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.
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