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Action shots at Formula Drift Orlando

Formula Drift With Vaughn Gittin Jr

Jun 252017

Some people are just born to be involved in extreme sports. It’s just how they’re wired. Vaughn Gittin, Jr., is one such man. As the pilot of the Monster Energy/Nitto Tire/Ford Racing Mustang RTR car, competing in Formula Drift, Gittin was always just wired to do things that most members of the “regular” public would never consider doing.

It all started for Gittin in his early teens in Maryland, when he got his first dirt bike and began riding, and eventually racing, motocross.

“I’m a motocrosser from way back,” Gittin says. “I used to buy some of [Travis] Pastrana’s old bikes and stuff, and my home track was Budds Creek... I had a car-detailing business at the time, which allowed me to pay for the drug habit called motocross racing, and I used to load up my detailing truck and head to the track with my friends. It was just some of the greatest times for me, growing up in Maryland and racing in the Tri-State Area. That was my lifestyle. I skated, rode BMX a little bit in my pre-teen years, and then got into motocross.”

While Gittin never made it to the pros or anything riding dirt bikes, the motocross-racing experience in his early years has paid off continually throughout the 15 years since he stopped racing motocross.

“It’s the same dyamics,” Gittin says. “There are two funny things about it: Coming from dirt bikes, you understand lines, you understand vehicle dynamics, you know you’re putting weight where it needs to go in order to hustle something around... Then, you take the fear of folding yourself up by crashing a dirt bike and you throw it out because you have a cage around you! [Laughs] It’s like, ‘Yeah, here we fuckin’ go!’ you know?”

Gittin pilots a 3000-pound, 1000-horsepower Ford Mustang that revs to 9000 rpm and would run about 9 seconds in a quarter mile, but instead of drag racing, he spends his time pulling up to 2 Gs, completely sideways, right foot mashing the throttle, inches from somebody else who’s just as much of an adrenaline junky as he is. It might seem like a huge leap to go from dirt bikes to this. But really it’s not.

“It was just a natural progression for me in my life, especially when you look back on things, and then you see people who are good in your sport and find out they did motocross, too,” Gittin says. “And they’re in all kinds of other driving sports... It all connects. Motocross hooks you up to be awesome at anything...”

Gittin’s dad was a used-car salesman and owned some junkyards, and he had a friend who crashed a Nissan 240SX – the classic drift platform – so he bought it from his friend and fixed it up and started just playing with it.

“I’d just go screw around in industrial parks doing donuts, and then I accidentally found this sport called drifting,” Gittin says. “I was looking online for parts for my 240SX and I kept coming across ‘drifting’ in this car. I kept seeing videos of these dudes in Japan drifting in these cars, and I was just like, ‘Wow, these are sick-ass cars with tons of horsepower! And these guys are really just showing their style and personality. This looks really fun!’ That was my initial perspective. Then I started going out to drift events and started to realize that motocross, skateboarding, BMX, and screwing around in parking lots made me good at this!”

Motocross also helps Gittin on the mental side.


“Motocross and drift are pretty aggressive, and railing turns and sometimes sliding the bike out a bit to steer with the back wheel...” Gittin says. “It’s just wild, man. And I’m glad I raced motocross. I know, without any question, it’s why I am where I am in terms of technical ability. And that’s not to even mention the mental side of it: Because if you’re not in ‘the zone’ on a dirt bike, railing corners and jumping shit, you’re going to get folded up. You don’t have a choice. So, it helps me find that zone with drifting, too.”


And then there’s the technical side, where Gittin again brings it right back around to racing motocross.


“I mean, you get a motocross bike, and then you have to get the suspension done, right?” Gittin says. “Then it’s like, ‘I need more power. I need more power down low, or up high, or better acceleration here or there.’ I was doing it all myself because I couldn’t afford to pay somebody to do it, and before you know it, you can do everything on a dirt bike. When I fell in love with drifting, it was the same thing; I was spending all of my money on my car and working on it myself, and my first ‘pro car’ I built on my back in my garage.”


And there’s value to really understanding the mechanics of what’s going on underneath you in any motorsport.


“It’s also important to have technical and mechanical understanding because you have an idea how things work,” Gittin says. “It’s easy to say, ‘Pull the clutch and give it gas,’ but when you understand how a clutch works, or an engine works, you know how to get the most out of it. There’s no doubt that being technical has been a benefit. And when I got into drifting, it was like skateboarding with cars where you can go out and show your style and personality and have fun in a car. But as you progress as a driver, you want more out of the car, so it’s just this addiction just like with motocross; you start working on it, and the next thing you know you’re an expert at working on your car and taking it to the next level. It’s never enough! And then that goes even further when you’re a pro driver worried about picking up milliseconds in the car, wondering, ‘Why am I waiting here? What do I have to do to make this transition more immediate?’ It’s never-ending!”


Formula Drift is the fastest growing motorsport in the country right now, and Gittin has been in the middle of it from the start. He showed up to a few local drift events in the early 2000s and quickly made a name for himself, then was invited to an event out west. He maxed out the credit cards, bought his first set of new tires, and off he went.


A little over 15 years later, Gittin is one of the top names in the sport, and definitely drives the most recognizable car. And unlike when he bought his first set of new tires way back in the start, now Gittin goes through about 50 tires at a single event. At 30,000 miles per tire in normal tire wear, that’s about 1.5 million miles worth of tires at one competition. “Yeah, one set of rear tires lasts me about 90 seconds,” Gittin says. “It’s definitely good to have a tire sponsor...”


While Gittin has done a lot of winning in Formula Drift, he actually enjoys all the rest that comes with it even more than the actual competition.


“I’m a competitor, and I’ve had a lot of success on the competition circuit, but to my core, I’m a professional fun-haver,” Gittin says. “I love competing, and I need it, but I love doing activation events at automotive festivals, or giving fans and partners rides and experiences... I love that stuff. It’s so much fun. The events can be repetitive, but the excitement I get from other people either in the crowd, or in the car with me, their energy just lights me up. It’s still so much fun. Those are my favorite types of events to do when it’s just about having fun. Those events are the reward for all the hard work and the stressful competition stuff.”


For example, you’ll likely find Gittin at the Monster Energy Cup supercross event in Las Vegas this October, as he’s been doing demos there the past few years. In fact, he always considered himself to be more of an “extreme sport” guy than an auto racer, so he fits in at events like the Monster Energy Cup in Las Vegas way more than he probably does elsewhere.


“I was never a fan of auto racing in general,” Gittin says. “I remember one of my old high-school girlfriends’ dad used to always watch F1, and thing is, I had a hooked-up car, but I didn’t give a shit about F1. I just wanted to go drive! I’m not a ‘fan’ of motor racing, if you will, but I’ve always wanted to actually ‘do’ it. As I’ve grown up, I’ve become a fan of a lot of different motorsports and drivers, and I’ve learned to appreciate what they do, but that’s not how I started out at all. I’ve always been way more into X Games, skateboarding, FMX, BMX...”


And since Gittin’s background is in MX, he’s been doing some other stuff just for fun, too. “I built an Ultra 4 Race Truck and did King of the Hammers, and I’ll do more of those, and it’s amazing that what I’ve learned in drifting seems to translate to whatever form of motorsport just because of the finite feel for traction and control and feel for vehicle dynamics,” Gittin says. “It all translates very well.”


While he does have eight events per year where he competes in his Mustang RTR (and by the way, you can buy Mustang RTRs at your local Ford dealer now, built by Gittin’s company, or buy parts for yours developed with Gittin’s company and Ford Motor Company), he also knows that the racing isn’t really the point nowadays. To be a really big star, like Gittin’s good friend Ken Block, you need to be out there aside from racing.


“Competition is bragging rights and relevance, but the real value to what we’re doing out there is creating content,” Gittin said. “When we do our reviews for our partners at the end of the year, we say, ‘We won this many events, got this place in the championship,’ that’s all great, and then it says, ‘We got 100 million views on the Internet.’ That page gets looked at way harder than results. And TV? Forget about it. I don’t even talk to partners about TV. Yeah, we’re on CBS Sports just like every other motorsports series in the world. But what are you doing socially and in the content space?"


“Competition is valuable, and it’s easy to talk about kicking people’s asses on the racetrack,” Gittin continues. “But you can’t control results all the time, and if that’s all you’re selling, you have a very uncertain future.”


Besides results, and even besides internet views, Gittin has one more thing up his sleeve to keep him relevant. In truth, he fits in the world of drifting because the sport has open pits, and he loves hanging out and talking to fans. The fans love him, and that is the best way to stay relevant in any motorsport. He’ll even take his fox-body Mustang to local drift events to hang out with the people there. “That was me like 17 years ago,” Gittin says. “It still is me. I just happen to be professional now.”


Part of this “down to earth” humility probably stems from how Gittin got to where he is in the first place. If you look around at motorsports, especially automotive motorsports, you’ll notice a lot of familiar family names; Earnhardt, Waltrip, Mears, Andretti, Elliott... A lot of kids grow up racing go-karts and are almost predestined to end up as professional drivers. That’s not Vaughn Gittin, Jr. 


“It’s pretty rad to go through it the way I have,” Gittin says. “It’s probably harder to do it this way, but man it’s just so rewarding, and it’s easy to appreciate all of it at every turn. That’s for sure.”