My third assignment with S3 Magazine took me to Road Atlanta, just east of Atlanta Georgia, for the 3rd round of Formula Drift. Formula Drift, otherwise known as Formula D, is on its 15th year of fast paced, tire shredding, rev limiting carnage around the USA. The drivers drift in tandem, throttling through corners at extreme angles while maintaining control of their car and inches away from their competitor. The cars have no power restriction and can have outputs of over 1000 horsepower. With 8 rounds of a 32-car competition bracket, the Formula D series is the largest drift series in the world.
In the Formula Drift Road Atlanta track, the drivers start together at the top of the tract, about 1/8th mile away from the first turn. The lead will pull forward straight and try to perform the best run through the guidelines provided by the judges. This includes the ideal line stipulated by the judges for each individual track. The judges also look at the driver’s angle through the ideal line while adjustments are minimal with smooth execution and transition. Finally, judges look at style. Style contains subcategories of initiation, fluidity, and commitment. Initiation should happen as early as possible. Fluidity throughout the performance with the least amount of correction is key. Commitment refers to the drivers throttle application, constant pace, and aggressive turn approach.
My role for the weekend long event was to photograph the competition as it goes from 32 drivers to the final 2. They begin the day with a few hours of practice rounds. This allows the teams to dial in tuning to best fit the track. This could require gear ratio changes, suspension adjustment, fuel to air ratio dialing, and a change of tire types for grip. The track is then closed and used for a time attack racing while the drift teams make their adjustment for a couple of hours.
Around 2pm, all Formula D drivers bring their cars to the track for a presentation of the 32. In true traditional manner, the drivers all start their engines at the same time as they clear the track to begin the competition. I was allowed full access to special trackside locations that gave me the best perspective for shooting photos. I’m talking about yards away from cars flying +80mph at angles over 55° to the track. Between matches, I had the freedom to cross the track for different angles. Most of the day I was looking for the best perspective that had to most variety of shots.
As the matches continued through the hot day, the judges narrowed the competitors to the top 16. By this time, I had found the best location for shooting matches just within the cusp of turn 2 behind a 4-foot-tall, concrete barrier. This gave me angle in front of the drivers as they initiate into turn one. This stretch was interesting as it was subtly lit with street lights giving pockets of darkness where you can only see the driver’s headlights. The transition into turn 2 was the most dramatic shot. The cars would be inches apart, door-to-door, and be sliding sideways at their fastest speed. As I follow them around the long turn 3, I got amazing side to rear angle shots. As the smoke blocked half way through turn 3, it built an amazing backdrop to capture behind the the reveal of the drifters as they broke through the smoke, and to transition into turn 4. I could get one final shot as the competitors follow through transition into turn 5 and the completing stretch uphill.
As the evening continued onto the top 8, 4, and final 2; most of the other photographers who had been out there earlier in the day had left the track. The heat seemed to have gotten to them. I found myself alone, trackside. I took in the moment. I could feel the roaring crowd in my chest. I could taste the tire smoke filled air. I had been the only one left on this dew-covered grass next to the track. Until I noticed one photographer running across the track, canon of a lens at his side, multiple cameras swinging as he was hopping across the rubber painted track. It was my idol, photographer Larry Chen.
Here I was, in the blissful silent roar of a moment thinking, “this couldn’t get any better.”, only to be proven wrong by the universe’s ‘you’re were you need to be right now’ moment. I couldn’t say much of anything except offer my help to hold equipment as he set up near me. But once I took in what was happening I could help but to take my phone out and shoot a funny snap to hold onto in the future. Before I knew it, I forgot Chen was behind me as I shot the last few rounds of the competition. He disappeared as quick as he arrived to get celebratory shots at the podium.
Once the official leaders were announced, I made my way about halfway down Georgia, to stay the night at a hotel before making back home here in Jacksonville. Editing photos and publishing the article to share about the experience took heart back to the track the rest of that week. Keeping up with Larry Chen’s publishing, I found myself captured in a couple of videos he posted about his Formula D experience. It’s just cool to know, I’m doing what he’s doing, much early in my career. So, maybe someday I can inspire others in the same way he’s inspired me.
For more images and info, check out my article at http://s3mag.com/formula-d-road-atlanta-2018/
https://youtu.be/rtZBRd_U_6U You can see me at 6:25 & 6:48 in that video.