• The History of Drifting

Just like everything else, the history of drifting has spurned many different versions, some more likely than the other. Pinpointing exactly where it began is as easy as finding a needle in a haystack, especially when you consider that, technically, the technique of drifting has been around since about the mid-1950s.

What we do know about its origin is that the Japanese played a very important role in ushering the technique’s popularity, so much so that it has become one of the most popular forms of automotive competition. Unlike other forms of ’racing’, drifting is different in that it’s not so much about who comes in first as it is about who can smoke their tires the most.

In a drifting competition, the most important things are line, angle, speed, and show factor. For the uninitiated, the line is pre-determined by judges before a competition with the drifters scoring points based on whether they take the correct line. The angle is the angle a car takes during a drift. The speed is determined by the speed of the car as it enters a turn, the speed through a turn, and the speed exiting the turn. Needless to say, as with any other competition involving high-powered cars, the faster a car goes around a turn, the rosier he smells in front of the judges. Then there’s the show factor, which, in essence, is arguably the most important part of drifting. This involves, among other things, the amount of smoke the tires burn, how a car navigates around a track in the most daredevil of ways, and how the crowd reacts to the driver’s performance.

That being said, from all that we know and enjoy about drifting these days, it’s equally important for us to learn about how this sport came to be. From humble beginnings in the Land of the Rising Sun to the worldwide phenomenon that it is today, drifting has become a popular sport for millions of fans who take great satisfaction in watching smoke come out of tires.

Head past the jump to find out more about the history of drifting.

Japanese Beginnings

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As a sport, drifting takes its roots from Japan with one particular racer being credited for making the technique popular among the Japanese. His name is Kunimitsu Takahashi, a renowned Japanese motorcyclist that also became popular for his drifting techniques. During his time competing at the All Japan Touring Car Championship, Takahashi was noted for his impeccable skill at hitting the apex of the track at highs speed before drifting his way throughout the entire corner, maintaining his speed as he exited the corner. The move, bodacious in its appearance, not only helped Takahashi win multiple titles, but it also ushered in a legion of fans that paid extra attention to the overall spectacle - thanks in large part to the visual feast of watching tires smoke - of the technique.

Takahashi’s impeccable drifting skills drew the attention of Keiichi Tsuchiya, who later gained acclaim as the "Drift King". Having seen Takahashi perform this incredible technique to great success, Tsuchiya worked on his own drifting skills, eventually becoming one of the most recognized drifters in the world. The Drift King’s popularity was so big that it spurned a popular video of his drifting skills, eventually becoming a major hit in Japan.

Capitalizing on a new-found love-affair with drifting amongst the Japanese people and the increasing occurrences of amateur drifting competitions, Tsuchiya, together with the help of Dajido Inada, the founder of the Tokyo Auto Salon, organized the D1 Grand Prix, the first organized car drifting series in Japan in 2001.

Western Uprising

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While drifting was fast becoming a popular sport in Japan to the extent that several different grass roots drifting events were being held around he country, the sport found its way to Western shores, particularly in California where one of the first drifting events outside of Japan took place in 1996.

The site was the Willow Springs Raceway in Willow Springs, California where Dajido Inada, one of the founding fathers of the D1 Grand Prix, hosted the competition. At the event, future drifting stars Rhys Millen and Bryan Norris were two of the entrants. Since then, drifting has exploded in the West to become one of the most popular forms of automotive competition.

Essentially, what Inada and Tsuchiya started with the D1 Grand Prix has blossomed into many other world-class drifting events all over the world, including Formula D in the US, the NZ Drift Series in New Zealand, the Nordic Drifting Series in Europe, and most recently, the Red Bull Drifting Championship.

Big Today, Bigger Tomorrow

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While drifting doesn’t have the grandeur of Formula One or the spectacle of NASCAR, it’s popularity has spurned a generation of upstart drifters practicing their latest hooning skills in every corner of the world. It’s hard to believe that the first organized drifting competition only happened a decade ago, and the sport’s appeal not just to the viewers, but to young racers, is living proof that drifting is a sport that’s yet to hit its full potential.

For all intents and purposes, it’s a sport that’s going to increase in popularity as the years go by, something that its forefathers from Japan should be mighty proud of.

Kirby Garlitos
Kirby Garlitos
Automotive Aftermarket Expert - kirby@topspeed.com
Kirby’s first exposure into the world of automobiles happened when he caught Knight Rider on television as a five-year old boy. David Hasselhoff didn’t leave much of an impression on him (that happened later on in Baywatch), but KITT certainly did. To this day, Kirby remains convinced that he will one day own a car with the same ‘spirit’ as the original KITT (not the 2008 monstrosity). He doesn't know when that will be, but until then, he’s committed to expressing his love for KITT, and all cars for that matter, here at TopSpeed.  Read full bio
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  (580) posted on 06.23.2011

Yeah, I would agree with you there, there were actually quite a lot of them that appeared during that time. But the thing that probably set drifting apart from the other fads was it’s creativity.

  (358) posted on 06.21.2011

I wonder what would be the next thing that they would come up with. There are actually a lot of crazy ideas that have come up alongside drifting, but it was the only one that really took off.

  (406) posted on 06.21.2011

I really love to read this content. This one really provides very useful information to those who want to learn drifting! Like me, what I know about drifting, it was a very serious act, you should be knowledgeable enough on it’s rules to try an act like this. Great idea to have an article like this one! Hope I can try drifting, one of this days!.. haha

  (377) posted on 06.17.2011

That’s definitely a wonderful read. Imagine that, it was just an insane cornering technique that has now become one of the most watched motoring events today.

  (858) posted on 06.17.2011

I would say that that one was a pretty interesting read. Though I already know the history of drifting well, I am still amazed with the way that it started.

  (276) posted on 06.17.2011

Wow! thanks for the information. I would say that drifting is one of my favorite event on the race track! I’m very glad that Kunimitsu Takahashi have invented this technique!

  (530) posted on 06.17.2011

Wow! So it means that this technique was invented in Japan. I never thought that the early history of drifting has a resemblance in the movie Fast and the Furious -Tokyo Drift. BTW, I wonder if there’s any video compiled for the early drift of Kunimitsu Takahashi?

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