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It’s lit: NorCal’s Winter Jam 2015

14 March 2016

Back in October 2015, during some low-key and sober track-day antics at Willow Springs International Motorsports Park, USA, I was encouraged by friends to go to Winter Jam 2015 — Northern California’s largest drifting event of the year. Scoffing with excuses about money, time, and sheer foolishness, I put the idea to bed with a sarcastic “Yeah sure”, before quickly grabbing another ginger beer and continuing with the low-key, sober antics at hand. Lo and behold, seven weeks later I was boarding a direct flight to San Francisco for a wet and cold shakedown at NorCal’s Sonoma Raceway. A weekend away with friends and mad cars — let’s be honest, it didn’t take much to convince me in the end.

Descending into San Francisco for a grand total of six days came with a game plan of drinking copious amounts of coffee and smashing out everything the city had to offer before heading out to Sonoma Raceway for a weekend of Motorsport action.

Being such a small city, it was easy to find little gems hidden between the turn-of-the-century apartment buildings. I stumbled upon Japantown, probably one of my favourite places in the city — I’m sure you can see why. 

As the weekend dawned, I zoomed over the Golden Gate Bridge towards Sonoma Raceway. Measuring a mighty four-kilometres long, with banked corners comparable to the rolling-hill design of Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, I felt right at home after a lengthy track tour with event organizer Faruk Kugay and a couple of other entrants.

The track was split into five simultaneous sections, where drivers could casually line up, complete the section, and either hop back in line or venture on to another area of the course. Pit lane was condensed due to the creation of a man-made replica track based off the legendary Meihan Sportsland in Japan. This was where I found my friends and spent the majority of my weekend. 

Boy, it was uplifting to see everyone. I had missed my US family like nothing else!

I was lucky enough to jump in as passenger with a couple of drivers as they buckled in. One in particular was Rob Parsons of Hoonigan, and I was left blown away (again) with his dedication, precision, passion, and skill that has been poured into his 5.7-litre 100-per-cent hand-controlled Nissan 240SX — never have I been so inspired by an individual in motorsports before. You can check out Rob’s Chairslayer Foundation here

I also finally got to meet the rest of Animal Style in person, too! Props to the internet for your help. 

Unfortunately, the rain rolled in on Saturday evening, which made for an extremely cold and wet Sunday at the track — although it didn’t stop everyone from having fun!

People constantly ask me what draws me back to the States, and to explain my reasoning I feel like it is important to highlight the fine line between friendly competitiveness and the emerging conflict that New Zealand’s drifting scene is starting to carry. Are we disregarding our initial love for the sport because we are becoming lost in the perception of what is ‘cool’? Have we started to judge the nature of somebody’s progress based on the choices they have made on their vehicle while fuelling their passion for the sport?

I understand that everywhere in life there will always be a negative minority, but I want to point out it that as a drifting community, we all share the same hankering for the smell of burning rubber. Let’s not forget the grass roots, the laughs, the highs and the lows. We all started somewhere. Let’s take a leaf out of NorCal’s book — let’s keep it fun.