If you have ever seen the film Tokyo Drift or watched drift racing on YouTube or TV, you know that it is an exciting, adrenaline-fueled sport. Thanks to Drift 406 and members of the community, this sport is starting to make an appearance on the Bozeman scene. Wanting to learn more about the club, the sport, and its members, EndZone sat down to coffee with Belgrade resident Nathan Amaral, long-time drift racer and member of Drift 406.
EZ: Thanks for speaking with the EndZone today, Nathan. How are you doing?
NA: Doing good. How ‘bout you?
EZ: Good, thank you. So tell us a little about yourself.
NA: I come from Michigan… I was in the Marine Corp before hand. I served for about five years. They found me a job with [CSSI/Firstline] in Glendive, Montana. It was probably one of the last places I wanted to be when I got there. There was not a lot to do.
EZ: (laughs) How could you not love Glendive?
NA: (chuckles) I tried to, to be honest with you. I stayed in Glendive about nine months and after that I transferred over to Belgrade. Outside of work, I love racing. It’s a big part of my life. I’ve been doing it since 2009. While I was in the Marine Corp there was a lot of racing involved, and ever since then I’ve kept on building my cars. I started out with American muscle at first, and after I bought my American muscle car I switched over to Japanese cars while I was [deployed] in Japan. It was pretty much like the movie Tokyo Drift. That was my life at that point and it was a great experience.
EZ: For those who don’t know exactly what drift racing is, can you give us an explanation?
NA: Drift racing is where you see the cars drift sideways. They stay in the turn sideways and spin the tires—you see a whole lot of tire smoke coming out of it—and the whole point is to stay sideways the whole time and to stay together. It isn’t really about who is in first place, who is in second place, it’s just an art.
EZ: How do they determine the winner at an event?
NA: At the start you have the person who is going to be the lead, which will be in front, and you’ll have the person who is going to be in second behind them. As they’re drifting together and the person who comes up behind them crosses the finish line, then yeah, you can win. Now, if they stick together the whole time then they’ll do another race and another race and another race—you keep racing until they see who is gonna pass each other up.
EZ: Do you often have someone in the passenger seat?
NA: I usually don’t have anyone in the passenger seat, but I am a single guy, so if there are any girls willing to strap on a harness I wouldn’t mind… and I do have a Facebook page… (smiles)
EZ: (laughs) And how were you first drawn to drift racing?
NA: What brought me into it was my first car from Japan. It was a Toyota Soarer, 1993. Right-hand drive, twin-turbo, in-line 6 engine. I learned drifting from a guy that I bought the car off of over there for $3,000 and that’s how I started. I brought it over to Michigan and I became known for having this [unique car]. I was one of three in the United States. People started telling me that I should start drifting since I have a right-hand drive Japanese car, so I just started trying and have been doing it ever since then.
EZ: Tell us about the 406 Drift Racing Club.
NA: The 406 Drift Club was founded three years ago by Andrew Hertsens. We meet up every Tuesday at various locations, like the parking lot of the Gallatin Valley Mall or someplace else, like the parking lot of the empty IGA grocery store. It’s a diverse community—not just Japanese cars, not just Subarus, it’s everybody. We hang out, talk about cars, help each other out, and do events. Andrew organizes events for both drift racing and track racing.
EZ: And what is track racing?
NA: Track racing is where you have a track—anywhere from a mile to ten, depending on where it’s at—and it’s pretty much either a big ol’ circle track or one with a lot of twists and turns. It’s a lot more tuned for suspension, not really 900, 800 horsepower cars, you can have cars that have half the power—five hundred, four hundred horsepower cars would be phenomenal at track racing. It’s all about turning.
EZ: Where do you do your drift racing?
NA: Most of our races are held in Helena, some in Billings, and then there’s the drift events called ‘Sideways Saturdays’. The founder—Andrew—he rents these out for us and then we pay entry fees for the race to help cover costs. Andrew doesn’t make any profit off of it. It’s just something that he sets up, we go over there, race, and just all have fun together. Sometimes we have sponsors there and they’ll sponsor us. Could be anybody there—whoever wants to see us can come watch us race.
EZ: Have you ever had a sponsor?
NA: Yes, I did. It was with Otaku Garage in Michigan. They were great people. They took great care of me while I was in the drifting scene in Michigan. They gave me half-off on all their parts… They did a lot for me. I’m not with them right now—I’m trying to move on to new things and see who else I can get sponsored by.
EZ: And what are the costs associated with drift racing? It sounds like a really expensive sport.
NA: It all depends on what the person wants to do to their car. You can have a full-blown, $40,000 drift car—build up the engine to about 400, 500 horsepower, make the car look nice, body work—or you can just get a simple, nice, rear-wheel drive car and just learn. I wouldn’t tell someone to go do it in parking lots, but we do have events that Drift 406 sets up and you can just test your car. Go out, drift, see what you can do.
EZ: I imagine drift racing is a quick way to destroy your tires. How much do you spend on tires?
NA: (laughs) I think the highest total I spent in one month in Michigan on tires was around $3,000. It was a lot of money back then. It was a great time, though. Right now I don’t spend too much money on tires because I have a Subaru—I’m going to start drifting with that before I get my other car over here from Michigan. Then we’ll see what happens. (laughs)
EZ: And what about safety?
NA: We are all about safety, of course. We make sure that all the seat belts are working properly, and we also like to see that people are using harnesses in their cars. It doesn’t matter how many point harness it is, as long as they have it. And airbags… Some people take out their OEM steering wheel, the stock steering wheel from their car, and swap it out with another one—and that’s not too safe… But at the end of the day we want to know that the people who are going to be on the track—obviously we are not licensed, full-blown professionals—know what they’re doing. We’ve been doing it for a long time, we’ve been sponsored before, and we make sure everyone is safe and that they don’t stick too close together. We don’t want to collide while drifting and racing.
EZ: And is there anything else you would like to add about yourself, drift racing, or Drift 406?
NA: I would like to see more people come to Drift 406. We have a meeting coming up at the Gallatin Mall every Tuesday from 7 to 9 pm. It’d be great to see more people there. There are no club fees—just show up and join. Racing fees can be as low as $5 or $10, just depends. Our next meet would be the 21st of April at the Mall. You’ll see a huge group there all the way towards the end of the left side of the parking lot. You’ll see a lot of cars. We just hang around, bring a coffee in case it gets cold, and have fun and talk about cars. Soon I will finish up my car. It will be an 850 horsepower Subaru, fully built. My wallet gets a little lighter each month, but I can’t wait till it’s done. It’s gonna be a nice ride.
EZ: Thank you so much for your time today, Nathan. Good luck on your upcoming events at Drift 406 and finishing up your car!
NA: And thank you!
The next Drift 406 meet will take place in the Gallatin Valley Mall parking lot on Tuesday, April 21st from 7 to 9 pm. To learn more, visit www.drift406.com.