All Good Things: Gridlife Doubles Down In The South

When you really drill down into it, you realize that everything in life is a work in progress. None of what seems perfect actually is; we’re all just doing the best we can in a random world we have little control over. This might seem disillusioning, but really, it’s inspiring. The things we fear won’t get any better always can, and even what seems to be awesome can be even more so.

Take Gridlife, for example. Many of us had been feeling a bit pessimistic about the future of track events, but Gridlife’s blend of drifting, time-attack, and HPDE (high-performance driver education) mixed with big-name musical talent and care-free festival atmospheres inspired an entire new generation to get to the track. These events introduced the fun of it all to some who might’ve never discovered it on their own. And as awesome as all that has proven to be, it seems to be getting better each time.

The Best Gets Better

This year’s Gridlife South festival added more drifters and more drift sessions, each of which was longer than they had been in past years. The number of time-attack competitors was cut down slightly to give those making the cut better odds at nailing their ideal laps, with less traffic to battle. HPDE sessions grew in participation to help offset this, and the newly minted (at this year’s Gridlife Midwest festival) Gridlife Touring Cup (GLTC) wheel-to-wheel series saw growth in both quality and quantity, attracting new and veteran drivers from other series to compete. The staff also carved out downtime for meal breaks and driver instruction, which helped to relax schedules and nerves a bit.

Musical acts were limited to Friday and Saturday nights this time around, but those who did make the roster—Twista, Xavier Wulf and friends Friday night; Flosstradamus, Soulja Boy and more Saturday night—were a rare treat for a car event, and brought crowds all their own into the Gridlife fold.

When a planned partnership with Eibach Honda Meet fell through in the weeks leading up to the event left this year’s festival without a car-show partner, Gridlife staff elected to go it alone rather than find a partner to do the heavy lifting. And it worked.

What this all added up to was longer and better track time for drivers, largely nonstop racing action for fans, and a more driving-focused vibe—still with its fair share of rampant partying—in addition to more drifting debauchery, energetic musical performances, much cleaner and more competitive driving, and an easier, more enjoyable event for all.

Drifting: Twice As Much, Twice As Crazy

Doubling down on drifting was a smart move. We know the Gridlife staff comes from a track-racing background (as do many of us), but nothing got fans running to the fences like the event’s 10 total drift sessions.

True to form, the action was non-stop, this time in 40-minute heats as opposed to 20, and with about 20 more cars over last year. Formula Drift vets Vaughn Gittin Jr., Fredric Aasbø, Ken Gushi and Federico Sceriffo assaulted the familiar course, putting their pro competition cars on the line against teammates and rivals Chelsea DeNofa, Chris Forsberg, Michael Essa, Kevin Lawrence, and Pat Goodin, all in “party cars.”

About a dozen FD Pro 2 warriors crossed their paths, including Matt Haugen in his insane supercharged V8 R34 Skyline GT-R, Riley Sexsmith in his NV Auto 1,000 horsepower Toyota 86, Jonathan Hurst in his twin-turbocharged LS-powered G37, George Kiriakopolous and his Link ECU-backed 370Z, and “Rowdy” Kelsey Rowlings, on full send all weekend in her supercharged, Ford 5.0 Coyote-powered S14 240SX.

Retired (or just paused?) FD pros like Faruk Kugay, Geoff Stoneback, Nate Hamilton, and Ron Ewerth shredded as hard as ever (Faruk once again looking better than ever in that new BMW).

But the real treat to a Gridlife Festival are all the local, pro-am, and proudly “no-name” (their words) shredders who show up in droves in some of the most stylish and timeless drift cars around, to lay down some truly impressive solo drifts, tandems and multi-car drift trains amongst themselves and with pros, all weekend long.

This year’s bash again featured drifting on the full Road Atlanta course, but also introduced two “sunset drift” sessions that ran well into dusk, making for an awesome show of drifting in smokey darkness for those brave enough to partake.

Time Attack: The Business of Speed

Gridlife’s TrackBattle time-attack competition has been steadily heating up, and while several new challengers entered the fold and veterans got faster, no one could top the Canadians.

Running fastest of the weekend was defending North American Unlimited-class time-attack champ William Au-Yeung and his ninth-gen Civic coupe, setting the bar at an untouchable 1:19.962-second lap—mere tenths from his overall track record at Road Atlanta, and a time he was on track to beat when his engine let go.

Not far behind Au-Yeung—and finishing a full five seconds ahead of his next-closest competitor—was James Houghton in his venerable DC2 Integra Type R, which logged a quickest 1:23.505-second lap, which he too was on track to beat before a shifter malfunction grenaded his sequential transmission near the end of what would’ve been his fastest lap.

Chris Boersma may not have won Track Modified competition this time; if his 1:29.838-second Third-place finish that nearly edged out Second-place finisher Feras Qartoumy’s 1:29.698-second lap in his monstrous Z06 Corvette isn’t impressive enough, consider that Boersma and his Civic still finished ahead of 27 class competitors, including a fully built Honda S2000, BMW M4, Lotus Exige, Nissan GT-R, Challenger Scat Pac, Mazda FD3S RX-7, EVO IX, and more.

Joining Canadian ranks this year was Andrew Cassidy and his impressively built 13B-powered FC3S Mazda RX-7, looking like something out of Mazda’s ‘90s IMSA days and running a best 1:30.994-second lap while still in development. We’re eagerly looking forward to seeing what this thing can do dialed in.

Other notable happenings elsewhere in TrackBattle competition were Blue By You Racing’s 1:32.215-second lap in its aggressive Mustang Boss 302 (which might prompt a balance-of-power adjustment for future events), Jackie Ding’s one of two GR Supras in attendance blasting a fast 1:35.088-second lap in relative stock form, and a lowly Ford Festiva finishing ahead of a BMW M3 and two Miatas to not be the slowest car on track.

GLTC: Wheel-To-Wheel Reinvented

In much the same way as Gridlife’s TrackBattle series has helped kickstart modern-day time-attack competition, so does it appear that its GLTC series is re-introducing wheel-to-wheel racing to today’s younger enthusiasts in a more straightforward, attainable way.

At this year’s inaugural races during the Midwest Festival, we saw only a handful of cars that were purpose-built to GLTC rules—many drivers just slotted in their weekend track cars in where they could and let ‘er rip. Competition in Atlanta was much different.

Just under 40 cars took the start in each of the weekend’s four races, including adapted cars from competing club racing series like SCCA; retired cars of professional racing series; multiple all-new, GLTC-specific builds … and some (but fewer) of those weekend track cars.

Making The Best Even Better

Possibly the biggest change in standard operating procedure for Gridlife in the wake of this latest Gridlife South Festival is that it may very well be the series’ last. All good things come to an end, as they say, and while Road Atlanta has left everyone with too many fond memories to count, the staff is considering other venues further north along the East Coast, as well out West (the rumor we keep hearing is Laguna Seca).

Whatever the future may hold, the Gridlife recipe has proven successful and its future looks bright given its organizers’ eternal quest to make it even brighter and better each year. Click through more of our favorite moments from this year’s bash below, and be sure to follow the links below to stay plugged in: