BELOIT, Ohio — With a family-owned car dealership that features high-performance cars — and a father who drag raced professionally — it was only a matter of time until 24-year-old Dirk Stratton found himself on the track.
He started out simple, driving four wheelers and other off-road vehicles, figuring out the basics of speed and control.
But when he turned 16, Dirk and his father, Don, took a more serious approach and started building a Camaro for drag racing.
Dirk raced locally at places like the Quaker City Motorsports Park, near Salem. He enjoyed drag racing and carrying on his father’s tradition, but over time, those straightaways got old.
“I liked it and I always had fun, but I kind of got tired of just going straight,” he said.
That’s when he got introduced to the sport of drifting, a competition where the drivers intentionally oversteer and drive around the track sideways, tires a-burnin’ and smoke a-flyin’.
One of Dirk’s friends, veteran drift car driver Ben Bissett, took him along for a ride and to show him how it worked.
“I became addicted to it instantly,” said Dirk.
Bissett’s family has its own fourth-generation Chevrolet dealership in Mercer, Pennsylvania, and the two drivers still share ideas.
How it works
Unlike racing, the sport is not timed. Instead, the drivers are evaluated by a three-panel judge on things like how far sideways the car is, and the angle and placement on the track. It’s a little bit like an obstacle course — with a specific pattern the judges are looking for.
“They have certain spots marked out on the track with cones and markers that you’re supposed to get close to,” Dirk said. “If you get real close and just barely touch it, that would be like perfect. Now if you knock it over, that’s going to count against you.”
During a competition, two cars go at once. The lead car sets the pattern, and the second car tries to closely mimic the same pattern and driving style. Then, the two cars switch order, and the judges evaluate which one was the better leader and follower.
Drifting is a slower sport than most motor racing, usually below 100 mph. But because of the added challenge of driving sideways, and near walls and barriers, it’s still risky.
“I try not to think about it too much,” said Dirk. “I don’t want to get too worked up. But there’s moments in the car when you’re like, ‘oh man, there’s the wall.’”
But some fear is good, Dirk said, because it helps keep him honest and aware of what’s at stake.
Each contest, he goes through about 20-30 tires. He uses a softer, summer tire known as an Achilles radial, which allows him to get a better grip on the pavement.
Since the car literally is on edge as it travels around the track, Dirk calls it “driving on the edge of control,” or put another way, “controlled chaos.”
But Dirk and his pit crew, which includes his father, have learned to control quite a bit. This year he took Rookie of the Year honors in the Formula Drift Pro 2, the professional association for drifting.
And it all happened with a Corvette, an unusual choice for drifting, but one that worked well because of its high-performance build, and the fact that his family sells Chevrolet at their dealership, Stratton Chevrolet.
Dirk’s Corvette is equipped with a Lingenfelter V-8 engine, built by Lingenfelter Performance Engineering, a well-known name in performance engines.
The car is still street legal. But with 600 hp, and burning race fuel, Dirk said it’s a little loud and tends to stand out.
Bissett, who still helps Dirk when he can, said Dirk and his father had “a pretty big undertaking” when they decided to turn a Corvette into a drift car.
But Bissett knew it was within reach.
“I’m not surprised at all,” he said. Dirk’s got that special, natural talent and they’re (Strattons) also really hard-working people.”
Don Stratton serves as Dirk’s crew chief — turning wrenches, mustering support and doing whatever is needed. Dirk’s mother, Teresa, is office manager.
“I’m very proud of him,” said Don Stratton. “I’m glad he can experience that feeling of competition you get when you’re in competition, and that feeling you get when you win.”
The Strattons are hoping for another good year in 2017, as they build on this year’s success. Dirk is aiming for the Formula Drift Pro 2 championship, and would like to eventually move up to the Pro 1 division, which is a step higher.
Dirk said the sport of drifting is relatively new, and tells others that if they want to get into racing, just remember to keep it simple at first, and move up as you can.
“You don’t have to build anything crazy to go learn,” he said. “Just start with something simple and go drive.”
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