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 

Rehabbing the Ride

I found a car. Not the perfect car, but is there such a thing? This 240 was built mostly right by a guy who wanted to learn how to drift. He did his research and bought almost all of the basic parts to get the car to a point where a new guy can learn to drift without complaining that it didn’t have what it took. And then it sat uncovered in a dusty shed for around 6 months.

With the help of some dedicated friends, without which this venture wouldn’t have been reasonably possible, we stripped, scrubbed and rehabbed the car the best we knew how. Which, I might add, is probably not that great. I have the most mechanical experience out of the few of us, and that is mostly just from watching others and rarely hands on. But as in all new things, one rarely starts out skilled. I’m sure if you were to ask any drifter of any level about what they put into their cars, I’m sure they would all agree the gears of any drift ride are lubricated with blood and toil.

These guys. For every successful drifter I’m sure there are at least 3 die-hard bros willing to help out, even if the tasks are as minute as removing vinyl from the previous owner or drinking your beer.

I think there are few things prettier than 90’s inline motors. Even if this specific example barely makes any power. After a bit of degreasing and effort we made this puny powerplant shine and purr happily (yet still noisily) after replacing all of its fluids and spark system. After my 3 events I am starting to realize that a bit more horsepower would really help – but I am dedicated to maximizing my low hp skills until this motor dies or until I feel there is little else to learn from from being slow.

The previous owner had outfitted the car with nearly every SPL suspension component available for the chassis, but never got around to installing these rear traction rods. It was a great excuse for me to finally buy the cordless impact driver I had always wanted.

The car was definitely put away wet and has some rough edges, but rehabbing it has been an invaluable learning experience. I have no experience reglassing body panels yet, but I have certainly improved my zip-tying skills.

I was skeptical about the aesthetics of a rattle-canned, textured hood, but like most things on this car, it has slowly grown on me. I’ve had some over heating issues that a vented hood would likely help with, but hopefully as our temperatures drop below triple-digits it will become less of an issue.

(Sorry for the terrible photo quality. I only had my phone during this night repair session)

I’ve been slowly replacing little things on the car as it becomes obvious that 200K miles of abuse hasn’t been kind to some of the weaker components. I replaced the previously installed Altima fans and stock radiator and hoses with Enjuku’s ISIS parts that are incredibly good considering their relatively minuscule prices.

Since I sadly don’t have the ability to tow the car to the track yet, I needed it to be street legal. The first time I attempted emissions I failed miserably (about 10x the acceptable amount of CO) and it prompted me to replace the stock catalytic converter (as well as the spark system, 02 sensors and coolant temp sensor) with a new high-flow cat.

It sadly still wasn’t enough. I only reduced my CO emissions by half, which was still well over the legal amount. I picked up and installed an ISIS fuel pressure regulator and hit the emissions station again running the minimum fuel pressure, and I was pretty shocked to learn that I somehow passed. Installing the FPR was actually pretty fun and was my first glimpse at learning the basics of the KA motor.

At my third event, some wiring to the Walbro fuel pump that the previous owner installed came loose on a corner and killed the car early in the night. I was so eager to get back out on the track that I stupidly and repeatedly submerged my hand in near-boiling gasoline to try and fix it without any effect. After some pep talking and burn cream, I geared up and did the job the right way a few days later in ideal conditions. Having the car fail so early in the evening was emotionally devastating, but it made getting back out there and kicking ass at the next event all the more important.

Keep in mind that all of this work was done in a garage with temperatures usually exceeding 110 degrees. I hear Washington has a good drift scene. And clouds. Clouds would be nice.

Where does that leave the car and I now? Everything should be just about ready for the next event in a few weeks. I just need some fluid changes and a few more zip tie bumper repairs. That reminds me – I need more zip ties.

I finally came up with a mantra for my efforts, and that is to “Suck Less.” When I think of my ultimate goal in this sport and the Drift Idiot venture, it is simply to have fun and to be better than I was the previous day. I just made a few “prototype” shirts that me and a buddy will be wearing in Irwindale this weekend with my home made zip-tie font. If there’s enough interest, stickers and shirts will be available for giveaway or purchase soon.

Thanks for reading! I can’t wait to share my progress and what I will learn from drifting’s greatest. I hope you all join me down this fun-filled and smoky road.

Check out my first 2 drift event videos here and the 3rd should be completed very soon!

And please check out Drift Idiot regularly at the site, Facebook, and Twitter for more updates and general awesomeness.

– Sam Nalven

Before We Slide: An Intro to Drift Idiot


My name is Sam Nalven and I know almost nothing about drifting.

I mean to change this. After years of watching Formula D’s top drifters, I finally decided to jump head first into this awesome sport. I spent  years casually looking for the right Nissan 240SX but after not finding the right one and lacking the time, money, and commitment to the sport, I had all but resigned to a life of sticky grip driving in my 02′ Subaru WRX.

A few months ago, I ran into an old friend, Jesse Robles, who just started building his own S13 drift missile. Over a few beers at the bar where he worked, I picked his brain about his car, the sport, and how a person who has no idea what they are doing gets into drifting. First things first – I needed a car.

I adore my WRX.

It has been my daily driver for 8 years. While the engine has always been reliable (it sees redline almost every day and has nearly 200,000!) the transmission has needed to be rebuilt twice. This last rebuild, I researched what it would take to make it RWD. While the conversion was not cost prohibitive, learning, and crashing, my daily driver did not seem like a wise choice.

I had been scouting for 240’s on Craigslist, Autotrader and Ebay with little luck finding anything in the condition I wanted at a price I could afford – then Jesse told me about AZ240SX. The first day on there I found this:

It is a 95′ 240SX base model that the previous owner started building for drifting. It met my criteria of having a stock motor, being (mostly) tastefully modified otherwise, and have a 5-spd. What really sold me on the car is that it already has nearly all of the main suspension components replaced with SPL parts, came with 6 wheels (2 of which have brand spankin’ new Falken Azenis), corbeau buckets, and a welded diff. The interior has already been completely stripped, which is a con for many buyers, but I had planned on doing it anyways so it was a plus for me.

The main bad part about the car is that it had been sitting in storage for the last 6 months – and it showed. This car was loved once, but it became the bastard step-child once the previous owner moved to Miami, AZ.

I have a lot of work ahead of me.

While this site will start out just as a blog for me and my project, I aim to expand it as a resource for drifters of all levels, and specifically those who are wishing to get into the sport.

I have little to no mechanic experience other than watching those who do on occasion. I have few tools, no garage (storing at my mom’s for now), and no RWD driving experience.

What I do have is passion for the sport, a lot of helpful support from friends and family, and an eager desire to take part in this awesome scene.

I can’t wait to experience drifting and to meet all of the awesome people who share my passion.

                    – S