It was a very cloudy Saturday afternoon during the last drift session of the day. The sun was peeking out periodically, but not enough to light the area where I was shooting my camera. I spent all of Friday and Saturday simply waiting for the perfect shot to happen but couldn’t find it. About five minutes into the final drift session, I see Tanner Foust off in the distance manji-ing the front straight. Directly behind him was Ryan Tuerck with Chris Forsberg and Ryan Litteral just a few feet behind, all in tandem with Tanner up front. They all initiate into Turn 1 in complete unison. I had that oddly satisfying feeling I get when I see two drivers at their absolute limit during a second OMT battle at FD, except this time it was four drivers instead of two. I knew this was going to be the one. I crossed my fingers, held my breath, and held the shutter down on my camera as they came into frame at Turn 2 of Gingerman Raceway. In between the shutter bouncing up and down before my right eye socket, I saw it, the shot you see above.
They were closer than I had initially thought but that only made the image better for me. The shot I’ve been trying to get for two days. Finally!! My heart rate was slightly elevated as I knew I had the shot of the weekend inside the camera. With that, I happily went back to my rental car, packed my bags, and headed straight to the hotel to send out photos. Ahh, just one of the many joys of Gridlife Midwest.
Oh wait, I should probably tell you what Gridlife is first. Allow me to take a small step back. Gridlife Midwest is an annual automotive/music festival held about an hour south of Grand Rapids, Michigan. It’s a simple formula in that it’s basically a giant festival for gearheads who love music. There is a heavy emphasis on drifting and time attack.
I’ve been to Gridlife South in Road Atlanta and after having a blast there last year, I was eager to see what made the Midwest stop just as fun. Talking to many people prior to attending, everyone said Midwest was completely different that South. I mean, how different can it be though?
The first Gridlife festival was held at Gingerman so many people regard it as the “home event.” This year marks their 5-year anniversary.
I tried my best to not look up anything on the Midwest round in advance and wanted to just go into with a blank slate. In the back of my head though, I kept trying to relate it to South. I mean, they’re basically the same event, right?
Boy was I wrong.
It’s hard to put all the details into words but I guess the best way to describe it is to say it’s more grassroots than South. It doesn’t really make sense saying that one grassroots event is more grassroots than another grassroots event. But you’ll have to trust me as I hope it’ll make more sense as you see the pictures and words that follow.
Let’s start from the beginning. I arrived Thursday afternoon, just as Gridlife’s Track Battle participants were running practice.
I really didn’t expect to see too many familiar faces, being that I’m from Southern California and South Haven is more than 1500 miles away from home.
But lo and behold, I saw that Hoonigan homie Sally McNulty was out at Gingerman with her WRX for the Track Battle event.
While Sally and other competitors headed out and I camped near Turns 1 and 2 to watch the action. I immediately noticed these two Civics. The one in the back is piloted by professional Honda driver Tom O’Gormon. It’s great to see pro drivers who aren’t drifters out at events like this to simply have fun.
Another car that stood out was the time attack S14 from the guys at Touge Factory in Chicago. When was the last time you saw an S14 built to time attack spec? I mean, check out that wing!
The sun was setting, and most people were already packing up for the night and heading home. I glanced at my watch and noticed that it was already 9:30. Talk about late sunsets. I’m still used to Los Angeles’s 7:30 sunsets.
The next morning, the first car that caught my eye was this nice little Volkswagen Rabbit pick-up truck. The owner had his two friends sit in the tailgate as the front seats weren’t big boy friendly.
I walked the campgrounds surrounding the track to see what would pique my interest and saw this Pontiac Sunfire parked up. The car’s owner definitely made some lemonade with lemons. As I drove by again, more and more people were snapping photos of it.
Falken brought out some of their pro drifters for some Gridlife sliding. Dai was out piloting his old Discount Tire S13 pro car. Gushi came out to drive his current pro car. JTP was out piloting his old S197 Mustang. And Odi was in the Falken S15. I spotted the S13 laying around but JBrad from Falken called it their beater car, in case any of the other vehicles had issues.
Both Vaughn and Chelsea were also out as part of their Fun-Haver Tour, along with Vaughn’s two other Drift Alliance brothers, Chris and Ryan.
Including Tanner Foust and a few others, that made about 12 pro drifters out at Gridlife for some proper tire melting fun.
Now the drifting didn’t just center around the professionals, there were plenty of pro-am and amateur drifters out on track too. It didn’t really seem like they were amateurs though because some of them were seriously throwing down just as hard, if not harder, than the pros in some corners.
It was happily impressed with the level of driving, not just from the drifters, but also the track battle competitors as well.
The event sold out on Thursday and people were rolling into the camping areas all day Friday for the first official day of Midwest.
One thing I loved about Gridlife South were the ride alongs that some of the drivers would let me in on. JTP let me ride with him on the second drift session of the day. I knew it would be fun as JTP has a reputation for doing some insane things during laid back events, most notably his massive 360’s he likes to do randomly to give his passengers and fans a quick little scare.
Odi, in the S15 was pretty much on JTP’s fender the entire session and I tried my best to get this shot. It’s crazy that he can not only drive but drift really well while being seated in the right side of the car, which is probably a bit, ahem, foreign to him.
Tires for days…
One car (and person) I was really excited to see was Corey Hosford and his BosS14. After being announced a year ago, Corey’s S14 has been a hot topic for people around the community. He finally brought out the highly-anticipated build to drift around Gingerman.
I did a full feature shoot on his car that you can also see here. I also shot a few other cars so make sure to look for those as well.
Heading into Midwest, everyone knew it was going to rain. All the forecasts called for it, so we knew it was going to be unavoidable.
Luckily for us, Friday wasn’t all too bad. While the storm came close multiple times, we stayed pretty dry the entire time (aside from the constant sweat from the humidity).
Saturday was very different though…
As expected, it came down quite hard and needless to say, I wasn’t really enjoying it. Being the Los Angeles native that I am, I’m more accustomed to rain cancellations, but then I saw that no one here batted an eye and simply continued on with their day as if there was no issue.
Surprised about that, I geared up and headed out for the first drift session, all while trying to not think about my soaked pants and shoes.
The weather wasn’t nearly as bad as it was when the storm first came through. Dai and Gushi were playing it relatively safe.
Geoff Stoneback was out with both his S13 and S14. I hadn’t seen him since South, so it was cool to watch him getting rowdy again.
Minutes later, the rain decided that it hated me and came down hard. I couldn’t really tell if the drivers hated it because they were still driving in close tandem.
Thankfully, the rain stopped right when the Track Battle participants started coming out.
So Gridlife started doing this thing with the time attack cars that surprised me a bit. They run qualifying to grid them up for actual track battles that they call Bracket Battles. It’s all new this year and Midwest was literally the first time they held this new style of time attack. Somewhat similar to drifting’s battle bracket, competitors were pitted against each other in Top 8 brackets and four separate classes. Only the fastest eight drivers from each class were allowed to move up to do actual battle.
Each battle was run cat/mouse style, similar to what you’d see in Initial D. They would do a lead run followed by a chase run and compare proximity between the two drivers at the finish line. If the gaps were within a certain distance from each chase/follow, it would result in a sudden death OMT rematch. Passing was not allowed but, like in FD, was allowed if the lead driver ran into issues.
Like FD, the bracket was set up so the first and last place qualifiers were pitted against each other on the first battle. But again, just like drifting, the best qualifier didn’t necessarily win their battle. The pressure of someone tailing behind them messed with their almost flawless driving from qualifying. This resulted in many surprised reactions from spectators as we saw faster cars getting knocked out early on.
As each bracket moved up, the battles got tighter and tighter. While I love time attack as much as the next guy, I never found it all too interesting to watch. That is until Gridlife debuted the Bracket Battles. Seriously, I can’t wait to see this format again.
Anyways, back to drifting, now that the track was all dried up thanks to all the bracket battle drivers, the drift trains went all out.
Tanner didn’t drift on Friday and was only present on Saturday to slide his Drift Passat around, so I tried my best to shoot as much of him as possible. The last time he had driven the car was at the Donut Garage earlier this year.
The one thing I love about non-competition drift events are the drift trains.
Drift Alliance drift trains, check.
Falken drift trains, check.
Many of the fans that attend Gridlife Midwest never get an opportunity to watch the pros compete as Formula Drift hasn’t had a pro round in the Midwest for quite some time. I think the last time was in Chicago back in 2005, but don’t quote me on that.
Events like Gridlife are perfect for these fans as they not only get to watch the drivers but hangout with them in their pits right after as it’s so much more laid back than at a pro round where the drivers head straight back into their trailers to discuss their runs with spotters while fine tuning and making adjustments to the cars for the next session/battle.
The good news for everyone in the Midwest is that FD will be making their first ever stop in St. Louis’s Gateway Motorsports Park later this year. I’m definitely looking forward to it since my name is, you know, Louis.
Semi-finals for Bracket Battles were coming up. This guy beat the number 1 qualifier in his class.
This is my dream setup. One day.
Sleeping on the job? No, just hiding from the heat.
The fans get creative when at Gridlife.
From the matching shirt squad to the Viking warrior(?), to the dude in an imaginary car that is actually just his friends holding his chair up. I’m sure I missed a couple out there.
I was waiting for the taxi battle between Tanner and Chris all day. It feels like they knew everyone was hoping for it as well because they sure did deliver.
JTP and his 360’s... He did a few at Road Atlanta and was not afraid to do some at Gridlife.
Fans were going a bit wild because they had the whole “OMG he’s going to crash… oh wait he didn’t! We’ve been bamboozled with a 360!!!” face as he did his ballerina-like spins. ‘Twas majestic.
My friend, James Kirkham, was on chase car duties and let me mount my camera onto the hood of Vaughn’s Mustang RTR that he was piloting. I really like this shot of Tanner.
Gridlife also hosts HPDE driving. HPDE stands for High Performance Driving Education. It’s a great and inexpensive way to improve your driving on track. I probably should have entered with my rental car…
Risky Devil is a famous grassroots drift team based in Chicago but most of the members cars were being worked on during Midwest. That is, except for Steve and his E46.You guys might know him as the guy with the red E30 drift car. He’s since moved on and upgraded to an LS-powered E46.
Dai’s S13 was having issues so he jumped into the Falken S13 for the final session on Saturday. I do have to say, it is one nice looking "beater" drift car.
This S15 looked amazing. The red color on it is so vibrant, it made it pop when it was mixed in with other cars.
After Saturday’s track activities, Waka Flocka Flame performed on stage. Being the paranoid anti-rain kid that I was, I opted to work on photos instead. I regret it now.
Sunday is usually a bit more relaxed as most people are packing their bags and heading home.
Ken Block was out there thrashing his Power Wheel. He had some competition in the form of a Corvette too.
Stop. Take a look at this. It is an S13.4 vert, set up for time attack. This will be the first and only time you’ll ever see that. Savor this moment.
Overall, Midwest was a killer event, even with the rain. I can’t wait to head out there again in the future.