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Vaughn Gittin Jr. images at Formula Drift

Beyond the drift: Vaughn Gittin Jr

Jul 202018

Relaxed. That’s not the first word you’d usually associate with a driver competing in several championships and running businesses at the same time. But that’s exactly how Vaughn Gittin Jr appears as we sit down to talk at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed.

For the uninitiated, Gittin Jr, from Baltimore, USA, is something akin to drift racing celebrity. To date he has become a Formula Drift Champion (2010), a three time World Drift Series Champion (2011, 2012, 2013) and is the only American driver to win a Japanese D1 Grand Prix event on the sport’s home turf. Away from the track the 37 year old also heads up RTR – a tuning company partnered with Ford dedicated to producing performance and styling parts for the current generation of Mustang and F-150 trucks.

More recently he has also been taking his skills off-road, competing in the Ultra-4 racing championship; a Baja meets rock crawling mash-up, which sends 500-800bhp buggies capable of 100mph up [and down!] near vertical boulder faces.

However when you get Gittin Jr talking at any length, it quickly becomes clear that there is a lot more to him than just ‘the man and his tyre smoking Mustang’. Read on to find out his thoughts on the future of drift, electric motorsport, and fulfilling a life’s ambition at the Nürburgring…

I’m honestly so excited to show people what we achieved out there.

How are you doing Vaughn?

I’m doing great. This dream that I’m living at the moment continues to grow, and I’m continuing to get busier and busier; and my team and I are just thinking of bigger and more fun things to continue to do. I’m working on building a sustainable lifestyle in motorsport too - I was doing about 30 events a year for a couple of season, now I’ve brought on a team mate in Formula Drift – Chelsea DeNofa – and helped build my team structure. I’m focused on sharing the fun of automotive culture that has been a lifetime calling for me. Helping more people get out there to smell some burning rubber and hear engines on the limiter!

So tell us about your recent visits to the Nürburgring; what’s in store?

So last year I went to the Nürburgring in November – it was the only dates we could get, and it’s been a dream of mine to create a project where I could drift the Nürburgring. I’d been working on it for quite a long time, so when we got the dates in November, we knew it could be a little iffy with the weather, but we went for it anyway. So we took a chance, packed our gear and sent the car out. It was such great weather the day we arrived, but the next day it rained so hard and there was so much fog that the organisers cancelled our track time. The next day the weather was a little better, but pretty much the same, although the Nürburgring team didn’t cancel our track time. We didn’t want to waste the time that we had paid for, and because the weather was too bad to pull out the race car, we ended up drifting the Nordschleife in a Ford Raptor truck! It was a lot of fun and a really cool challenge, but not exactly what we had planned. So this year, the guys at the Nürburgring wanted to help us get it done and offered us two days in July – which we’ve just come back from filming. This time I accomplished my dream of drifting the entire Nordschleife. It ended up being one of most scary, challenging and fun things I’ve ever done in my life. The edit drops in September / October, and I’m honestly so excited to show people what we achieved out there.

Over the last few years I think people have seen my true core come out

You’re competing in Ultra 4 as well…

Yes - Ultra4s is kind of a culmination of all of the things I’ve done in the past – drifting, racing motocross, being in the outdoors. It has an element of everything – desert; short course; sliding the truck out of turns; feeling for grip while trying to scale rocks. Currently I’m leading the east championship in my class, with my best friend as my co-driver. It’s just been a really cool challenge and experience.

Things take time – traditional motorsports has been around for a very long time.

You’re pretty diverse as a driver – more than just the drift driver, which you started out as – how do you see yourself now?

Over the last few years I think people have seen my true core come out – being a professional Fun Haver; and challenging myself, and putting smiles on faces by sharing cool experiences in the automotive community and scene. For me competing in Formula D and being in front of that crowd, or creating cool content for people to experience what we are doing, is what it’s all about.

Has all this aided your your Formula Drift season so far?

I think anything you can do to be behind the wheel as often as possible is helpful. As far Formula Drift goes, unfortunately we’ve been having one of the worst years I can remember in my career. You know this stuff isn’t easy – we made some bad technical decisions around our programme, which has taken us a little while to get sorted. We were looking for more performance, and needed more power to keep up. The sport is progressing massively and we missed the mark this year. We’ve remedied those issues by making some changes internally. As a driver though I feel better than ever, my mental game and how I’m attacking the courses has been really really good. It’s a great learning experience – it’s made us all, including my team mate Chelsea DeNofa, very hungry. I’ve enjoyed a lot of success in Formula D – I’ve basically been a championship competitor for the last five years – and now we’ve got our eyes on the prize to return to that. We’ve got some new things coming for next year, so I think we’ll be able to lock it in.

Where do you see drifting going in the future?

Things take time – traditional motorsports has been around for a very long time. In Europe especially the hardcore motorsport enthusiasts maybe haven’t been so fast to embrace drift; but their kids are liking the newer formats of racing. They are enjoying drift and World Rallycross for example. That’s not to say I want to see any form of racing disappear in favour of another – I just want drift to adapt and overcome and get continue to be exciting. I want to see drivers in traditional championships come out of their shell more too, and show personality, and have some fun off the track; which is such a natural thing for drift drivers to do.

What about electric powertrains?

It’s funny you asked! Having been in IT I’m always excited about new technology. I’ve been pushing the FIA working group to think about how to make the sport easier to understand in terms of integrating technologies like that. Electric drivetrain technologies are a hot topic right now – I think it’s very interesting and could do very well in our sport. Obviously there are some things lacking – like the sound for instance – but I think there are some really cool creative ways to give people unique experiences in that aspect. You know it is the future – and I think you can either stand back and let things pass you by, or you can be with it and in front of it. And you know I’ve always been someone that pushes the limits of what’s possible. I attended a future of motorsport workshop at Goodwood, where I had the honour of being a speaker in front of some very prestigious motorsports players. And they all want to embrace what drifting has, and I definitely think electric can be a part of that story.

You work hard and put passion into things, and then they have no choice to work out in one-way or another!

On top of all that you still run RTR?

RTR is doing so well – it’s my company that takes Mustangs, F-150’s and soon also other Ford products and adds a bit more style and performance to them. I like to compare ourselves to some of the other high end companies that work closely with manufacturers that’s add their own edge to the factory cars. Were a global brand, and have close to 25 full time employees. So for me it ticks all the boxes of being an enthusiast, businessman, and entrepreneur. It’s so cool to have these initiatives that complement each other through my motorsport programme. The car is phenomenal – RTR stands for Ready To Rock – and that’s exactly what it does. We focused on the driving experience and developed a car that isn’t necessarily the best at anything, but it’s very good at everything. It’s designed to be linear at the limit and not bite you. I’m really proud of what we’ve developed at a package.

Lastly, you’ve got some exciting news on the family front too?

Yeah – we’ve got a little Fun Haver brewing; my wife and I are ecstatic! It’s time, and I think we are as ready as we can be. We’ll be finding out if it’s a boy or a girl pretty soon, which we might be debuting at Seattle FD if we can – I have an idea how we will be able to do it. I’m just so excited! My wife and I are a great team so we can’t wait! I’m fortunate to have a great group of people around me – I’m content and excited about the future. You work hard and put passion into things, and then they have no choice to work out in one-way or another!