The Midwest Drift Union once again returned to Motor City last weekend for the third running of the world famous Streets of Detroit event. Drawing drivers from all over the country and Canada, the event promised to be the most popular event the series has ever hosted. Not only was the promise kept, but the bar has been raised even higher.
Michigan Central Station, long considered ruin porn since the last Amtrak rolled through on January 6, 1988, once again served as the backdrop. The most noticeable difference between this year and last is the installation of dozens more windows as asbestos abatement crews work to remove hazardous materials from within.
Going down the line of competing cars always yields some interesting shift knob applications. It’s one area of the car that drivers can really tap into their creative mindsets and come up with something unique and different.
About 50 drivers showed up to throw down, with the playing field consisting of some of the most talented drivers in the Midwest and beyond.
Nick Swann, long time grid man-turned-judge, briefed the heard as to the level of driving they’d need to be at in order to be on the podium.
Making a special guest appearance was 2013 MDU champion and 2014 Formula D rookie of the year, Geoff Stoneback. Earlier this year the drifting community lost an extremely talented and all around nice guy, Mark Lenardon, and Stoneback’s helmet and car were adorned with his namesake as a tribute to the Michigan native.
Even though he wasn’t competing, Stoneback was not afraid to throw down hard and tear up his car, much to the cheering and applause of the record crowd.
This year, water-filled barricades were lined along the sweeper (see Stoneback’s photo) to help protect the crowd from wayward cars, but there was nothing to protect this tree from an S13. It seems that every year a car goes off course in this area, usually taking out a stop sign (and a wheel or two).
As mentioned before, Streets of Detroit draws drivers from all across the country. Wade Odrey hails from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Inaugural MDU champion and former Formula D driver Mike Feiock hails from Indianapolis, sporting the only RX-8 in the series.
Steve Topping’s car might be German, but it’s got an American V8 and a patriotic livery to boot. The Axis & Allies combination was one of a handful of drivers representing St. Louis.
The Detroit round also holds an international appeal being so close to Canada, with guys like Chris Gonzalez making the trek from Winnipeg, Manitoba.
And of course, with all this action, it’s not hard to see why the workers inside the train station couldn’t help but stop what they were doing and watch.
Despite being his first time competing in MDU, Rob Carlsen took the number one qualifying spot. And though he may be new to the Midwest, he’s certainly not new to the sport.
“I decided to move to move from Utah to California to live at a race track and run the Top Drift and Vegas Drift series,” Carlsen said. “Coming in with a new car for the season, round one I blew a motor, round two a transmission…every event I’ve had mishaps. I’ve had limited seat time, ran every event so far in each series and I’m on my third motor, second transmission and second rear end. To salvage my season I heard of an amazing opportunity out here. I went to Colorado for round four and had a fuel line malfunction and my car burned for quite a while. I came to a crossroads of give up the season and rebuild or go on in. We worked on it for a month straight, brought it back out and this is my first time driving it.”
Unfortunately for Carlsen, his time in competition would be short lived, losing to Ricky Adams in top 16 after the two had a minor collision. He blamed only himself.
“If I were a better driver, I could have compensated for what was going on with the car. I can blame myself. It’s not ‘if the car was running better I could have done better,’ if I put the seat time into this, I could drive it in any state. Unfortunately that wasn’t the situation today. I didn’t have the talent to work around a problem I had. I ended up having to clutch kick to maintain wheel spin and shallowed out to where I had to run into the back of the guy in front of me. I’m more than happy to help him fix his car, whatever it might take.”
Riley Sexsmith met Austin Matta next, with the insane 2JZ-powered STI moving on.
“He was doing really well, I tried to keep a pretty decent distance the whole run, then he spun at the last hairpin and I went around him,” Sexsmith said. “On my lead run a lot of the pressure was off so all I had to do was drive and I could make it through. I actually clipped the curb at the end and banged up the wheel a little bit.”
The next pairing also saw the return of Nick Thomas, who finished fifth in the 2011 MDU season before finding his way to Formula Drift. His once green and black S14 is now solid black, with plans for a far more exciting livery in the works. He took the win over Rolando Alfaro’s S14, but not in the way he would have liked.
“First battle didn’t go anywhere near how I wanted it to go,” Thomas said. “I didn’t give Rolando the lead run he deserved to follow on and on my chase run I just bobbled some things and his spin is what allowed me to pass through. It wasn’t the cleanest victory but a win’s a win in a book.”
Following James Blair’s victory over Mike Feiock, Shane Whalley and his GTO defeated Steven Fishel to advance the Goat to top eight.
“My crew was taking notes on every driver so they would tell me what to expect when I went up against them,” Whalley said. “If it wasn’t for then I wouldn’t know which lines they were running, which was super helpful. They gave me the breakdown of what he was running, I followed the guidelines of what to do and we pulled the win off on that.”
Dirk Stratton and his crowd-pleaser of a Corvette muscled past John Hutchison’s E36 to move on to top eight.
But it wasn’t over for the German camp yet, as Matt Waln took his E36 to the top eight after knocking out the S12 of Devin Callahan.
The final bout of top sixteen saw last year’s Detroit champion Andrew Lewis get knocked out by Sam Henry.
Sexsmith continued up the ranks by defeating Adams to advance to the final four.
It was Thomas vs Blair in a battle of black S-chassis, with the S14 of Thomas getting the nod to advance.
“On my lead run I tried to make the car cooperate and not cut out,” Thomas said. “It started to sputter on the last run so I just jammed it into gear and followed through. On my lead run I ran a little shallow and what he told me is he couldn’t see because of the smoke and tried to cut in shallow, and I ran a little off line and dipped a tire on the curb and he came to a stop on the curb and rotated it. He put on a hell of a lead run and we just put on a good follow and continued on out with no errors.”
But if there was ever an appropriate match to take place in Detroit, it was the next one between Whalley and Stratton. Two American (okay, technically one American, one Australian) muscle cars throwing down hard, the sound from their dueling V8s echoing through the largely windowless shell of Michigan Central Station. It would be the GTO taking down its American brethren to advance on.
“Top eight were the best runs of the day, hands down,” Whalley said. “An LS Corvette and an LS GTO in the GM battle in Detroit, going one more time. Me and Stratton were both just pumped after every run. Honestly win or lose after that, we were both just so stoked it was a blast.”
Rounding out the top eight, Henry defeated Waln to set the bracket for final four.
First up was Sexsmith and Thomas, with the Subaru taking the win.
“He’d (Thomas) been having car troubles and at the very last hair pin when he was chasing me his car cut out and he straightened, and the exact same thing happened when I chased him,” Sexsmith said. “I didn’t make any mistakes so I was able to advance.”
“He lead and I felt I had an absolutely killer follow run but once again, on the hairpin, when I stabbed the clutch down it’s spaced too much to where it’s pushing the crank to where the reluctor wheel isn’t reading and it’s killing the car out,” Thomas said. “I stabbed the clutch, it killed the car. On my lead run I laid it down as hard as I could but the fault from the lead run wasn’t enough to pull it out.”
The defeat by Sexsmith meant Thomas would face Henry in the consolation round for third spot, with Thomas taking home the bronze.
“It feels fantastic,” Thomas said. “We fought through issues the entire day and the last thing we expected was to qualify, nonetheless podium. We were thrilled at the way it all ended up. The last time I drove my car was October last year was at the Corvette track doing sound testing. We got a new motor setup, tuned it two days ago and decided to come up here. We still have some bugs to work out.”
Everything now had boiled down to an unusual pairing in the finals, a Pontiac against a Toyota-powered Subaru.
“The finals were nailbiting because I’ve never been in that situation before,” Whalley said of his first-ever podium finish. “I always knocked myself out by over analyzing everything. I took the notes my team gave me on who I was going up against and just followed their guidelines…leave a little room on entry then try to suck up through the sweeper. I did a decent job of keeping close proximity on the follow run, but on the lead run I’m not sure what happened.”
“The car ran incredibly well,” Whalley continued. “The best it’s ever ran. My crew Tuner Tools came out and it’s amazing what a good crew can do to help you progress further in competition. I’ve never even gotten a podium in pro-am and taking my first one in my home town and getting second at that, couldn’t be happier.”
This of course means that the win was taken by Sexsmith, who we first saw last year in Detroit.
“When he was chasing me I knew he was close but didn’t know how close,” Sexsmith said. “When I do my lead run I don’t pay attention to who’s behind me in the mirror. I just made sure on my chase run I stuck right on him, he went wide on the first clip which allowed me to get in really tight for the transition and I just tried to stick to his door through the whole run. The car was perfect all day long.”
Since his last participation in MDU last year, the Subaru has gone through a lot of modifications. The biggest, obviously, is the 2JZ that resides under the hood with a single turbo setup, a four-speed dog box and increased steering angle.
“The setting is really cool, the people and the city are really welcoming, so I love this event,” Sexsmith said. “To come here and actually win it is really cool.”
Round three will take place once again at Street Life Tour on September 19 at Kil-Kare Speedway in Xenia, OH. With one more round after that in St. Louis in October, there’s still plenty of opportunities for drivers to climb their way to the top of the points bracket and earn their Pro 2 license for 2016.