Standing halfway up a mountain road in Jackson County, KY and hearing 12 different exhaust notes echoing through the hills as 10 drift cars, a lead car and a chase car start to gun it toward the uphill section of the US’ first legal touge on a public road gave me chills then and remembering it still does now.
The day started early with staff, media and drivers rolling in to the parking lots we were borrowing for our rigs and rides. The ride there took me down the road we were going to be using for the touge, though I didn’t realize that’s what it was on the way in. Even then I thought it was a gnarly road.
Us media folks took a little recce run back up the mountain to scout some spots. The course was about ¾ of a mile and the main, driftable section included 4 corners. On one side was a steep drop separated from the road by a guardrail and a few feet of grass, and the other side was mostly a rock wall with a few breaks in it and spots we could climb to get some separation from the danger zone.
The drivers’ meeting got underway after that, and we were fortunate enough to have some really experienced dudes there to join us. Formula Drift driver Chelsea Denofa was in attendance with his ecoboost-swapped foxbody and our own resident hillclimb expert Derek King were there to try to impress how heavy the day was about to be.
“Be careful, but don’t be a pussy,” was some of Chelsea’s advice, followed by “90% of FD could not do this shit.”
This drivers' meeting was probably the most vital one any of our drivers have ever listened to.
Even after him and Derek working to impress the reality of mountain drifting during the meeting, it was still a shock to everyone once the first run groups broke traction for the first time.
“The downhill is going to feel like you’re driving on cords,” Chelsea warned
All 30 or so cars took a gripped sight lap up and down the hill, with a few guys kicking the tail out once or twice just to get a feel for the surface and camber of the road. Then, the first group of 10 got the greenlight to hit it.
The JEM Sport E36 was our lead car for the day with Shawn Allgood behind the wheel and Clay Payne’s Fiesta ST was the caboose, sandwiching the 10-car run groups. A few guys kicked it out a few times on that first uphill, but most of them were understandably hesitant to really smash the skinny pedal.
Just a couple good ecoboost swaps!
The downhill was even gnarlier. Pretty early on we had at least a couple guys go off. Nothing serious, and they were able to drive back down, but it shook people up a little. Everybody got together down at the bottom again for another little pep talk before getting right back down to business.
Chelsea encouraged everybody to focus on getting one or two corners down at a time, and that seemed to ease some nerves. I guess having a pro tell you to calm the hell down works!
It didn’t take long for folks to start getting it, and before long we had quite a few guys linking two or three of the corners consistently.
The speed that the drivers had to push to make the uphill work was impressive, but the speed that they carried through the downhill was insane. Chelsea said he hit 80+ mph and over 100 mph wheel speed. For reference, the speed limit on the road is 55, but recommended speed through most of the turns was 20 or 25. Like I said, insane.
It would've been impressive to drive this course as a single, let alone in tandem.
Before long, Bobby’s Crew drivers Vance Kearns and Josh Estey (fresh off his win at DISL Vol. 10) were even tandeming. The word of the day might just have been “cojones.” Kyle Robertson (second place at Vol. 10) started killing it pretty immediately, too. He might’ve been the first one to link the course, too.
Kyle and his wife, Hannah's, Miata shredded all day.
The Team Shade boys brought their A-game, as always, and threw down some super killer runs too. Joey Ritter hit a pretty insane boardslide in his Z, dropping the rear off the road quite a bit. He stayed in it somehow and managed to keep from beaching himself. I didn’t get to see it myself, but the reaction from the down the hill from those who did let me know that it was absolutely wild.
As the day went on, numbers started to decrease a little as the intense focus required to complete a lap started to wear on some of the drivers and the intense road started to wear on their rides. They were really dealing with some extra, extra fine margins out there. Turns out dropping a tire or two off on a mountain road is a bigger deal than doing so at Kil-kare. Who knew?
Danny Worley regularly puts on a show, and the touge was no exception.
I think the road also showed off the build quality that the drivers have managed. There were a few mechanical issues here and there, but the fact that damn near every single car that had an issue still made it down the hill is a testament to the care that everybody put into their builds and the prep work they did ahead of the day. Derek Bianski deserves a special shoutout for doing a whole trans swap the night before, driving all the way up to Indy and back down, just so he could drive the touge. Once again, insane.
I'm so, so glad Derek did that swap so that us media folks got to see such an iconic car take on the mountain.
In summary, it was a truly wild day that capped off a groundbreaking weekend for Drift Indy. DISL Vol. 10 was a great time at the Corbin Arena, the cruise in to downtown with the police escort was cool as hell and the touge was pretty mind-blowing on all fronts. It was the culmination of months of planning and prep work between Drift Indy and Backroads of Appalachia and required harmony between what felt like about a million moving parts. Between staff, media, police and fire departments managing traffic, a state representative or two that came to watch and the drivers themselves, it got a little tricky at times. All in all, though, I think things went pretty smoothly for a first-of-its-kind event.
Some of my favorite media to see come out of the event has been the in-car footage from some of the drivers. A personal favorite is the video from Kyle Robertson of Edgar sending a group and immediately doing the sign of the cross. In-car videos don't often convey much of a sense of speed, but this event managed to produce some that get the point across. The speed that the corners came at them and the blind nature of a few of the corners helps illustrate once again how gnarly a course it was.
This Drift Indy x Drift Appalachia event, DA's first, is one that I think everyone that was there will remember for a long, long time. It feels a little corny to call it historical, but if we're being real, it really was. I'm proud to have been part of the team working to pave the way for more events like this, and I can't wait for the next time I get to hear a train of drift cars echoing through the hills.