Through The Esses - Ryan Hampton Took His Racing Career Sideways
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Ryan Hampton and the Team SPencer Mazda-Kudzu at Daytona
© Andrew S. Hartwell

Back in 2000, young Ryan Hampton was teamed up with west coast beef jerky king - and hard charging racer - Larry Oberto in the Mike Johnson prepared Archangel Nissan-Lola running in the SRPII class of the Grand American Road Racing Championship. The two drivers really hit it off and, with the excellent efforts of the entire Archangel team behind them, they combined to take the season championship. Along the way they collected 6 wins, 2 third place finishes and 3 pole positions.

Oberto later went on to glory in the FIA GT Championship, as well as rides in the American Le Mans Series and in a Daytona Prototype, and he is still involved with road racing today, although not campaigning in a steady ride as was the case in 2000. Hampton, on the other hand, ran the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona with Dennis Spencer's team in the orange and white Kudzu-Mazda for the next three years, finishing on the podium in both 2001 and 2002. He also dabbled in the IRL, taking a flag to flag win at Gateway International Raceway in 2002. And he ran a handful of ALMS races with Team Spencer, including the 2002 Petit Le Mans. After that, Hampton just sorted of drifted away - literally - from an active role in road racing.

We hadn't talked with Hampton since the 2003 Daytona weekend so we looked him up and tried to find out why his name wasn't coming up on any entry lists for Grand Am or American Le Mans Series events these last few years. Hampton told us he was looking to come back to the sport but he didn't know how to make a full season fit into his new life as a drifter. Not the kind of drifter who keeps moving around the roads, the kind who keeps moving sideways around a race track.

Drifting is one of those new age' sports that is looking to get a foothold on the hearts and minds of car enthusiasts - and armchair thrill seekers - by putting on a loud, squealing, smoking, and sliding show of speed and finesse working brilliantly hand in hand. The whole point is to get around a short course as fast as you can without ever pointing the car straight ahead. While it wreaks havoc on tires, it oozes excitement for the drivers and the fans alike.

Hampton told us what caused him to veer from the straight' life of a race car driver to the crooked' ways of a professional drifter.

I actually got out of road racing and into drifting by accident. While I was an instructor at the Bob Bondurant racing school back in 2001, I had a Japanese student who barely spoke any English. After about driving 10,000 laps you get a bit bored so you start driving the car sideways to keep yourself entertained. This one time he was in the car with me when I covered about half the course with the car in a constant slide. I was drifting but I had no idea that is what it was called.

I started over steering in the corners and the Japanese guy started freaking out. He kept saying, Oh my GOD, you are a drifter!' I said, No, no, no, really. I have a home! They don't pay us instructors much but I do have a home.' (Laughing) But he kept saying I was a drifter so I asked him what the heck he was talking about. He said what I was doing is called drifting and that it was a big sport in Japan. I told him he was crazy but he insisted it was really a sport over there.

I kept in contact with the student and he sent me videos of drifting events in Japan. I watched them and thought it looked like a lot of fun. When they started holding drifting events here in California in 2003 I attended a few of them. I was then approached by Mazda about going drifting on the professional level. A friend of mine was in the Mazda organization and he said they had a few cars they were looking to promote through the sport. The first car I got into for them was a turbocharged Mazda Miata. It was something of a project car. I ran the car in the D1 Grand Prix.

I guess what the big attraction with drifting is for me, is that you are manipulating s
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