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September 30, 2014

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TAKE FIVE: drifting

1. Catch their drift

"Drifting" is a term that describes the technique of driving a car with its rear wheels slipping at a greater angle than its front wheels, causing it to "power-slide" around a turn. The driver uses the tires and the throttle to steer the car. The goal is to achieve "opposite lock" - turning the steering wheel in the opposite direction the car is turning - and to produce a lot of screeching and huge clouds of tire smoke. Trust me, the kids love it.

2. Spinning their wheels

A former motorcycle racer named Kunimitsu Takahashi is credited with creating drifting techniques in the 1970s when he switched to four wheels in the All Japan Touring Car championship. Takahashi would clip the apex (most inside point) of a turn and drift through it with his Goodyears screaming like a hungry child. That skill netted him several series championships and legions of adoring fans who love the smell of burning rubber in the morning. A street racer named Keiichi Tsuchiya followed in Takahashi's tire tracks, perfecting his drifting technique on mountain roads - usually not a good idea - and organizing the first drifting event in 1988. Drifting is not a race per se, but a competition in which drivers are judged for technique and "show factor." Sort of like figure skating, only louder and without the sequins and the lame French judge.

3. In the beginning

While the Japanese are given most of the credit for developing the sport, drifting is a technique that has been used in various forms of motor racing for years. In fact, old-timers will tell you that early Grand Prix drivers such as the legendary Tazio Nuvolari were lighting up their tall, knobby tires 50 years before guys like Takahashi and Tsuchiya dropped their first transmissions. And don't forget John Schneider and "The Dukes of Hazzard." Remember the General Lee spewing dust and gravel on those remote country roads? That was drifting.

4. Drifting for show - and dough

The D1 Grand Prix from Japan is considered the major league of drifting, which is also popular as a spectator sport in Malaysia, Australia, the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom. The first official drifting event in the United States was held in 1996 at Willow Springs in - no surprise here - California. Two days later, the Beach Boys wrote a song about it.

5. Box-office bonanza

Actually, that part about the Beach Boys writing a song about drifting was a joke, although you'll probably see more than one Little Honda at the track this weekend. But the sport has left a huge skid mark on pop culture with a series of video games and cable TV shows. Drifting also was the inspiration for a major motion picture, "Tokyo Drift," the third installment of the popular "Fast and Furious" trilogy.

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