Heading northeast to Pennsylvania for the first time (and to literally North East, Pennsylvania), the third round of the 2017 Midwest Drift Union series saw Geoff Donati pull the first hat trick in the series’ eight year history with his third win of the year. Lake Erie Speedway, a 3/8 mile oval sanctioned by NASCAR from its inception in 2002 until 2013, would serve as the proving ground.
Like round two at M1 Concourse, low driver turnout warranted the decision to only run a top eight bracket.
With a massive concrete oval available to configure in just about any layout one could want, staff decided to mimic the layout used for the Holley LS Fest drift competition at Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green, KY. The biggest difference between the two, aside from Lake Erie being over twice the size, was the bump in the middle of the course. Jonathan Hurst found out early what way not to hit the center bump, and debeaded the tire on his first run.
During one of his tandem practice runs with Dan Nikov, Gus Gedas slammed hard into the outer wall on the entry to the bank on the first turn.
Gedas suffered only a bruise on his right leg (and had the wind knocked out of him), but his E46 suffered far more damage. Nikov made sure to document the destruction after making sure his friend was okay.
With two tires that wouldn’t turn and a rear differential about to fall off the car, it took track crews a minute to clear the mangled E46 from the track, but action was quick to pick right back up.
Kaz Johnson is a newcomer to the series in his S14, and the car and livery is almost identical to that of team mate Derek Madison.
Head of MDU operations Nick Swann was giving pointers on how to best navigate the long, sweeping course.
With only one run group and some extra time during driver meetings, 2015 MDU champion Dirk Stratton was out testing his new Lingelfelter Performance Camaro for the first time.
Dylan Sharpe’s S15 is one of if not the best looking car in the series, but mechanical issues almost caused him to miss qualifying.
Though his team made a valiant effort in making repairs to get him on the grid to qualify, he just missed the top eight bracket.
Garrett Denton repeated his round one qualifying effort and nabbed the top qualifying spot once again.
Denton’s first battle would be against Shane Whalley, who is still adjusting to the FC platform with the demise of his GTO at round one.
Derek Madison would then go on to defeat the Lexus SC of Dan Perlenfein, securing his spot in the final four.
Nikov, with his E36 having turned black since he secured a third place finish at round two, battled Hurst in the next pairing, ultimately bowing out to the orange 350Z.
And in the final pairing, points leader and second-place qualifier Geoff Donati took the win over Allen Boss, who was making his first appearance in top eight.
Madison and Denton would do battle to kick off the final four, with Denton advancing to the finals.
In a rematch of the final four at round one, Donati and Hurst found themselves once more doing battle. As at round one, Donati would get the nod to square off against Denton in the finals.
This put Madison and Hurst in a battle for third, with Madison scoring his first MDU podium with the bronze.
“It’s pretty crazy, I didn’t expect the car to hold together well enough to get third place,” Madison said. “Going into the final four after my chase run against Denton, my clutch pushrod completely separated from the clevis and I had no clutch. I had to start my car in third gear at the line and take off. I laid down a decent run but Denton’s just a hell of a driver. From there, I started in third on my lead run against Hurst and was able to rig it back together enough to go from first to third one time on my chase run.”
But clutch/transmission problems weren’t something that developed for this round, and Madison has been fighting other issues all year, including that his LS-swapped 240 was running one cylinder shy of a V8 and his transmission has lacked second gear since the opening round.
“I’ve been having issues since I put it together,” he said. “Out of my own neglect, I broke a spark plug and never got around to replacing it. I was running on seven cylinders at round one and that was a big hindering. I ended up going back and replacing all the plugs and one of the plug wires that came off. We were running out seven cylinders for most of the day. After the pre-qualifying meeting we had a little more practice and I was able to throw down runs on all 8 cylinders and it was a heck of a difference. This is my second time driving a banked course and the first time with a car with enough power to keep on the bank”
Donati and Denton would face each other in the finals, just like they did in St. Louis. This time, however, missed shift on Denton’s part gave Donati the advantage he needed to score his third win this year and complete the hat trick, the first time someone in Midwest Drift Union history had done so.
“It definitely feels good to be back on the podium,” Denton said. “We’re glad we got the car finally to stay in one piece, as that didn’t happen first or second round. I really wish we could have done a little better in the final against Geoff. I just missed a shift on my follow run and he go away from me. I couldn’t have asked more out of my car or crew, it just came down to me making a mistake at the end.”
Aside from human error, a snapped axle (the same problem that had been haunting Donati since round one) was Denton’s only other major issue.
“We snapped an axle earlier in the day which has become a really common thing with this car,” he added. “The 350Z axles are good for the car being low, but with the power that we make with the grip we have, when you drop the clutch is just shears the end right off of them. Besides that, the car ran excellent.”
With Donati once again taking home the gold, he further advanced his lead to 24 points over second-place Denton.
“I still can’t believe it,” Donati said of his hat trick. “There’s a lot of stuff that has to go right in a drift event, and for that to happen three times in a row just seems insane to me. Even stuff that isn’t in your control has to work in your favor, so it’s really just unbelievable.”
The fourth round will take place in conjunction with Southeast Drift Union and U.S. Drift on September 15-16 at Kil-Kare Speedway in Xenia, OH. If Donati pulls off another win, he will be the first driver in MDU history to sweep the entire series.
“I’m really excited for round four and can’t wait to drive with some new people from all over the country on our home track,” he added. “It’s gonna be a great time.”