25 Heroes from Gridlife South: Drift, Time Attack, and More
Text and photography by Luke Munnell
Over the past several years, Gridlife has built its name on doing things differently. Take its most popular events: bash-style drifting combined with serious time attack competition and major car shows going down on race weekends, mixed in with camping and the 24/7 debauchery that goes with it. These are all components of Gridlife’s massive music-meets-motor festivals that bring together some of the best things in life, which today’s car guys and girls have previously had to pick and choose between.
With this legendary recipe comes an impressive array of diverse and ever-changing ingredients. And to see best what’s trending in 2018, we tagged along with the latest annual Gridlife South festival at Road Atlanta and subsequently had our minds blown by the level of talent, impressive machinery, and good times to be had. This list of 25 teams, people, and cars which made our experience so epic is by no means a be-all, end-all summary of Gridlife’s awesome experience. On the contrary, in fact. It’s just scratching the surface.
Track Battle is Gridlife’s time attack competition series. With five events inking the 2018 calendar at racetracks spread out across the eastern half of the U.S.—and competition suiting a wide range of vehicles—it’s become possibly the most competitive time attack series today. Here’s what we found most impressive at Road Atlanta.
James Houghton, Acura Integra DC2
Toronto native James Houghton and his supercharged K24-powered DC2 Integra have been on a warpath the past few years, and today James is as fast as ever. His blistering 1:22.594 lap around Road Atlanta’s 2.54 miles and 12-odd turns earned him not only the Unlimited FWD class win, but was also the fastest time of the weekend and the fastest time around Road Atlanta by a Track Battle car, ever—FWD, RWD, AWD, whatever.
Daijiro Yoshihara, Toyota 86
If that wasn’t impressive enough, here’s another one: a career drifter won Unlimited RWD competition, set a new class/track record in the process, and set the second-fastest lap of the event—all in his first event with the car! With a 1:25.968 lap, Dai absolutely killed it in the Evasive Toyota 86’s Track Battle debut, and data suggests there was a lot of potential left in the pits. Could this be the start of Unlimited RWD becoming as competitive as the FWDs have been? You can see more on the Evasive 86 right here.
Jeremy Swenson, Corvette ZR1
Slip into your favorite jean shorts, hike up your socks and lace up your white cross-trainers, because it’s Corvette time. Taking the Track Modified RWD-class win (and running faster than any other Track Modified class) was Jeremy Swenson in a pretty badass ZR1, with a 1:28.877 best lap. We’ve often gotten the feeling that America’s perennial halo sports cars (or their owners) don’t live up to the hype, but maybe today’s new generation of ‘Vette tuners will change that. Or at least the uniform.
Erin Sanford, S13 Nissan 240SX
240SXs built to hold traction?! Yes, they do exist. But rarely are they faster than Erin Sanford’s LS-powered and thoroughly track-refined (and thoroughly pink!) S13. Erin rounded out the sub-1:30 club at Road Atlanta this time, with a 1:29.145 before suffering a catastrophic engine failure and bowing out of competition. Still, as locals to Road Atlanta with the means to rebuild in a jiffy, we’re certain this won’t be the last—or the fastest—we’ll see of this duo.
Cody Miles, Subaru WRX STI
We caught up with Southern California’s Cody Miles halfway through the Gridlife weekend, where he mentioned being two seconds off his best time from the previous year and not knowing how he could possibly make it up. The next time we saw him, he was on track, running nearly a half-second faster than he ever has, earning the Track Modified class win (with a 1:30.913) and setting a new class/track record. Typical Cody.
More Track Stuff
Track Battle competition at the top is impressive to witness, but it’s only part of the Gridlife story. Most of it exists elsewhere in the run groups, where 119 drivers entered Track Battle to mainly compete against friends and rivals, and to improve their own personal best times. And then there were the endless heats of HPDE run groups: guys and girls just looking for a good time at the track and some improvement along the way. Here’s a quick look at all of that.
Vision Performance, Factory Five 818R
You might remember Ron Ewerth and Vision Performance for their supercharged, LS3-powered Scion FR-S, or Nissan Titan (VK56DE)-powered S15 Silvia and Infiniti G35 before that. In addition to the FR-S that helped tear up the drifting portion of events, Ron brought out his latest toy: a turbocharged Subaru STI-powered Factory Five 818R speedster.
MOMO Ferrari 458 Italia GT3
Generally we have mixed feelings about professional race machines competing in time attack competitions, but it was a rare treat to see and especially hear MOMO’s Pirelli World Challenge Ferrari make lap after lap around Road Atlanta. We couldn’t find official times for driver Henrique Cisneros and the Italian stallion, but we’re sure they’d be what one would expect.
Representing perhaps the complete opposite end of the performance spectrum as a Ferrari GT3 machine was this: Karl Hertel and the Track Modified-class Honda Odyssey minivan. Clocking a best 1:49.185, Karl and the family hauler were somehow faster than 16 other competitors, including a couple of Miatas, a BMW 135i, and even a DC2 Integra Type R (ouch!).
Ford friggin’ Festiva!
OK, let’s get one thing straight: if you bring one of the cheapest (in every sense of the word) production cars—powered by a 1.1-liter engine—to a track day, you’re probably a pretty fun dude to hang out with and definitely a brave driver. We’re not sure who drove this beastly display of confidence and momentum strategy, but seeing a friggin’ Festiva round Road Atlanta in the same run group as a brand-new Ford GT was definitely one highlight of our weekend.
Totally sweet Dodge Challenger
It looks like it weighs three tons. Its has probably the largest and flattest doors of any vehicle this side of a van, and the last time I saw one next to an original Dodge Caravan in traffic, the van looked the smaller of the two. But the Challenger is here to stay. And while it continues to melt faces on the drag strip, it’s nice to know it can actually go fast around a racetrack (driver Kevin Wesley piloted this one to a 1:31.372) … and look surprisingly good doing it!
For as much media coverage as you see of the drifting that goes down at Gridlife, you might think that’s all that happens there. And while drifting is actually a smaller component to time attack and even HPDE driving at Gridlife, it’s some of the craziest drifting you’ll find anywhere. Top pros and pro-ams collide (sometimes literally) here, in a fun, bash-style format with no-holds-barred, full-course access, and always a strong presence by locals and crews. Some of our favorites include the following:
Far and away our number-one picks for participation, organization, talent, and the spirit of drifting, the Top Garage boys hit the track en masse each and every time drifting took center stage. Massive multi-car drifts, flawless tandems with the pros, and an awesome assortment of crews’ cars makes them one of the best drift crews around, period.
No, he’s not drifting one of those new Challengers. When we saw Corey debut his newly 2JZ-powered “Boss S14” in drifting shenanigans at the Gridlife Midwest festival, it was clear he had a ways to go in terms of getting comfortable with it. But as of the Gridlife South festival, it seems like he’s nearly there, hurtling it through the FD course and around the full track near-flawlessly a number of times, both solo and in tandem action.
OK — we have no idea who this new Faruk is, because he certainly isn’t the same guy the drifting world has come to love poking fun at over the past few years. This new Faruk and his newly-sorted E92 BMW coupe have been absolutely killing it in the past few FD rounds and at Gridlife. MC Jarod DeAnda called him “a man on fire” at Road Atlanta, and we 100-percent agree … though thankfully not literally!
Koruworks + Ryan Litteral
Speaking of “literally,” Ryal Litteral has also been killing it, ever since we saw him get behind the wheel of the Kuroworks Nissan 350Z at Street Driven Tour’s farewell round in Atlanta last year. That trend continued at Gridlife, where Ryan generously shredded tire from behind the wheel of either the 350Z or the “Voodoo Ride” S14 some might know him best for.
Another apparent driving prodigy from Toronto, Canada (seriously, what’s in the water up there?), Riley attacked the Road Atlanta FD course and full track so thoroughly in his NVAuto Subaru WRX STI, that if you didn’t already know who he was, you might think Nobushige Kumakubo had come out of retirement and buffed up his legendary Team Orange car. We’ll be hoping to see more from this lad soon.
Tanner Foust, Fredric Aasbø and friends
First of all, all the FD pros who came out to shred at Gridlife killed it. There’s a whole different vibe to seeing top competitors get back to the drift bashing they all grew up on and still love at their cores, and Gridlife is probably the best place to see that. But the performances put on by Tanner and Fred especially impressed us.
Tanner certainly has bigger fish to fry, what with his charity work and guest appearances, Americas Rallycross competition and his passion for flying. And then there’s Fred, who’s second in the Formula D championship running by a mere 30 points, and probably really doesn’t need to destroy his competition Toyota Corolla for fun. Yet both were there, putting on a hell of a show, and basically enjoying themselves and their sport they way you just know they love to.
RADwood and the Gridlife Showcase
If your favorite car came from the ‘90s, you’re not alone! The ‘90s were the golden age of analog; the highest OBDI and drive-by-cable tech would ascend before automakers began deadening the souls of sportscars and sport compacts for the sake of reliability, cost, and comfort. Life before the Internet—remember that? If the answer is “not so clearly,” the RADwood Festival series of shows exists to remind you, through period-correct cars and clothes. For all the rest, there was business as usual in the Gridlife Showcase.
Cutwork 1UZFE-swapped Toyota Corolla wagon
Toyota? Yes. Wagon? Yes. V8 power? Yes. Staying JDM? Yes!! With the junkyard cost of 1UZ Toyota V-8 engines today hovering around absolute zero, you might wonder why more builders aren’t using these gems. After seeing the buzz stirred by this “death wagon,” we’re curious to see if that changes. Also something we’re curious about: whether deathy will stay ratty or go all the way.
Turbo K-series EG Civic
We’ll admit: this probably isn’t close to what RADwood promoters had in mind when starting their show series. But it is an early-90s chassis, and 100-percent rad with its turbo K-series engine, clean overall styling and daily driven appearance. In an arena where drifting and time attack were so well represented, it was good to see a potent straight-line street build come out to play.
2JZ-swapped Saturn Sky
Not since Darren McNamara and Ben Sherman drifted the Falken car into oblivion have we been so impressed with a Saturn Sky. Though not from the ‘90s, the ‘07-’10 Saturn Sky is easily one of the most overlooked roadster platforms of its day, and the big-turbo 2JZ-swapped @onesketchysky, owned by Tampa-based artist “Sharpie Works”, is just what the world needs right now.
What do you do when you have a pipe bender, plasma cutter, welder, and a DC2 Acura Integra with a straight chassis? Well, if you’re the guys at Krowrx, you do this. Weighing in at less than 1,300 lbs, rid of anything not pertaining to the purist driving experience (but with a lot more rubber!), is the Krowrx Xtegra, and we want one. Or at least, to give one a rip around Road Atlanta!
Clean R32 GT-R
If the Porsche 911 was the car we all wanted but couldn’t afford in the ‘90s, the R32 Skyline GT-R was the one we all wanted, couldn’t afford, and couldn’t even get legally on our shores. Today, at least one of those variables has changed, and there’s something about seeing a clean, tuned R32 steal attention from two equally clean Porsches that just steals our JDM hearts.
RADwood is supposed to be equal parts period-correct cars and dress, and while none of us who were of partying age in the ‘90s actually wore what most of those who dressed up for RADwood did, the effort was duly noted and helped make the show one of the most fun to date.
There. We did it. You survived.
This lengthy beast of an article barely scratches the surface of all the automotive insanity that a Gridlife festival weekend encompasses, and we didn’t even get to the music. You’ll have to wait until next year to take part in it for yourself (which we strongly suggest you do). Until then, have a look through our gallery for more, and be sure to follow Front Street for everything else.