Drifting in Style

Zach MacGilivray drifts around the track during a Drift Roulette elimination tournament at Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond, Calif., on April 20, 2024. Photo by Ashley Shellmire

White smoke fills the air as roaring engines and squealing tires burn hard rubber on hot asphalt. As the sun beats down on the Willow Springs drift track, little bits of debris fly up into a cheering audience. A man’s voice booms through a loudspeaker and announces a winner of a drift battle –a race between two cars to see who can follow the other’s line better. 

While drivers showed up with different cars such as Ford, BMW and Lexus, it was the Nissan Z body that dominated the competition. The final four drivers were competing in the Z chassis.

Drift Roulette, a race tournament started by friends Tony Crispin and Alex DeArmond, features 32 drivers battling for money, beer, gear and bragging rights. 

Crispin’s love for drifting began when he was 14 years old. He got his first project car at 16. Crispin, now 32, runs a YouTube channel dedicated to sharing his drifting knowledge,  as well as hosting the drift battles.

“I’m an adrenaline junkie at the end of the day and that’s what this is,” Crispin said. “I think the most fun you can have in a car is throwing it sideways and hoping for the best.”

When Crispin began drift racing, he had a difficult time breaking into the professional realm, and so he decided to host his own events. 

“Drift Roulette started because I wanted to get into competitive drifting, and the series I tried to get into told me, ‘No, you don’t have the experience to compete,’” Crispin said.

He said there was no middle ground between professional drifters and beginners.

“This is a place where you can show up in a pretty basic car,” Crispin said. “You can battle with the big dogs or with your friends and have a lot of fun and get the experience of actually being in a competition.” 

Co-owner DeArmond competed in the Roulette but eliminated himself when he crashed into a wall during a quarterfinal battle with third-place winner, Zach MacGilivray.

“If you want to get into drifting, be ready to crash,” DeArmond said. “Be ready to spend money, but it’s all part of the fun. I love drifting, working on the car and getting it to perform better every time I fix it.” 

DeArmond agrees with Crispin that drift racing should be accessible to more people. 

“When I first got into competition drifting, there weren’t really any events available for the guys on lower budgets without these crazy build cars,” DeArmond said.

DeArmond enjoys the mix of experience levels that come together for the tournaments.

“One of my favorite things to see here is these stock 350Z’s making the podium more often than the competition cars did,” DeArmond said.

First-place winner Tyler Pate traveled from Chandler, Arizona, to compete in the tournament. His green Nissan 350Z netted him a $1,000 cash prize. 

“I just like being able to go drive with other people and see how I compare as a driver,” Pate said. “I love the sport of drifting  and competing against other drivers.”

Pate said the apple didn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to his love for motorsports.

“My dad raced cars when he was younger,” Pate said. “He raced in the ARCA series and he raced Legends cars before that.”

The most recent Drift Roulette event brought around 200 people who watched, took photos or helped drivers set up their cars. 

Alex Litterell attended to show his support for Power Nation Performance. Litterell said that he’ll sometimes change someone’s tires or pay money to go for a drift ride along.

“Do whatever you have to do to get in the car,” Litterell said. “It’s the best feeling in the world. There’s no way to describe it. It’s like the ultimate tunnel vision.”

Drift Roulette has a growing YouTube channel and a dedicated social media following that is only getting  bigger and bigger.

“We’ve already grown way faster than we expected,” Crispin said. “We want to make it bigger. We want to go to bigger venues. We want to pack grandstands and really put on a show for more people.”

When Crispin held the first Drift Roulette tournament in November of last year, he reminisced  how far his love for the sport had taken him.

“I thought back to when I was 14. I was asking my mom for a ride to the track so I could watch a drift event here at Willow Springs,” Crispin said. “It was surreal to stand there and realize, ‘Wow, I went from a kid wishing I could do that to hosting my own events and seeing the grandstands full of people and the cars out here.’”