If you’re a fan of the American Motorcycle Association (AMA) and their Supercross and Outdoor Motocross series, you probably recognize Cole Seely. If not, here’s a quick primer. Cole rides for Team Honda HRC in the 450cc class and was named 2015’s Supercross Rookie of the Year. Last year, he finished seventh in Supercross points and fifth in Outdoor Motocross points to earn his spot in the US contingent for the Motocross des Nations team. He joined iconic throttle twisters like Ricky Johnson, “Hurricane” Bob Hannah, Jeff Ward, Ricky Carmichael, James “Bubba” Stewart, Ryan Villopoto, Travis Pastrana, and Jeremy McGrath among others as riders who’ve represented the US against the rest of the world.
In the bike world, they say with age comes a cage, but Cole wasn’t about to wait for his golden years to start his dream build. As a devoted drift fan, his build was inspired by the grassroots spirit of drifting – the venerable SR20VET-powered S15 Nissan Silvia. Even with a career as a professional motocross rider for Team Honda, Cole has been into drifting and S-chassis Nissans for over a decade. “I wanted to build something a little different,” he said, “and now I can afford to build a S15 and so I pulled the trigger when one became available.” By being “a little different,” Cole’s strayed from the typical build found in the US and embraced a more purist, grassroots style. This is most definitely not a competition car, but rather one to have fun in and learn some new things.
For starters, there’s no LS or even a 2J under the hood. Instead, it’s an SR20, as Nissan intended, but with the VET head. This head incorporates Nissan’s version of Honda’s VTEC called NEO VVL with variable valve lift and timing. This means the camshafts feature two different lobe profiles that act on the rocker arms at different RPM, just like VTEC, for different lift and duration. Altering the valve timing further enhances the lift and duration changes by keeping the valves open longer or shorter as the ECU sees fit. This is extremely beneficial for a turbo engine as the exhaust valve opens longer, enabling more exhaust flow from the combustion chamber. This spools the turbo longer for a flatter powerband. Coupled with the added bonus that this head flows better overall versus a stock SR20DET head makes the VET swap desirable.
The only drawback is that these heads were designed for use on the FWD variants of the SR20, so the coolant flows out of the driver’s side of the head, which would plumb it directly into the firewall of any RWD swap. There are kits to solve this dilemma though, so the swap isn’t as daunting as it would seem. Further improvements to Cole’s VET swap are O-rings to improve combustion chamber pressure retention, with forged internals and a Borg-Warner turbocharger at 20-psi with matching turbo manifold.
That boost pressure is sent to a Mazworx intake manifold, while the 460-crank horsepower goes to a Nissan CD009 six-speed transmission from a 350Z with an R32 Skyline rear differential and equivalent axles. However, the engine is capable of taking another 3-psi of boost to churn out 520 horsepower. All of this ensures that Cole can drift for as long as he wants or until he runs out of tires or E85 fuel. “I built it to be reliable,” he says, “it can take that 520 horsepower, but I want reliability. It’s solidly built and I’ve had a lot of fun with it.” The suspension parts are Parts Shop Max, one of the main sources for S15 chassis parts here in the US. He’s been friends with the owners and has always supported the local California shop. The wheels are Work Emotion CR Kai in 17x9 +17 up front while the rears are Work Emotion T7R in 18x9.5 +12. “I originally wanted to run T7Rs in 18x9.5 +12 all the way around,” Cole describes the mismatched wheels, “but with the Power by Max Limit Break Angle Kit I have on it, it doesn’t clear the fender wells, side skirts, and all of that. Work also doesn’t make the T7R in a 17-inch anymore, so I had to use the CR Kais up front. I kinda dig the style, too, with the Kais up front and the T7Rs in the rear.”
Outside, the grassroots style continues with a 2F Performance Super Doof kit with Origin Type Three fenders over those Work wheels. The Origin S15 Hood is matched to a D-Max Boot Spoiler. The inside is more street-car cruiser than stripped down bruiser, but still features a four-point roll hoop with door bars. Even with the hydraulic hand brake, it’s a laydown style with minimal cutting to the center console where the stock cable E-brake was once installed. A Sparco Evo seat is used on the driver’s side, which is still on the right-hand side instead of the left, like Forrest Wang’s Pro car. Passengers are treated to a larger Sparco Evo II, so friends can ride with Cole without the need for the strict diet and fitness regimen required of a moto pro. Both occupants are held in place with Sparco harnesses. The Sparco wheel is affixed with an NRG quick release hub. “I’ve got an AEM CD-7 Digital Dash that I need to put in,” he admits, “but I want it to fit in the stock dash and look like it was factory, so I still have some work to do on that.”
Understandably, he was rather mad for a time at not only himself but also the sport. What brought him back around was working on his S15 drift car when he was able to move without a wheelchair. “Right now,” he said, “it’s been smooth sailing. I was just dealing with a lot of pain and just got out of a wheelchair after being in one for two-months. Now, I’m pain-free and starting to get back to my normal life with some gym and flexibility training.”
You’d think a Honda Factory Motocross rider would drift a Honda S2000. Cole’s choice comes down to parts, “I wouldn’t mind drifting a S2000 with Honda backing me,” Seely said, “but you don’t see many people drifting a S2000 and there’s more development and parts for the Nissan. It’s easy to get parts for the S-chassis and it’s so popular with so much R&D behind it. I wouldn’t know what motor to run or anything about the chassis if I went with a S2000.”
As for his day job, Seely was injured in February of 2018 at a Supercross race in Tampa, Florida where he fractured his pelvis and tailbone. This was only two weeks after Ken Roczen, his Honda HRC teammate, also went out with an injury. Cole was second in points at the time of the crash, and the six months on the mend abruptly ended his championship chase and season.
During his time away, working on his S15 distracted him from the worries of not being able to do work as a professional motocross rider. Being away from competition also allowed him to reflect back on himself and slowly make his way back to the Supercross season as a spectator as he continues to recover. “I’m scheduled to get back to riding just before September,” he says, “in the meantime, I’m going to continue to distract myself with drift cars.”
He currently doesn’t harbor any plans to enter professional drifting, but the thought does cross his mind from time to time. After all, Cole is a racer and a racer is always looking at any way to get on a track. “I was in a Sprint Car for the first time of my life just a few weeks ago,” he said, “but my focus is to go racing with Team Honda on dirt bikes and continue to do grassroots events like All Star Bash and the drift matsuris. Drifting is a hobby and I’d like to go drift competitively, but I don’t want the hassle of it right now.”
The injury may have put him on the sidelines for the rest of the 2018 Supercross season, but Cole has found refuge in drifting. It may not be a competition car, but not every car has to compete. Building a reliable car he can have fun with while recovering and learning is all Cole wanted. It may not be a CRF450R capable of clearing a triple jump, but he’s still having a blast with a helmet on.
Owner/Driver: Cole Seely @coleseely
Car: Nissan S15 Silvia
Engine/Powertrain: Nissan SR20DET with SR20VET NEO-VVL head and Borg Warner EFR Turbo, custom axles with an R32 rear differential
Transmission: Nissan CD009 six-speed
Exterior: 2F Performance Super Doof Kit, Origin S15 hood and Type III Fenders, D-Max wing
Interior: Sparco Evo driver seat, Evo II passenger seat, Harnesses, and steering wheel
Wheels/Tires: Work Emotion CR Kai 17x9 +17 front; Work Emotion T7R 18x9.5 +12 rear
Suspension/Brakes: Parts Shop Max Limit Break front kit, Parts Shop Max arms, Parts Shop Max coilovers