Exclusive: Formula Drift Champ Chris Forsberg Talks Adrenaline, Grassroots Racing and Sliding a Car Sideways at High Speeds


[Note: This is the second in a series of 3 articles on the growing sport of Drifting. You can read the first, Drifting 101, here. ]

In the growing sport of drifting, Chris Forsberg is a rising star. He was one of the first to land a major sponsor (NOS Energy Drink), and form his own racing team (Chris Forsberg Racing) — going from tinkering with cars in his barn back in Pennsylvania, to making drifting a very successful full-time career.

I had a chance to spend time with Chris at events at Road Atlanta and Palm Beach International Raceway, where he took second place. Currently 6th overall in the points standings after 3 events, Chris told me how he got started, what it’s like to slide a car at high speeds, and how you can compete in drifting.

How did you get started in drifting?

I first got into it around 1999 or 2000. A friend of mine showed me internet videos of cars sliding around, and I just thought it looked cool.

I had seen a car sliding sideways, but I never realized that people were doing it on purpose, and could control it. It was super exciting and I wanted to learn how to do it.

How did you practice? Did you just take your own car and start trying to slide around?

Pretty much. When I was 17 my friend friend Tony Angelo and I both went and bought rear wheel drive cars specifically to drift in (Mazda RX7s), and went out on some empty roads and empty lots back in Pennsylvania and went messing around. Eventually after about 2 years, I learned how to carry a car thru a set series of corners, not just hit the gas on the way out and get wiggly with it.


Did you learn this all on your own?

I’m 100 percent self taught. All trial and error. And like I said, at the beginning, it took me two or three years to really know what I was doing and be able to take a car thru a set of corners.

We had no idea what we were doing. We’d try to find in-car videos online and try to duplicate what we saw the drivers doing in the car.


How did you go from that to getting your own team together in just a few short years?

In 2003 drifting events started happening in the States, and people in the auto scene were like, “This is really cool what you can do with a car.”

From there, Formula Drift announced at SEMA that they were going to run the first drifting series with a championship in 2004. I had just moved to California, trying to progress in drifting, and started going to the events trying to get seen and get sponsors.

It was all timing. It was right at the time when Formula D was starting and sponsors were there just plucking people up trying to build teams quickly.  Went from a bunch of kids who thought is was cool, into this pro series within about a year. And its been growing every year.

I’ve been working with NOS (Chris’s major sponsor) since ’06 and right from the start it was a handshake deal. You know “Here are some drinks and some stickers… We think you drive pretty good.”

And as the years went by we were growing and NOS Energy Drink was growing and that’s when I decided to start my own team and they took a bit of a gamble on us. And their support of drifting as a sport has just been phenomenal. They went from sponsoring just one random guy to now they are Formula Drift’s title sponsor for the past 5 years. They are the official drink of Formula D. They sponsor a lot of regional guys. They sponsor numerous Pro Am competitions. They are just fully involved in drifting.

Home for Chris Forsberg Racing on race day

I see in the competitions there are guys like yourself with sponsored teams and there are guys with small teams or who just come out by themselves. Will this continue, or will it be where you’ll need a sponsored team to survive?

As drifting keeps growing you’d think the gap would keep growing between grassroots and pro, but its actually almost closing now because you have so many events happening, so drivers can jump through the stepping stones to get to the Formula Drift level easier.

But drifting is one of the only sports where pretty much any driver can show up and be in the competition. You don’t have to have a team, you don’t have to have a sponsor, you don’t have to have a special car. If it runs, you can try it on track.

Do you get any push back from the guys who started it in the streets and still drift in the streets? Do they see it as a commercialization of something they love to do?

It’s hard to say. Obviously there are some kids who are like “Stay to the streets.” But at the same time, guys like me who came up from the streets and a now doing well in Formula D will go back to those events and will bring our pro cars and give rides, or take our lesser-built practice cars, like Nissan 240s, and run with the grassroots guys.

We all came from that and we all drift because we love it, not because were just some race car driver looking for the next hot ticket. So we will go to those events and hang out with our friends and slide the cars around together and just have a good time.

Since day one drifting has been a social thing, it has that crazy sportsmanship where you’ve got competitors helping each other out on the grid to help get each other out on track. Events are about bringing friends together. It’s a very social thing to do. Like, “Hey watch me do this!”

Forsberg on the grid, waiting to run

Whats the sensation like when you’re actually drifting? Seems like there is a lot going on inside the car in the minute and thirty seconds you’re on the course

Thats one of the most exciting things about drifting. Its been quoted as being “the last lap of the best race you’ve ever seen.”

I just love the feeling of it, its just pure adrenaline, its like a roller coaster that you have control of, and it’s just an insane feeling.


Whats your first thought when you come down off the line? Are you trying to focus on a specific spot?

The course is all about having reference points, and it’s the drivers that are finding the same entrance point, braking point, and shifting point at that same point on the track every time, that are the consistent drivers. The ones that a just winging it are the ones that look like the car is controlling them, and they are inconsistent. It makes a huge difference in the judging.

So you can actually power the car thru the corners, right? People think the car is just sliding on its own, but you are controlling it. I saw you sliding up a hill, so you can actually power the car during a slide?

Drifting is all on the throttle… Lots of throttle control. There is obviously some sliding with the handbrake, but thats usually when you’re coming into a corner with more speed than you need. For example in Atlanta, we are coming down a hill at 100 mph, but you only need about 45 mph into the first turn, so we’ll use the handbrake to slow the car while it’s sideways. Then when we get to about 45-50 mph, we’ll jump back on the throttle through the turn.


How would you suggest someone start out to be a drift driver?

Obviously the first thing you need is a rear wheel drive car with a Limited Slip Differential, and a lot of the Nissan chassis are the best ones to start with.

Getting into the sport we tell people to get a Nissan 240z, you see them from grassroots events to winning championships. There are just a couple modifications to get them to be able to handle a drift course: limited slip differential which locks the rear wheels, a stiffer suspension so the car is not so sloppy, and a bucket seat that holds you in the car, because when you’re tossing it back and forth, if you cant sit still and hold on to the controls, you’re just along for the ride. Those are the first three things I tell anyone to get when they’re interest in drifting.

There are almost hundreds of events every year across the country now, organizations in every major area. So if you want to get into drifting, you can search for the local events in your area and get down there and see what its all about.

Inside the cockpit of the NOS NIssan

What makes a good drifter?

It’s a lot of seat time and practice, but at the same time you have to have that raw talent. Some guys will try and try and try, but they wont progress. With drifting there are different levels like anything else. At first you’re just trying to get the car to slide sideways, and then you’re moving into integrating the handbrake, and being able to accelerate and decelerate in drift. Then you start doing tandems, so now you have a whole new challenge because there is another car on track. So you not only having to drift the course, but adjust to another car on the track. The more the levels progress the faster you have to be with your reactions.


Whats next for you? Looks like you drive as long as you want. Drifting is not like football or baseball where your career is relatively short. Do you see this as a sport where guys can compete for 10, 20 years or longer?

Absolutely. I fully intend on drifting as long as possible. I drift because I love the sport and not because I’m trying to get into something else. From day one of getting in a car and sliding it, I’ve done it for the sheer adrenaline rush and loving every minute of the comraderie, and the people that you meet.

We have drivers in their 40s and 50 s competing and qualifying, so I don’t see any problem with me drifting for decades.

Anything else you want people to know about drifting?

The best thing I can say about drifting is there are 3 great ways to experience it: Watching on video, watching it live, then actually being in the car. And once you see it live you’re hooked. I’ve never met a single person who’s been to a drift event and said they were bored, they didn’t like it, or that they are not coming back.

For a full schedule of drifting events, and where you can watch it live, online or on NBC Sports, go to FormulaDrift.com

Image credit: Formula Drift

For more, follow me @thebachelorguy.com.

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