Drift Indy: A Perspective from Former Staff Photo Nerd Mario Johnston

When I stumbled upon drifting in 2012, it was arguably a different era: a gently used S-chassis or an SR swap could still be purchased for under $2k, Formula Drift cars were still competitive with 400-600 horsepower and none of us knew of anyone who had allegedly gone missing in Mexico due to botched car deals.

By this time Drift Indy and Midwest Drift Union were both already well established with the latter of the two being one of a handful of US Pro-AM feeder series offering up new talent to Formula Drift. Having spent countless hours surfing the pages of Import Tuner, Super Street and D-Sport magazines since the early 2000s, I of course knew what drifting was but I didn't have a clue as to how to attend or shoot local events. I was offered an opportunity to be on the media squad at Street Life Tour 2012 at Kil-Kare Raceway, Xenia, OH where a round of Midwest Drift Union comp was a main attraction. I had no idea how much this weekend would change my life.

I would come to find out that although run by the same group of dudes, MDU and Drift Indy had two very different missions: While MDU focused on exposing up-and-coming drivers to competitive driving, Drift Indy was about having fun and driving cars with your boys.

MDU Streets of Detroit

For the next few years I followed Midwest Drift Union from state to state shooting every event I could, becoming a staff photographer for the group in 2015. Transitioning from the 2010s into the 2020s, US Pro-Am level drifting would take a collective step back and fun grassroots 'just-get-out-and-drive-with-your-buddies' kind of events would surge nationwide. Up until this point Drift Indy had been sort of a background player focusing on No Star Bash and a drift day or two while we stayed busy running MDU comps, but by 2017 D.I. was poised to elbow its way back into the midwest spotlight.

Streets of Detroit

We did it big; Kil-Kare Raceway welcomed our annual drifting block party that is No Star Bash, clinics kicked off, regular drift days increased and Drift Indy Street League was just beginning to take shape. Drift Indy's calendar was soon packed full of events for everyone and there was certainly no shortage of seat time for new drivers.

As a photographer, I was having a ball! With so much diversity in event styles, driver skill levels and car builds, the variety of interesting stuff I had to shoot at every event had no limit! I was working with a great crew of dudes, and just about all of us in Opps, Tech, Media and Merch owned cars that we drove on track. Drift Indy was for the drivers, by the drivers and in this way we ran the type of events that we ourselves liked to drive.

Mario drifting his s13

If you were at an event while I was still DI Staff you might recognize my 240.

By 2021 my studio and other obligations would start to pull me further away from drifting, so I stepped down from my post as staff photographer/media coordinator leaving my dudes Sam House and Shawn Allgood to take the media reigns in my absence.

Mario with a sunset behind him

The Drift Indy community is too special to leave behind though. Over the last decade that I've been involved in drifting via Drift Indy I've made some incredible friendships. I've watched drivers progress from building their first cars to competing in professional level events among some of the world's best drivers. I've been fortunate enough to be on track for dozens of events and hone my skills as a motorsports photographer. I was inspired to build a car for myself and surrounded by a great group of dudes who were eager to help through every step of the process, and when I decided to start driving, those same dudes were there to help things click.

This is what Drift Indy facilitates; a place for anyone to get involved on any level. New and veteran drivers seeking seat time, comp dudes looking to shake down rigs, media people looking to create killer content and spectators who just want to enjoy the show. There are no attitudes in the pits and no shortage of drivers willing to give a fan an experience of a ride-along in the middle of a 6 car train. We don't have a bad time here and this is why I keep coming back.

Mario teaching a photo clinic


With everything that Drift Indy has given me, I'm glad I can give something back, by recently hosting my first motorsports/drifting photography clinic for newer photographers. D.I. has been and always will be about having fun in cars with friends first, beyond that take what you can and give something back; learn from dudes around you in the pits at any drift indy event. Ask about set up, how to make your cars cool, ask about taking photos. Be sure to also pass it on, teach someone something you've learned here. In this way, the atmosphere and spirit of Drift Indy that we love will continue.