Formula Drift king Chris Forsberg's life on the edge of control
Chris Forsberg sounds like an old man when talking about how he got introduced to the sport of drifting.
Can you imagine, this was before YouTube?
“It was around 1999 and there were Internet videos,” Forsberg says. “But on Real Player and stuff. Seeing all the level of car control on those videos got me interested and hooked.”
Sixteen at the time and growing up on a farm in Pennsylvania, Forsberg and his buddies were car junkies and, yeah, a little bit mischievous. They dreamed of the performance cars they hoped to own — “rear-wheel drive Japanese imports,” Forsberg says — but got their kicks driving the family tractor at silly speeds, making the wheels spin and skid while taking turns.
“So, yeah I’m self-taught in this sport,” says Forsberg, now 32 and a 15-time winner on the Formula Drift series. “When I got my license, I got my first car, a Mazda RX-7, and on the back roads of Pennsylvania, I tried to sort out my technique. It took a while.”
At this point in the story, if you’re not exactly sure what the sport of drifting is, let’s back up a second. Ever been to Walt Disney World’s MGM Studios and seen the stunt drivers? No? How about scenes from movies like the Fast and Furious series? You know, those scenes that make your stomach churn and your heart miss a beat as cars change lanes every second, dodge in and out of oncoming traffic and purposely skid into every turn?
Well, just as snowboarders, skateboarders and motocross riders turned their thrill-seeking maneuvers into full-blown competitions, so have stunt drivers, giving birth to the sport of drifting.
“The sport itself is taking a car through a series of corners and you’re being judged on it,” Forsberg says “Like skateboarders who are given an area to perform a certain number of tricks. Or a motocross driver who gets X amount of time to get in his tricks. We’re given a distance, from point A to point B, and we slide the car through the corners, showing off the amount of control you have, how close you can push the car to the wall. How much throttle input you can use. All that shows the control you have over your car compared to the other competitors. So it’s not so much racing as a sport that is judged.”
Forsberg, who helped organize East Coast events early in his career, has competed in the Formula Drift Series since it began in 2004, becoming one of the the most popular stars in a sport that is all about showmanship. The show often goes beyond the race track.
“This weekend we are in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for Round 6,” Forsberg says. “This is our main hub, our championship competition series. Aside from that, we do a lot of side events, from demonstrations to instructing, we do a lot of viral videos. We even do stunt driving gigs on the side. But our main focus is the Formula Drift Championship Series.”
To think he has been able to carve out a successful career out of something that originally made his parents cringe, makes Forsberg laugh out loud.
“I mean, who doesn’t like burning tires and spinning around in a car?” he says. “It was something I did as a teenager for fun. But turning it into a career has been a crazy experience. I can’t say I expected 14 years ago that I’d be doing this as my job.”
Forsberg also contends that the sport is not nearly as dangerous as it appears.
“Crashes are bound to happen when you’re pushing hard and going out there to win,” Forsberg says. “But in our sport, we are putting the car on the wall all the time, but we’re kind of dragging it along. The impacts aren’t nearly as devastating as they are in NASCAR and IndyCar, where they can hit the wall head-on. The sport is much safer than people would think.”
That is not to say there aren’t a few heart-in-your-throat moments on occasion.
“It’s an overwhelming feeling when you’re getting started in the sport,” Forsberg says of the feeling of controlling a car that practically everyone else would consider uncontrollable. “It takes time. Where most people get scared or nervous when a car starts to rotate, that’s when we know we’re doing our job right. Eventually you learn to stay on the throttle.”
All the basic skills, Forsberg contends, he learned on his family tractor.
“Yeah, we had a pretty open lot, and when it rained, we liked to do donuts,” he says, “That was my first experience making wheels spin on purpose, and it was fun. My parents weren’t too thrilled at the time. But now they’re behind me and like to come out to the events.”
Now based in Baltimore after living for almost a decade in California, Forsberg mixes in some stunt driving gigs, mostly for commercials, to go along with his work on the Formula Drift circuit. Type his name into any search engine and you’re bound to see him executing some type of hair-raising trick on wheels. And laughing all the while.