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10 years in, Formula D’s Liaw looks to future

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By Mark Vaughn, Crain News Service

LONG BEACH, Calif. (Feb. 13, 2014) — Who knew there was a future in driving sideways?

Jim Liaw, and business partner Ryan Sage, that’s who.

A little over 10 years ago, fresh from college and running their own marketing and promotions firm, Slipstream Global Marketing, the duo were looking for business.

“We’d seen drifting, and it piqued our curiosity,” Mr. Liaw said. “It wasn’t until [Japanese drifting sanctioning body] D1 said they wanted someone to organize a U.S. event that we thought about getting involved in the sport.”

The sport, as it’s evolved in the decade since, is the graceful art of sliding a car sideways through a prescribed course, door to door with another car, in a tire-smoking automotive ballet. Ten years ago, drifting had already taken off in Japan, and D1 wanted to hold an event here. It chose Slipstream to market and promote it.

In August 2003, Slipstream gathered eight of the most promising U.S. drifters and pitted them against eight top Japanese drivers at Irwindale Speedway in Irwindale, Calif.

(Crain News Service photo by Kirk Saylin)
Jim Liaw

“Everything was at capacity,” Mr. Liaw recalled. “The parking lots were filled, the grandstands were filled—that was the eye-opener.”

Soon after, Messrs. Liaw and Sage founded Formula Drift (aka Formula D) in Long Beach under the Formula Drift Holdings L.L.C. banner. Since 2006, they have sanctioned, managed and promoted seven Formula D events per year across the U.S.

Formula D recently announced a three-event Asian Championship counting toward a new, 2015 world championship. At four U.S. Formula Drift competitions this year, a new Pro 2 Series allows aspiring pilots to hone their skills alongside the top-level pros. NBC Sports broadcasts the competitions (tape delayed). They can also be viewed live on Formula D’s

Mr. Liaw said they could sell out 10 events a year, but the extra travel would strain many teams. So like all sanctioning bodies, Formula Drift courts big corporate sponsors. Their draw is Formula D’s connection with young fans—primarily through social media. They boast Facebook’s third-largest motorsports audience, with a little more than 1 million friends. Only Formula 1 and NASCAR have more.

“The ability to engage fans is a lot higher,” Mr. Liaw said. “You may not have 10,000 people walking by your booth, but the 1,000 you do have are much more engaged with your product.”

So even you could be the series sponsor for a song and attract the youthful demographic all marketers seek. And you could do it sideways.

This report appeared on the website of Autoweek magazine, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.

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