If you ask me, I believe that drifting was never supposed to be a competition, competitive, of course, but not a competition. In wheel-to-wheel racing, somebody crosses the finish line first. In soccer, the ball either did or did not get past the goalie. But with drifting, sometimes there is no indisputable winner. Call it a sport, call it an art, or just call it a lifestyle. But whatever you call it, drifting is at its best & most pure when it’s done with teammates… not opponents.
But like any underground movement that starts a swell (the early years of skateboarding, BMX, import drag racing, etc.), sanctioning bodies are going to swoop in to try and organize it. Inevitably, they will monetize it and in order to monetize it, you need to have a ‘winner’. Sponsors want to see a winner. ESPN wants to see a winner. Winning makes news. NOT winning makes news too. It all makes for Monday morning PR. It creates hype & promotional material. ‘Winners’ are on the posters on kids’ bedroom doors…. not street racers.
So what does that have to do with Nate Hamilton? You’re going to find out it has everything to do with Nate Hamilton. If you’re one of the thousands of young-guns who have dreams of being a star driver one day, it has everything to do with you too.
Nate Hamilton has come-of-age inside a drift car. He has crossed over to true manhood, and gained clarity through the lens on his helmet. He has learned what it costs to hit the big leagues, and here’s where it gets real… he’s realizing that he might not have what it takes.
The lion-roar of frustration is that it has nothing to do with Nate’s focus, ability, or his ambition. The guy has made ‘focus’ a habit. He can flat-out drive the wheels off a car. But the cold, hard, bigger-than-you truth is that there are other forces that are out of his control.
Formula D has lifted off and it’s primetime now. It’s gotten to a point where raw talent, determination, and a fire in your belly aren’t enough. It takes budgets – real budgets. It takes a well-funded, well-organized operation oiled by more then just a bleeding heart. We know who the players are in the FD game – they’re sorted out and there aren’t many. If you’re not one of ‘em, then it’s monumentally tough to break through because there’s only room for 1 or 2 new freshmen at that cool-kid lunch table each year. Harsh, but that’s the way it is. This is the main stage.
So you wake up every morning, and you rise and grind. You exercise, meditate, practice, and dedicate your life to convincing sponsors that you’re a good bet. But you know in your heart that you’re not. Because you know, that if/when you go down that trodden FD path, you’ll grenade your entire sponsorship-budget just physically getting to the main Pro1 events. Swallow that. You know in your heart that you’ll be lucky just to get a couple Top-16s all year at best. Then you know that you’ll inevitably fall to a more consistent podium finisher. And if you DON’T fall at first – you might just get ‘1 more timed’ you until your car’s exhausted, and you’re eaten by the tigers. No clear cut winner – remember?
In essence, you’re a Roman gladiator… putting your future and your sponsors’ purses in the hands of our entertainment. Thumbs up or thumbs down.
How do you survive? Nate’s been on this topic for a couple years now. He’s thought about it and overthought about it. He’s strengthened himself and is now, in a strange way, coming back full circle to get back to the foundation of drifting. Back to where he started when it was all about getting in the car and having fun.
Nate is finding his True North. He moved from his hometown in TX, to Orlando, in order to be close to the Enjuku Racing team. He’s putting a focus on the team/ crew/culture, rather than just himself, his name, or his brand. He’s tapping back into a roots level of drifting that the major leagues have left in their smoke. Nate is back to a level that feeds the addiction.
You don’t go to Monster Truck Jam, and leave thinking “Hmmm I want to go off-roading”. Just like these days, you don’t do to Formula D and leave thinking “Hmmm I should buy a tube chassis, 1,000hp, FRS”.
With Formula D events, the aftershock impression to get involved has left the building, sort of. We all go to the Formula D; we all have a great time when FD hits our city. But the call-to-action is gone for most. Meaning we’ve all noticed the separation between Formula D cars, and the cars in our garages. But it didn’t used to be that way. When I went to my first FD event in ‘05, one of the FD cars blew by me, on the interstate, on the way to the event. When I got to the track, he was on the track. When I got home from that event, I was the owner of a Nissan within a week. Now when I get home from FD… I eat a sandwich on the couch… and wonder how much burnt rubber is in my dreads.
Nate is re-locking into that void-level, where drifting is genuinely intoxicating again. Where it’s infectious, airborne, where it spreads to the people, and makes them want to join in. That’s what it’s all about. Yeah dude – Nate’s gonna continue to compete. But he’s competing with a new level of no-stringsattached love for the sport. Excitement to perform > Pressure to perform. I can see that over the years, a lot of the top drivers have lost the passion of it. It’s old habit now; muscle memory. They still put on a show, but they’re not amazing themselves anymore.
For Nate, the pressure to win is not going to own him anymore. That shit’s over. The pressure to be the next big name is not going to intimidate him… or rob him of the purity/roots of the culture. Nate has a different agenda. He’s inspiring the people of this culture, not from above on a podium, but from ground level. I’m no sponsor, but if I was, THAT’S what I’d want to see.