So You Want To Pursue A Career In The World of Drifting – An Open Letter From The Drift Idiot

SoYouWant2


I have been asked this question dozens of times since I started Drift Idiot in 2012. I really had no idea how to answer it then, and only recently would I consider myself at least minimally qualified enough to give a respectable answer. The message I continually receive usually looks something like this:

“Hi Sam! I love your series and I eat, sleep, and dream about drifting just like you. It’s all I want to do, and I am ready to do whatever it takes to become a professional drifter/professional drift filmmaker. Do you have any advice?”

First, you are all probably aware that I am not a professional drifter, nor am I a pro-am drifter, nor am I even financially “breaking even” on my drifting projects. However, I have spent a decent amount of time working with the best drivers in the world, and although I haven’t been involved in the sport nearly as long as many other drivers, filmmakers, and photographers, I have given as much of my energy as possible to better myself as a filmmaker, driver, and to promote the sport any way I can. That being said, I am by no means the end-all-be-all on the subject of “how do I become a professional drifter/professional drift filmmaker,” and the following “open letter” is merely my opinion based off of my personal experiences and documenting the experiences of the best Formula Drift drivers in the world.

The following letter is an actual letter I wrote in response to the most recent individual to ask me “how do I become a professional drifter/professional drift filmmaker?” 


Hello [Future Drift Champion/Award Winning Documentarion]!

I’m happy to share any info about my past or present experiences with the sport and all of the background details that go along with this passion.

First, when I started, I had already graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and was working 3 jobs, usually working a combined 60 hours a week.

I started drifting because I had attended Formula Drift Irwindale as a spectator in 2011 and I thought it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. That, in combination with the Speedhunters post about Matt Powers’ green S14, started a fire in me, like you, that had me eating, sleeping, and thinking about nothing but drifting.

I found the right car, bought it, made a video, made some friends and fans, and now everything is perfect and stress-free.

That is a complete lie.

At one time I had savings and lived fairly large with my hard earned money. Since I started drifting my financial situation has been shaky at best. I have run out of money entirely a few times since then. I was in a very committed relationship with my “high-school sweetheart” when I began drifting. I thought it would be the last relationship I would ever have. There were other issues, but I can say that my commitment to my personal drifting and aspirations to immerse myself in the big leagues caused unmanageable strain on the relationship and had a part in its demise. I had to quit one of my jobs right away, and as you may have read, as of a few weeks ago, I quit the other job so I can work only on my commercial photography and Drift Idiot. At this moment, I am making less money than I did before I started drifting and I can’t make impulsive purchases or splurge on food or drink without extreme caution. I still work 40-60 hours a week to fund my passions, I just don’t make as much. But I am happy.

I found a way to make money in the field I am passionate about. I am constantly building and rebuilding a bad ass car. I have strengthened friendships with old friends, made some incredible new friends, and fortunately now have an incredibly supportive girlfriend who jumps at the opportunity to spend 14 hour days filming with me and understands when I go multiple nights without sleep to finish an editing project.

But enough of my story for now.

This is my advice to you and anyone else who is ready to throw away their “normal” lives, seek financial instability, and spit in the face of anyone, loved ones included, who isn’t supportive of your reckless path.

– If you are in college, finish college. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my college training. Not so much what I learned in class, but simply learning to speak to people and finish tasks in a timely and professional manner. If you are not in college yet, and you can get a well-paying job with room for growth and increased pay then maybe don’t go to college. But you might regret it later. No one that I graduated with will say that their education was a waste, even if they are not working in a field even remotely related to their degree.

– Work. Work as much as your body and mind can handle. 40 hours minimum. 60-70 is better. Work in the automotive field if you can. Work anywhere. You can’t do anything in the automotive world without money. You can’t drift competitively, travel, or remain sane without a lot of money. You don’t need a formal education to make money. I typically made $15-$30/hr parking cars as a valet, and many friends in the service industry waiting tables or tending bar easily make that or more. I haven’t met anyone who is succeeding in this lifestyle that doesn’t absolutely work their asses off. The people at the top work harder than anyone else. NOTHING about their rise to success has been easy.

– Have a daily driver. Your drift car will break. You need to be reliable, and trying to daily your drift car is bad idea. You also won’t push it 100% at the track if you need it to get you to work the next day. You should get a truck that can tow a car.

– Buy a drift car. Buy a lot of tools. Buy a 240sx, a BMW 3-series, or a 350Z. Rip out as much weight as possible. Weld the diff. Buy spare wheels. Buy the cheapest new tires you can find. Drift. Break something. Fix it. Add suspension mods. Add a roll cage. Add more suspension mods. Break more things. Fix them. Add power. Drift.

– Talk to everyone who knows more than you, which when you start, will be everyone. Talk to the best people at the track. Talk to the best people in the world. To the best of my knowledge, Chris Forsberg answers every serious question sent his way. Every other pro drifter will probably do the same.

– Profit?

Congratulations! You now have the life you’ve always wanted. Only not really. Drifting is great, but it is not the end-all-be-all of experiences. The friends you’ll meet, the things you’ll learn, and the places you’ll go are more important than your time in the seat. You probably won’t be world champion. You should try, but only if you are ready to be 100% committed. Even if you spend every cent, dedicate every hour, and get extremely lucky, there will be some one else with as much commitment who is still more skilled than you. Be prepared for failure. Be prepared for sleepless nights, bloody hands, and mental breakdowns.

THE SHORT ANSWER: I don’t recommend pursuing a life in drifting. But if you are like me, or any people committing a large portion of their life to any passion, then it’s not really a choice – we don’t really know how to live any other way.

I hope this gives you all a bit of insight into my experiences with the sport thus-far, and please feel free to ask me any further questions on this subject or any others – SN 

32 Comments

  1. I m a car lover.. I want to be a drifter, but I’m from India and here I don’t have any source by which I can do what i want and my problem is the society and how to convince my parents for letting me to do what I want. I m a experienced driver I start riding at the age of 11 and at the age of mid 12 I started driving a car. But now I m at the age of 17 and thinking that these all my passion my desires and my dreams are useless
    Because I’m not getting any kind of support, but I want to be a drifter because cars are like my life, like my best friends. And I want to show the world my talent and want to highlight my name Bunny . And Sir ken block my greatest Inspiration and Love you team hoonigans..

    Reply

    1. I am in the same situation as you man. And I’m also from India. I always dream of cars. But support is not there. Money is also a problem😢😢

      Reply

  2. I’m just a dreamer 13 year old that’s picking grade 9 courses and I don’t know where any tracks are but just because you can’t find a track doesn’t mean you need to give up just trust me if you think you can make money then go for it if you think you can’t make money go for it every drifter has to start somewhere take cars for example it started of with a platform with wheels that goes 5 mph but now people are going 400 kph just from a car all things start somewhere just think about what could happen if you try even if you don’t go professional just have fun with your friends screw around in a parking lot hit some walls fix your car at least you have a passion and don’t live in an apartment with a bad job just to live and think every morning why don’t I find a better job but realize it’s impossible jobs shouldn’t be based around money it
    S about what you want to do

    Reply

    1. Im 13 too and i like drifting want to pursue it as a career is buying a used car preping it for drifting reqs and then go ing to formula D and getting a formula drift licence and then try out or the other way around a good start?? pls awnser my question

      Reply

  3. i like drifting so serious that i can do whatever it takes to be an international drifter, but am financially unstable i have no job #sad… Any body wants hire me in his company am ready nd promise to win which ever drift race he wants

    Reply

  4. im a kid that thinks about this subject everday but instead of getting a car why not a truck i ahve a project in mind and want some insight on what u guys think a 1980s model square body chehy short bed regular cab with a dana 60 axel locked

    Reply

    1. even though you have a good point my advice to you would be to get a sadan to soop up for the track even though you see them everyewhere truck are usualy top heavy and an awkward slilde

      Reply

    2. i mean im 14 but there is a reason that there is no trucks in drift racing its bc a truck would have all grip at front and none in the rear but you may think that is good but drifting is not just ripping an ebrake and turning you have to control it but a truck wouls just spin.

      Reply

  5. I’ve got only one question left.

    Where do you begin drifting at? Parking lots get you tickets and arrested. I don’t know about any local tracks

    Reply

    1. Ask local places tht are on back roads like when they locking up at night be like aye would you mind if I practice in your lot for like an hour ik ppl tht does tht and gets permission

      Reply

  6. You’ve placed your passion & struggles marvellously into words. As an athlete who engages similarly in a range of expensive sports (and perspectively, dangerous), including drifting, I can read off your words and totally feel what it means. It’s been a joy reading this post, even though I should be mugging for my exams. Greetings from Singapore, by the way!

    Reply

  7. I wonder what the pros/big guys actually make a year? Seems like many of them have shops that they run in the off season? I have a very good job, attending college, and I have a wife and 2 kids. I dream of drifting all the time…help

    Reply

  8. Augh..this scene is full of dreamers. This is why drifting has gone downhill. Everybody is busy trying to become competitive.

    Reply

  9. It’s a hobby. Leave it at that. 99% of the pros aren’t making money at it, so why not work your ass off at a job that can provide both a comfortable living for yourself + significant others, as well as building a cool looking car?

    Not to mention, if you think you’re going pro/pro-am, try driving a few exhibition/open events and get plenty of experience before you decide to waste a bunch of money on a chassis, cage, LS/2JZ/whatever, suspension mods, and other stuff that your driving skill is nowhere near equipped to handle. Too many dreamers jump straight into overbuilt cars, use power as a crutch, and end up sucking big time.

    Just my opinion, but it is much more fun to be at non-competitive events with friends and have a stylishly cool looking car (and a life outside of cars, too) than wasting everything you earn on an ugly looking heap that is “competitive”, with more costs involved as a result of travel and constantly replacing parts.

    TL;DR: Find balance between work and hobbies. If you think you’re going to go pro/pro-am and plan on winning anything, you’d better be REALLY good and have driven at least a few events/for a few years.

    Love your videos Sam, keep up the great work.

    Reply

    1. “99% of pros aren’t making money at it” … false. the rest of your statement sounds good, but that makes you sound dumb

      Reply

  10. As someone who has spent many evenings discussing, with their significant other, what it means to follow a career path that is ‘safe’ versus one that makes you happy… I have to say that this post hit me right in the feels. I remember meeting you, albeit briefly, at Road Atlanta back in… 2013, was it? I was quite floored by how ‘normal’ you were; And I don’t mean that as a negative, either. You went from making a couple of funny drifting videos, to the videos getting picked up by Jalopnik, to a bit of a small icon within the drifting scene- And that’s pretty damn amazing. It just goes to show you that anyone who is passionate enough about something, and is willing to make the necessary sacrifices, really can break away from the 9-5 grind and find some measure of happiness is a world that is ruled by consumerism and employer-monopolized time. Keep on keeping on, Idiot, and as always… Suck less.

    Reply

  11. Long time ago the best advice I ever got about going Pro Racing from a Pro racer was this. “Do Heroin, in the end it’s cheaper and less destructive”. and you know what, he was right. I’ve run thru relationships, friends, sponsors, money and my health. I raced, taught for some of the best schools, coached and team managed I ended up walking away when I put more friends than I cared too into the ground.

    Stay in school, get a job and do this as a Hobby, the cost’s of racing are far to high to do it for a living.

    Reply

  12. Reading this at 4am, was making homework till this time so I have some spare time in the weekend to work on my car. So i get your struggles!

    It’s realy nice to read a piece like this and the fact that you are making time to write a letter like this. It is very inspirational.

    Reply

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