Sliding 101: Blooper and I Go to Drifting Class

I brought Blooper, a 2004 Nissan 350Z, back home to North Dakota all the way from Virginia on a disastrous road trip. After maintenance and repairs, it was time to hit the track to learn how to drift. With a wrinkled paper registration taped to the back window, I packed a lunch and went to my local track, Interstate Raceway in Glyndon, Minnesota.

Normally at Interstate Raceway I would be either spectating drift events or working in the drag strip tower where I run the timing system. My prior experience on the drift course was limited to a few runs in a buddy’s dirt track car, which I launched sideways through the sign for the track owner’s shop in front of a crowd, including – you guessed it – the track owner himself. If that’s peak embarrassment, a spinout in class should be fine, right?

I had signed up for drifting classes hosted by the local drifting organization, ND Drift. They host grassroots events and classes as well as big payout competitions like the SRD Drift Challenge. The classes are closed to spectators and the friendly instructors are local drifters who give great feedback. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend signing up.

Nissan Z drift cars

I parked Blooper with several other Z cars in a pit lane that resembled the repair lot of a Nissan dealership. One of the instructors came over to go through the tech process. He thought the skulls on the valve stem caps were entertaining (thanks, previous owner) while recording my tire pressures on the driver window. Blooper apparently didn’t like that and dropped the window a few minutes later, so I had to re-measure and rewrite the numbers on the windshield.

The instructors held a safety meeting then transitioned into a presentation about tires. They were very thorough and even had several tires set up to show wear patterns and damage. Drifting involves a lot of setup and science despite looking like a tire-roasting show on the surface. After the classroom course, we split into two groups to get behind the wheel.

The first assignment was doing donuts to get a feel for how the vehicle rotates. One of the pro-spec 350Z cars driven by one of the instructors demonstrated what to do, then the gaggle of newbie drift cars arranged themselves in a neat line like ducklings and took turns getting dizzy around the single cone.

My first donut attempt came out “undercooked” when I forgot to turn off traction control, but I got a feel for it after a few attempts. The second assignment was doing a figure-eight around two cones. The pro-spec 350Z made it look fairly straightforward – it’s just putting two donuts together and changing direction.

Blooper was still wearing the grippy, sporty tires from the cross-country roadtrip, so while there was plenty of tread to shred, the rear wheels wanted to stick instead of slide. The stock viscous limited-slip differential (VLSD) inconsistently opening mid-spin made controlling the rotation direction difficult. I could start a spin but couldn’t transition to the opposite direction. My figure eights looked like a crumpled shoelace.

The third assignment was initiating, which was like starting a donut with more forward momentum. The main three options to initiate a drift are rear braking, mashing the throttle, and clutch kicking. Blooper was having too much traction, so I opted to try clutch kicking. It was much easier than figure-eights!

During the lunch break, I realized I was the only woman driving in the class. It’s to be expected in a male-dominated hobby, but it still stings a little to be the only one and feel that flicker of “should I be here?” at the back of my mind. I work in a male-dominated field, so I’ve had years of practice pushing that thought away, but it makes an appearance here and there. My disaster figure-eights certainly didn’t help.

I chatted with a much older gentleman who had nailed figure-eights easily in his modded red 350Z. He took me on a quick ride-along to show the difference between Blooper’s sticky rear tires and stock differential versus his slippy rear tires and welded differential. Where Blooper stuck or plowed in one direction, his Z could glide gracefully. It was a night and day difference.

Blooper the Nissan 350Z

The rest of the weekend was spent building up to triple curves. Unfortunately Blooper’s tires and differential fought every step of the way and I couldn’t maintain more than a single curve. An instructor rode with me at one point and noted that the clutch felt odd, the rear tires were too sticky, and the differential wasn’t locking. While waiting my turn on the course, I messaged SRD Auto Repair – the track owner’s shop whose sign I had mowed down ages ago – to order tires and book Blooper to be welded.

I did get one transition to land perfectly. As I swung Blooper sideways out of one curve to attempt the next, the steering wheel spun in what felt like slow motion and a line of four cones floated into my path. I made the split-second decision to catch the wheel and bury the throttle, locked onto my targets without an ounce of remorse. Three thuds and a bang later, Blooper sent one cone flying and stuffed the rest into the engine bay and suspension while artfully sliding from left to right. Afterwards it took several minutes, three instructors, and threats of putting him on a lift before he gave up his chewy, orange prizes.

By Sunday evening I was exhausted and Blooper was crammed with grass from flying into the infields after what felt like dozens of missed transitions. Despite the struggles, I enjoyed every moment and look forward to getting even more seat time with Blooper.

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