Under a blazing Florida sun, the nation’s newest Formula Drift pro-am series, the Southeast Drift Union, kicked off it’s inaugural competition at Orlando Speedworld, just a few short weeks after FD itself have paid visit to the track.
SDU staff members Brad Foy and Gregg Bucell started off with tech-in, making sure everyone was up to spec and addressing any safety or technical issues drivers might have had.
Drivers and crews began the task of affixing the new series banners to the windshields prior to hitting the track.
Director of operations and judge Nick Swann got things under way by introducing the staff, giving some background on the organization, and letting drivers know what to expect as the day went on.
And with the meeting over, drivers staged up on grid and start the first practice session. The track layout would be identical to Formula Drift’s.
Some drivers, like Keegan Ellrod and Pro 2 driver Kevin Phillips wasted no time jumping into tandem laps.
Eric Conkling finished his car the morning of competition, and contact during practice with Michael Collins left the car looking like this. He and his crew worked diligently the rest of the morning and afternoon and got the car back on track and even came away with a seventh place qualifying position.
Speaking of qualifying, top honors went to Brandon McDowell’s S13 convertible.
Top sixteen began with a battle of ‘Verts between McDowell and Alex Schlagel. McDowell would take the win to move on to the great eight.
Andrew Mauer and his red S14 would then face Joseph Love, with Love coming out on top.
Next up was the battle-worn BMW of Keegan Ellrod against Nick Whitt, with Whitt taking the win after mechanical problems developed with the 3-Series.
Dustin Miles would take the win over Brett Collins in the next pairing.
Kicking off the second half of the bracket, Thomas Pettigrew and his S13 fell to the Boostane S14 of Warren Allen.
Nick Johnson would continue his rise to the top by taking out Michael Castillo.
In an epic comeback from his hard early morning hit, Eric Conkling came to the line to do battle against Kevin Phillips, ultimately falling to the Pro 2 driver.
Chris Maffei would take the win over the supercharged G35 of Joey Whitaker in his own G35 to advance on.
With top sixteen in the bag, McDowell and Love kicked off the great eight, with the Zenna Tire 240SX of Love getting the nod over the ‘Vert.
Miles and his S13 soldiered on past the 350Z of Whitt in the battle of purple Nissans, landing him a spot in the final four.
Johnson and his S13 got the win over Allen to bring him one step closer to the finals.
With his competitor Kevin Phillips experiencing power steering problems, Chris Maffei got the win to finalize the top four bracket.
Miles was eliminated by Love’s S14 to advance the latter into the final match. And if you’re thinking by now that this S14 looks familiar, you’d be correct – it’s Matt Pollock’s car from the Jonathan Nerren Racing stable.
“My car is being built right now, so we reached out to Nerren,” Love said, mentioning this particular car is setup with a 5.3L with LS6 cam putting down about 370HP with the help of 243 heads, FAST intake, 92mm throttle body and a tune by Tick Performance. “Pollock built the suspension, and he’s the man for that,” he added. “It’s my first pro-am and first time driving the car. I was just grateful to get here, and after qualifying and having issues, I was ready to give up. My crew came through, got me back out there and I tried to do all I could.”
Johnson proved the better driver in his final four match against Maffei, sending the black G35 to an automatic third place finish as Dustin Miles bowed out with car issues.
“I did pro-am last year, running two rounds of U.S. Drift,” Maffei said. “But I didn’t do well enough to keep going. Here I got third, so maybe if I can keep this up I can earn a license.
His black G35 was one of the more basic builds at the track, but proved it’s not always about having the most under the hood. That said, he indicated an LS-swap might be a future project based on how the rest of the season plays out.
“I was like, if I don’t do good, I don’t have to run the rest of the series and can save money because I really want to go LS, but with today’s finish, I have to spend more money going to other rounds,” he added.
This set the final for Johnson vs. Love, with the two-tone S13 grabbing the win and becoming the inaugural SDU event champion in a registered, insured and plated car.
“I was super surprised,” Johnson said of his win, stating his day began with his crank pulley almost falling off. “I was so worried about the motor with the crank pulley wobbling in there, oil pressure was down, and I was just worried about the motor but it kept pulling through each round. Enjuku and Federal tires helped a ton with everything.”
Johnson said he’s ran a few individual pro-am rounds like Streetwise and Three Palm.
“Whatever comes to Florida, I’ll usually run,” he said. “I usually come out here every event, so once a month or so I’ll come out and at least get a lap or two in. There were a lot of new faces this time and it definitely wasn’t the same-old same-old, so it was challenging.”
After factoring in qualifying and competition points, Chris Maffei leads the series by two points over Johnson with a score of 40 over 38, respectively. Joseph Love and Brandon McDowell are tied for third at 36 points, and Dustin Miles sits only a point back in fifth. With three rounds to go, the championship is definitely still up in the air with plenty of opportunity for points shifts going forward.
“Today was a great day,” Swann said. “It was definitely monumental in that it was the kickoff to our inaugural Southeast Drift Union pro-am series. We learned a lot about a new community and a new group of drivers with different goals and in a nutshell, a different way of doing things. There’s nowhere to go but up from here. The competition went well. The drivers, teams and crowd were all very engaged and into what we were doing here. It’s awesome to have their support and the support of all of our partners. We look forward to the rest of the season.”
2017 SDU Round 1 Competition Results
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Round two of Southeast Drift Union competition will be at Myrtle Beach Speedway on July 15.