Street Talk recently caught up with Formula Drift Co-Founder Ryan Sage to find out more about the series, its growth, and some exciting changes for the 2013 season. Here’s what he had to say.
ST: As Formula Drift enters its tenth season, how has it grown, evolved and changed, and what are some of the factors responsible for those changes?
Ryan Sage: The sport’s growth has really been fun to watch and be a part of. It’s grown not only in terms of fan base, but also in reach. We have been doing global events now for some time and they continue to be an important part of our portfolio. The factors, ultimately, I believe have come down to the fundamentals of the sport—exciting on-track action. It’s really hard not to fall in love with this type of motorsport, and when you combine that with good product distribution via TV, live stream, web, social, etc., this is what you get. From the early days until now, it’s really been about that.
ST: What does the 2013 season look like, and looking further down the road, discuss where you see the series going.
Ryan Sage: I think we are going to have another tremendous year. We have only begun selling tickets for the season and some are already close to selling out. As far as the long-term perspective, we feel we have some room for growth in the U.S. We see our brand having similarities to that of Super Cross, and we love that series. We don’t try to emulate what they do, but we think we have many of the fundamentals that they have.
ST: The sport appears to be growing in the U.S. How do you measure growth? Is it by attendance at events? Number of competitors? Media coverage? All of the above? Share some numbers that illustrate that growth.
Ryan Sage: All of it really. In terms of drivers, we have close to 90 licensed drivers in 2013. 60 of those will travel to all of the rounds. In four-wheel motorsports, there isn’t really anything that compares to that. Our attendance has averaged about 15% growth year-to-year with four out of the seven events in 2012 actually selling out. Our biggest event is around 18,000 people. We have 200 individual media at our big rounds and about 150 at the others. The high number of media is directly related to the series’ growth. We have over 1.5 million unique viewers on our live stream year after year and it keeps growing. Our fans watch for an average of 34 minutes per broadcast and that is pretty much unheard of in the web space. We produce 12 original TV shows that air domestically on NBC Sports, and internationally we’re seen in over 300 million homes around the globe. So in short, we have what we feel is a very compelling program.
ST: Being part of the Long Beach Grand Prix this year has to be a big deal for Formula Drift and the sport’s credibility. Talk about how that opportunity came about and what you think the national exposure is going to mean for your organization and for the sport.
Ryan Sage: Long Beach is great for us! We had been doing some small exhibitions at the Grand Prix for a year or so when we approached the Grand Prix Association about doing an actual Formula Drift round the week before. The Grand Prix Association, with Jim Michelian and Dwight Tanaka, helped put the whole thing together and now it’s been going strong for 6 years. This year, we have added a night competition round on their weekend – one weekend after our standalone event. It’s a first for night racing of any kind in over 30 years, I believe, and the prize package is the largest since the Red Bull Drifting World Championship. So – two weekends of drifting craziness in downtown Long Beach.
ST: What do fans have to look forward to in the 2013 season and what are you most excited about?
Ryan Sage: Really, I think the biggest thing to look forward to is where the competition is going. The drivers and fabricators have been taking things to all-time levels in recent years and we’ve been seeing some of the closest, most aggressive drifting ever. I think we are in for a treat in 2013.
ST: Is Formula Drift racing and drift racing in general a misunderstood sport?
Ryan Sage: I would say that there is some misunderstanding of what we do and how things are judged, but I think some of those things have been corrected. I also think that the sport’s evolution requires that we adjust criteria and how the sport is judged, and when we do that, it requires that we re-educate fans. It’s not as easy for us to say, “You win if you get from point A to point B in the fastest time.” That is actually easy to understand. When you have a nuanced sport that is constantly evolving, it takes greater pains to have the fans understand how to judge a battle. We can’t, for example, do backside 720’s and actually submit someone. With that said, we are employing a whole new barrage of tools in 2013 that are really going to be game-changing in the sport of drifting. This will really help people see things better, more transparently.
ST: Formula Drift has several well-known national tire sponsors. Tires are obviously an important component of Formula D cars. What other parts are critically important, and perhaps typically modified or experimented with, on Formula D cars?
Ryan Sage: Clutch, brakes, LSD, suspension, weight, power plant, zip ties, zip ties, zip ties, tape, oil, cleaning products. All are relevant and at some level of importance in drifting.
ST: How can young drivers and drift enthusiasts break into the sport? Can their “every day driver” car also double as a competition drift car, particularly at some of the smaller, regional drift car series?
Ryan Sage: Definitely. I can count on two hands the number of drivers that came through our Pro-Am series and now are drifting full time. This is probably the most accessible sport out there and definitely the most accessible motorsport. A list of our Pro-Am affiliates is on our website as well as regional resources.