Four Formula DRIFT Champions Tandem With the Best Street Sliders for Drift Appalachia III

Photography: Brad Sillars

  • Drift Appalachia was the first-ever street-sanctioned Touge event within the continental United States.
  • The invite-only drift event has set the industry ablaze, attracting some of the nation’s best drivers to drive different “stages” on the 4,500 miles of road called the “Backroads of Appalachia”.
  • This third event saw four Formula DRIFT champions tussle with the mountain roads (and each of the 16 other drivers) for incredible tandem runs.
  • Event aside, Drift Appalachia strove to pump value into the cities that supported its effort and successfully netted $1.4 million of positive economic impact to Raleigh Country, West Virginia.

If there’s one thing that Drift Appalachia has proven over the last two years, it’s this: enthusiasm has no borders. If you haven’t heard of Drift Appalachia yet, it’s safe to say that you’ve been living under a rock. Bar none, it’s the most exciting drift gathering today, helping migrate the excitement and street spirit of the Touge from Japan to the United States. The idea was undeniably exciting but was met with some skepticism. After all, it’s not like drifting is new, so why has it taken this long for a street-sanctioned drift event to come to fruition?

Part of it was the legality and permission. The other was locating an adequate stretch of road that would embody the spirit of the Touge. Both problems weren’t easy to solve…that is, until they met the Backroads of Appalachia, a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to revitalizing the Appalachian region through motorsport-focused tourism. The organization is based in Lynch, Kentucky, in Harlan County—one of the poorest counties in the state. After a coal boom that rose the city’s population to over 10,000 people, Lynch has been in steady decline since. It now has fewer than 500 residents. That story repeats itself along the 4,500-mile stretch of winding Appalachian backroads.

BoA’s mission was the perfect pair to Drift Appalachia’s ambition. Mark Maynard, West Virginia’s senator, was pivotal in making this event happen, too. He pushed the SB686 bill forward, which ultimately granted permission for Drift Appalachia in the state, and made it a point to attend the event on day two (pictured above with Erik Hubbard, the executive director of Backroads of Appalachia). Since Pit+Paddock was the first outlet to break the story about introductory and sequel events, we knew we had to up the ante for our third time around.


Similar to our last off-road excursion, there was one friend in our Rolodex that we wanted to call: Dai Yoshihara. He had some time between IMSA rounds and Drift Appalachia was the perfect excuse to give his ex-Formula DRIFT car a workout. After 35 hours of driving later, Dai joined us in Beckley, West Virginia to unload the 1,000hp BRZ in the pit.

It was packed. The “pit” was actually a repurposed stretch of road that welcomed the full, 40-deep Special Stage 3 roster. But the traffic jam did nothing to spoil the vibe; any minor inconvenience was overshadowed by the opportunity to shred among friends in one of the most unique United States venues.

Geoff Stoneback (OMG!) was one of a handful who came to represent the East Coast contingent, while OG Midwest veteran Derek Bianski and some familiar faces from Chicago—Josh and Leigh from Proceed—also made the trek to shred the mountain pass. I think Kiely Mackey brought the most unconventional drift car of the two-day event: an LS-powered Plymouth Road Runner. What a wild thing to see roll up to the pits.


The backroads stretch may look familiar, and for good reason. The chosen course was identical to last November’s route, a playground of undulating corners with ample tree cover on either side. On one end, they were still barren from winter; on the other, Spring looked like it’d arrived weeks earlier and yielded a lush green backdrop to the smoky tire onslaught. Either way, the theater was palpable.

Since there were a lot of drivers from November’s event that came back, they were driving noticeably harder—the familiarity with the course helped them string together some very impressive runs. Brian Wilkerson was one of those drivers. His E36 M3 met an ill fate last year, so he set a goal to exact vengeance on the circuit with a freshly rebuilt car. This time around, Wilkerson won.

Whether you were driving, riding along, or eagerly anticipating a flurry of drift cars passing by your vantage point, the picturesque setting made Special Stage 3 an unforgettable delight. For the first time, this privilege was opened up to more than drivers and media. 50 spectator tickets were offered online and sold out in a matter of minutes, with over 1000 active users on the site fighting for a coveted slot.


A crucial element of Drift Appalachia is its permeation into nearby towns. A police escort shuffled the 40-strong field into Beckley for the annual block party. Local car fans were treated to the sights and sounds of motorsport heroes’ drift machines rolling through the streets. Once parked, the block party became a vibrant hub of community; there were street vendors, music, and food trucks peppering the main drag. For everyone who lived nearby, there was a sense of disbelief that something like this, something on this scale, was happening in their town. The commotion was so heavy that Beckley’s local news was on site to film a spot.


Special Stage 3 invited four Formula DRIFT champions to challenge the mountain roads: Dai Yoshihara, Dan Savage, Chelsea Denofa, and Ben Hobson. The quartet went toe-to-toe and door-to-door with the rest of the drivers throughout the two-day tussle, which was incredibly exciting to watch. Instead of the Fox body Mustang he brought to the inaugural event, Denofa brought his E36 Ti for round three. I’ll always have a soft spot for these since it was one of the first manual cars I drove as a kid. Admittedly back then, I never thought I’d see one of them sliding a mountain road in my life. Pretty wild. The amount of smoke that bellowed out from Yoshihara’s and Hobson’s pro cars was insane and added to the spectacle.


Horsepower wasn’t the only thing on display here. Drift Appalachia’s overall economic impact on Raleigh County, West Virginia was immense: $1.4 million. This single gathering represents a significant chunk of BoA’s ambitious 2024 goal and I suspect that the buzz will only build from here. Thank you, Drift Appalachia, for having Pit+Paddock for the third time. We’re so happy that we were finally able to take a step forward with what we bring to the event and are so proud to see what you’re doing for every cherished city along the Backroads stretch. As for the next one, round four has already been announced. Drift Appalachia 4 will return to Kentucky at an undisclosed location along the BoA roadmap.