In this week’s edition of Better Know A Driver, we caught up with the 2015 Midwest Drift Union champion, Dirk Stratton. We’re bringing you some insight as to where he came from, what his plans are for the future, and what it took to take the only Corvette the MDU series has ever had compete to the top of the heap.
SMASHED: How did you get into drifting?
Stratton: Well it all started in 2010 for me. I happened to be at Pitt Race to watch a Superbike race and stumbled across a Club Loose 2 drift day that was there in the parking lot. I had seen videos online before but never saw drifting in person. I was simply mesmerized by the sport from the moment I saw it. I started checking out the cars and a certain 5.0L V8 swapped ’86 Corolla had my attention. Henry Russo was his name and he insisted that I go for a ride. He killed it and it was like a roller coaster ride for me. I loved it, I was hooked and I knew I needed to get into drifting. My father’s a huge motorsports inspiration for me and at the time he thought it was a silly sport for me to spend my money on and I didn’t know much about it anyway. So, fast forward to 2012 before I got my hands on the wheel. My buddy Ben Bissett was kind enough to let me drive and teach me the basics of drifting in his SR powered S14 at a Drift Cleveland event on a small oval track called Lake County Speedway. Two months later I traded my 1967 C10 for a 1990 S13 hatch with an SR20 and Fortune Auto 500 coilovers. My first drift event was 100 Drifters of December in West Virginia. It was difficult but a blast learning to drift on such an awesome road course. I can remember watching Geoff Stoneback, Dan Savage, and Chris Forsberg tear it up out there, which was great inspiration to progress my skills.
SMASHED: You started off your 2015 MDU season in a V8-powered S13, then showed up to Detroit in a C6 Corvette. That’s a pretty drastic change, so what prompted such a shift in choice of vehicle?
Stratton: Honestly the change from S13 to Corvette was pretty much all my dad’s idea. I was about to dump a bunch of money into an old Nissan with a new engine, trans, diff, body kit, paint, wheels, and more. Which, don’t get me wrong, would have been a really nice good working car. The thing is that no matter how nice or how fast it was, it still wouldn’t stand out in the drift community. I wanted something new and different. The Chevrolet brand means a lot to my family and our business since 1928 has been running a Chevrolet dealership. It only made sense to build a Chevy drift car to compete with. My good friend Tim actually found the C6 on eBay with a salvage title after I jokingly said I would buy one if someone saw one for a good deal. So I got the car at the end of November 2014 with a full but simple build planned for it with no real sign if it would really work or not.
SMASHED: Because I’m sure the question is on many people’s minds…what’s the mod list on the ‘Vette look like? What kinds of numbers is it putting down?
Stratton: So in my mind the recipe was simple, just add coilovers, angle, a little more power and safety. After many hours of research online and phone calls all over I started getting parts together for the ‘Vette. I talked to Luke Lonberger to get some ideas which helped out a little. The car is a 2009, so it comes from the factory with the 6.2L LS3. I didn’t want to have a ton of power to start off with this car so I just changed out the camshaft for a custom grind from Lloyd Elliot and put Chevrolet Performance CNC ported cylinder heads on it. I run a stock intake manifold and throttle body. Hooker Headers hooked me up with their new Blackheart series stainless long tube headers and full straight through exhaust. I run an ATI Super damper, Canton Accusump, Improved Racing oil pan baffles and a GZ Motorsports vacuum pump for reliability. The car made 488 horsepower and 471 ft lbs of torque to the wheels. I use a Monster Clutches street twin disk clutch with a lightened steel flywheel, stock driveshaft with solid couplers and a stock transmission. RPM Transmissions built my differential with 3.91 gears, better clutches, and a pump for a cooler. I threw out the old leaf springs in favor of LG Motorsports adjustable coilovers. The car has stock axles, stock control arms, and stock sway bars. Huge thanks to my friends and great technicians Matt and Jimmy here at the dealership for helping to get this car together! Now for the custom fabrication work that brings this car to the level it is I owe to my friend Justin at JRfab. He fabbed up the solid transaxle mounts, roll cage, steering angle setup, and dual rear caliper brackets. Everything came out amazing but we still had no idea if it would really work or not.
SMASHED: You’re the first person in MDU history to have competed in a Corvette, and you took it all the way to the top to win the championship in your first full season with them. What’s more impressive is that you did it without being on the podium once, owing to consistent qualifying scores and advancing to at least top eight in most if not all of the comps. What would you say you owe that consistency to?
Stratton: Well first off I think the Corvette exceeded everyone’s expectations right from the start, including my own. So just the feeling of the car working well and all of the work we put into it actually being worth it was an amazing feeling. With that I speak for myself and my whole team. How this season went seems weird to me winning the overall points and never getting on the podium, until I really think about how important that consistency is. I guess my driving style has always just been to be smooth and clean as much as possible. Honestly to me that’s only half the battle though. I know I need to work on my follow game to win events. I think getting more seat time and becoming more comfortable with the C6 will help that and naturally improve in tandem battles. The more I drive with the very talented drivers in MDU, the more I learn and progress my skills. The other main thing is having a car built to stay together all year. I was fortunate I didn’t have any major mechanical issues all year to hold me back. Maintenance plays a big role in that too, checking, double checking, and triple checking things. I try to always pay attention to what the judges want to see and just roll with the smoothest line I can manage to pull off.
SMASHED: Now that you’ve secured your Pro 2 license, what are your intentions for 2016 or beyond?
Stratton: This seems to be the hot question that everyone is asking me lately! As of right now its hard to tell what 2016 will hold for me. My best plan that makes sense for me is to go with a Pro Am packed season. To run MDU and possibly some other ProAm events and maybe even an event in Canada. The cost, skill, and knowledge needed for Pro2 to happen for 2016 would require some serious sponsors in a short amount of time for me. If it happens or things line up to a deal I can’t refuse then I’m not against going. It honestly just makes the most sense to really get my program together in Pro Am 2016 and look into Pro2 for 2017. It will give me more experience as a driver, better develop my car and team, and line up more sponsorships.
SMASHED: What would you say your ultimate goal is with drifting?
Stratton: Not many people really seem to ask me this question except for myself. At this point in my life I don’t really know the answer since I have only been drifting for about three years. The only thing I know is that I have a blast doing it and getting better at it. It really is just a hobby for me since realistically I have a business to work at and help keep running at home. The problem is I am addicted to competition and thrive to always do better. So I just drift to have fun, but if the right opportunity comes along I would be totally stoked to be a part of the pro Formula Drift program some day.
SMASHED: What’s your biggest motivation to reach those goals?
Stratton: There are mainly three things that really motivate me to continue gaining success at drifting. First off is the fact that I just love learning new skills and tricks to drive better. Secondly is the support and belief from my friends and family that my driving is great! And a third part of motivation for me is definitely watching the pros and looking up to them for their driving skills. I met Geoff Stoneback at a local practice event with Clubloose2 at Midvale Speedway where he came to drive for fun after he had won Streetlife Tour the year before he went to Pro2. I won’t forget that because watching him drive there and progress where he is now really gives me motivation to keep driving better.
SMASHED: What is/are some of the biggest hurdles you’ve had to overcome to get where you are now?
Stratton: I actually picked up on drifting pretty quickly so I guess my biggest thing is just my nerves. I usually stay pretty calm in most situations but sometimes I let my nerves get the best of me before a qualifying run. For some reason, when I advance past the top 16 battle my nerves seem to let go and everything just gets easier. I think that if I can learn to tame my nerves sooner in competition then I will be able to drive better. I have been quite lucky with my cars as I haven’t really broken much of anything in either car. Worst issue I’ve had was a broken valve spring in the S13 at the end of last season at a practice day. Luckily the car was only idling so there wasn’t much damage.
SMASHED: What advice do you have for those just starting out in the sport?
Stratton: To anyone wanting to get into drifting, don’t overdo it and don’t under-do it. It’s never all the car and its never all the driver. It’s about balance of the two. Worry more about the reliability of the car vs how much power or steering angle it has. I think the car I learned with is definitely a good base to start with but not the only choice out there. Having a car with good bushings, decent coilovers, and tight steering components is more important than a big turbo or a V8 swap. Develop your skills with as basic of a setup as possible and just add things here and there to improve. As far as the driving part of it goes, if you have down the basics of what you have to do then it’s all about commitment. If you cant fully commit to the throttle or steering input that you are trying to do then it will never work properly.
SMASHED: Anything else we should know about you?
Quick Facts: I’m really open minded when it comes to anything motorsports related. If it has wheels and an engine I’m interested in it. I grew up at drag strips across the country every weekend with my parents so that is what I really owe to my obsession with racing and cars in general. My dad won the world championship in 2001 in NHRA Competition Eliminator, so I definitely owe my competitive mindset and knowledge of all things cars to him. Without my parents’ support I am positive that I wouldn’t have done as well as I have. I’m just a down to earth dude and I work at Stratton Chevrolet as the Internet sales specialist.
Hometown: Beloit, Ohio
Current city: Beloit, Ohio
Car: 2009 Chevrolet Corvette
Engine: 6.2L LS3
Suspension: LG Coilovers
Wheels: Cosmis Racing xt-005R 18×9
Tires: Hankook RS3/Sumitomo HTR/Falken Azenis/Kenda Kaiser
Sponsors: Stratton Chevrolet, Grip Royal, Hooker Headers, Cosmis Racing Wheels Smashed Clothing, JR Fab
Years drifting: 3
Day job: Internet sales specialist
First drift car: 1990 S13 hatchback
Favorite track: Midvale Speedway