ATLANTA—Automotive parts distributor Number One Parts Inc. (NOPI), known for its drag racing series and car shows geared for youth, is launching a professional drifting series in 2007.
But it's no stranger to the tire-smoking competitive events.
NOPI has featured drifting exhibition races for the past five years. The parts distribution company will kick off its Professional Drift Series March 17 at Firebird International Raceway in Phoenix. Some drift races will be held in conjunction with NOPI drag racing events and televised on Speed Channel.
The final drift event will be in September at NOPI Nationals in Hampton, Ga., which annually draws more than 100,000 attendees, according to NOPI President Michael Meyers.
“We've probably got 15 or 20 (drifting) teams that are committing to this series,” Mr. Meyers told Tire Business. “I would anticipate that growing.”
A rising number of NOPI drifting teams will mean reliance on tire manufacturers for unlimited tire supply. A driver can burn through 14 tires a day at a drifting event rather easily, and tire makers and marketers naturally are getting behind it, according to a NOPI spokesman.
He estimated that tire companies likely spend nearly $1 million a year to sponsor a drifting team.
Mr. Meyers said he believes the NOPI Professional Drift Series will draw most of the tire companies as sponsors because of their past involvement in drift and drag racing events where many have had booths or brought in big rigs to promote their brands. Some tire makers recruited local tire dealers to NOPI events to exhibit with them. Large distributors and retailers such as American Tire Distributors Holdings Inc. and Discount Tire Co. also have exhibited at NOPI events, he said.
“They'll come out and buy exhibit space, 20x20, 20x60 (booths), however big they want, and they'll bring out wheels and tires and promote their business,” Mr. Meyers said. “Some of the larger sponsors or participants and tire retailers do promotions leading up into the event. We'll push people into the tire retailers to get tickets or promotions or discount coupons to help build the brands.”
So far NOPI still is in talks with tire makers/marketers about sponsoring drifting teams, he said, but he confirmed that NOPI does have a sponsorship deal with Maxxis International.
Drifting is defined as a high-skill, high-powered motorsport where drivers try to control a 450-hp car as it slides sideways at high speeds through a marked course. Unlike traditional racing, drifting winners are judged on execution and style, not on who finishes the course first. The sport originated in Japan in the 1970s and came to the U.S. in 1996, and the NOPI spokesman said no one at the time knew how quickly drifting would grow in popularity.
“(Drifting) has grown and it has exploded as a big motorsport for the youth market, and now tire manufacturers of all kinds are finding resurgence with a very difficult market to reach in general,” the spokesman said.
Drifting's showmanship appeals to the 18-to-25-year-old crowd because of its emphasis on style, speed and crowd interaction, he added. Thus, at many drifting events, when spectators really like a drifter's slide, they often shout, “One more time!” and influence the judges to line the cars up again for another run and possibly vote for their preferred driver, he explained.
For the upcoming NOPI Professional Drift Series, all competing vehicles will race with a GPS-based device called DriftBox, which will measure lap time and drift angles of the cars to help judges pick the winners, the spokesman said.
Both he and Mr. Meyers said they believe drifting's popularity won't fade away anytime soon. Mr. Meyers said drifting is gaining attention from NASCAR fans and the national media. “It's got a lot of momentum rolling with it.”
“It's everything Americana,” the spokesman said. “You're dealing with tires, smoke, crashes, complete habitual crashes left and right. Cars are racing next to each other on full, tandem drifts which at any given moment can put you into a wall or put you into a car.
“So it becomes really exciting because it's everything we want motorsports to be but motorsports never becomes because who wants to crash?”
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