Weds - Load in
It’s HOT! St. Louis is no joke when it comes to heat. 95-100 degree days. We left Arya (my dog) back home so she didn’t have to suffer in this heat. The race track is gigantic! The grandstands are blazing hot in the direct sun. The pit space is massive! There could be a completely different event there and you wouldn’t know because of how big this place is. Carlos Arrieta and I are combining pits together for the season as team NST. We combined our tents to provide a massive 20x30 tent in between our trailers providing adequate shade. We continued unloading and setting up. We concluded the day with a track walk and then headed out for a steak dinner.
Thurs - Practice / Qualifying
We headed to the track around 10am. Did our bolt check, sorted out our tires that we wanted to use for practice verses comp, and just prepared for the day. We had our drivers meeting at 2:35pm. Immediately after the meeting, we had practice until 7:30pm. Now this track is different than other tracks because this track has a hot pit. That means during track time, we have to bring all of our tools, wheels, tent, everything out to the hot pit. We completely abandon our trailer, and set up remotely out on the track. During practice, we got about 12 practice laps in. I was feeling really good. I feel like I was nailing OZ1, but OZ2 was tricky. I felt confident about that after some more laps. The transition from OZ2 to OZ3 is probably the toughest part of the track because if you don’t do OZ2 correctly, it doesn’t set you up well for OZ3. Finally, OZ4 is just kind of there and you hit it on your way off the track. But don’t let that fool you, its shaped like the letter J so it can be tricky to be completely in it from start to finish.
Qualifying was from 7:30-10pm. We were one of the last to go because of our incomplete in NJ. So that put us on track around 9:30pm. We learned at Orlando that track conditions changed drastically after the sun goes down. Our Spotter Mateen confirmed that everyone was started to look gripped up as the night went on, so we made some easy quick changes to counter that. It was time to make my qualifying run, and I was ready. I could have been deeper in OZ2, and I didn’t get into OZ4 until the end of the zone. But I knew I couldn’t have another round where I was unable to qualify so I took it easy just to make it in the show. I did just that! I had scored a 57 (which is nothing to brag about), but that put me in 18th out of 32. Even the number one qualifier only got an 86 so I’m learning that it’s all relative to what all the other drivers are getting. I only had to do one qualifying run, so I had accomplished my goal that day of qualifying on the first attempt and keeping the car together. Infact, we didn’t experience a single mechanical error the entire weekend! We ended out night with a drivers meeting at 10pm. We tried to go out for dinner as a group, but to our surprise, nothing was open. Except for White Castle. It was a sad castle…
Fri - Top 32 Competition
We got to the track around 10am and did another track walk. PROSPEC isn’t scheduled to do anything until about 5, so I was able to watch some of PRO qualifying, as well as engage with fans. Before we knew it, it was time to load up the truck with all our hot pit equipment and start preparing to go back out on the track. At 5:15 it was time to do the autograph session. It is truly one of my favorites, as we get to engage one on one with the fans. But our time was cut short this round, and it was time to get out on track for our 2hr allotted practice before the competition. The car felt great! We were ready to battle Rudy Hanson (s13) in our Top 32 battle. We knew that Rudy was suffering severe mechanical problems all weekend. He blew a motor in practice the day before and did what he could to show up for battle. I was expecting a competitive battle, since we had similar qualifying scores, but I was concerned about his car mechanically. Rudy was going to leading first, and me in the chase position. The start lights extinguish, and we are off! We both initiate, blaze through OZ1 and start to transition into OZ2 when out of nowhere and HUGE BALL OF FIRE shoots out of the back of his car. In this very moment, I wasn’t sure if the front of my car had caught on fire or if was the back of Rudy’s. But it was an epic moment from my seat regardless. Unfortunately for Rudy, he had blown another motor and was now out of the competition. This was my first ever win in Formula Drift to date. It’s not how I wanted to move on, I truly thought it was going to be a great battle. But a win is a win, and we were going on to the Top 16 on Saturday!
Sat – Top 16 Competition
Saturday starts early unlike the previous days. We arrived at 8am. Our Warm Up session starts at 9:55am. We are allowed 4 practice laps to get acclimated with the track again and prepare for battle. At 11am, the Top 16 drivers line up their cars in front of the fans and get introduced during the Opening Ceremony. That was exciting for me, I hadn’t done that this year. Immediately following was the competition. I was to battle my good friend Rhys O’Connor (350z). He was the number 2 qualifier this round so I had to be ready! He was going to lead first, and I was to follow. We line up on track, and was sent on our way! Rhys initiates, completes OZ1, transitions to OZ2 and almost spins out! I had to stop the car to prevent hitting him. He had incompleted. The judges know that he has made a critical error, and all I have to do is lock down a drivable lead. The win is practicality mine! We switch positions and I go out on my lead, I dirt dropped a bit on OZ1, no problem, keep drifting. However, as I approached OZ4, my dirt drop had come to hunt me and I couldn’t see the track. The dirt has hovered around too long and I couldn’t see. I tried to drive through the dirt cloud, but it caused me to choke up in OZ4, causing me to incomplete. So silly. The judges all voted for a OMT Battle. So Rhys and I are going to go at it again. It was time to battle again, Rhys leading first and me following. In the transition to OZ3 and OZ4, Rhys smacked the wall causing severe right rear damage to his car. I quickly radioed to my team letting them know his RR was damaged and he should call a 5 min time out. I encouraged my team to help his team complete the repairs so we could go back out on track. Unfortunately, Rhys was unable to get the car back together in the 5 min time out and he was knocked out of competition. I had won, moving me into the Great 8. This is now two back to back wins at the same round. Wow!
I started to learn quickly that when you keep moving up in the bracket, you have less and less time in-between battles. It wasn’t long before I had to line up and battle Evan Bogovich (s14) for our Great 8 battle. Now it was time to turn up the heat. It’s time to fill every zone in my lead and have great proximity in my chase. We battled, and it was awesome! I gave it everything I had. I filled OZ2 the best I had all week, everything felt great. I ended up losing because I didn’t fill OZ4 as well as Evan did. But I had lost victoriously! I knew I gave my best run to Evan, and it was a good clean battle. Evan went on to win the whole show that day, and afterwards, he told me it was his favorite battle so I was in high spirts. I love drifting! I can't wait to carry this momentum into our last race this year – Utah Sept 16-17.
Words: ALEX LICHLITER
Photos: @robgoodwinphotos @true.visions.media