tiremakers and free or discount hoops for the drifters, which is good, as they burn through several sets a weekend.

Most competitive drifters run DOT-approved tires when permitted, though there are series, such as the D1 Grand Prix, that require commercially available tires that are approved by the sanctioning body.  

Survey Says
Tire dealers are ripe to get into drifting action, even if they are unsure if drifting is a sport and wonder why anyone would want to do anything but preserve the precious rubber that connects the car to the road – two points that come up often enough that some people are turned off by the spectacle.

The fact of the matter is that drifting is happening, and local tire dealers would do well to make every effort to get involved and market tires aggressively to the drifting crowd. Club events happen all over America every weekend, and most drifters start out with cheap cars running on cheap tires, upgrading as they improve.

Throngs of fans turn out to see cars slide this way and that, their attention glued to the loud car sliding sideways across a track, a parking lot or a road course.  

Online drift videos garner so much attention that it’s not unusual for video coverage of a competition to get well over a quarter of a million views. And online communities dedicated to drifting are very popular, many with hundreds, even thousands of active members. Most importantly, these drifters need the one thing that allows them to slide around the track and make huge amounts of smoke: tires.

Getting Started
Perusing any online drifting website or forum will immediately reveal several facts for tire dealers to consider right off the bat:

• Drifters know where and how to get free or cheap tires.
• Drifters are prideful.
• Drifters are a never-ending source of income for both tire stores and speed shops.

As drifters progress through the sport, technique improves and speed increases. Drivers go from getting any old 15-inch tire for their rear-drive drifting machine to a full-on set of Advans, Pilot Sports or P Zeros. Often, freshman drifters will skulk about a tire store’s pile of take-offs headed for the recycler and attempt to talk the dealer into giving them a break. We were all young once, and even getting one’s buddies to cough up five bucks for gasoline was a huge deal.

However, everyone wants to get better at what they do – and drifters are no different. Drifters are willing to pay for their hobby, and sooner rather than later, the same kid in the 1982 Toyota Corolla coupe looking for scrap tires will be screaming around corners in a 600+ bhp beast on 15-inch HP, UHP or maybe even DOT tires looking for more points, more sponsors and more money.  

From an equipment standpoint, one of the things that separates drifting from traditional racing is that the cars and the tires are readily available most anywhere. Since the rear tires are goners anyway, buying or accumulating large quantities of tires is on every drifter’s mind, and traditional tire dealers are in the cat bird seat to be a source for their most needed parts.  

Finding a consistent source of income, repeat customers and high margins are items on every dealer’s mind. Servicing a seemingly untapped resource like drifting, especially one that creates so much potential for sales and service, can be a boon for an independent dealer. The time and money spent getting familiar with the sport can pay dividends later on, and because common tires are preferred in drifting circles, traditional dealers are every bit as equipped to deal with the drifting demand as motorsport specialists.  

Being aware of automotive trends – not just in plus fitments or tire compounds, but also the activities at a local and regional level – can pay off big time. Customers come in all shapes and sizes, and as we’ve shown in this column previously, performance can be more than one thing. In the case of drifting, performance isn’t only how fast one gets around the track, but how entertaining he or she is while doing it.  

Drifting might just be the additional revenue stream that traditional dealers have been searching for – though who would have imagined oversteer and tire wear would be such a good thing?

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