How Drifting Works

Drifting Competitions

Design of a race track in Hawaii that has three drifting courses

Like any other car race, drifting competitions have safety requirements. At most events, cars have to have a fight-point-harness racing seat in the cockpit and a roll cage, and drivers need to wear helmets. Drifting tracks are typically shorter than other race tracks. They have at least one and up to five or six turns, and they might be shaped like a U-turn, a series of S's or a big circle that's essentially a single, endless turn.

In a drifting competition, the runs are judged subjectively, not with a timer. There are two types of runs: solo, which happens at the beginning of a competition, and tandem, which happens after the qualifying solo runs, when a limited number of drivers remain. Solo runs involve a single car performing a drift run on the course, and judges award up to 100 points for each run. Judging criteria include:

  • Driving line through a turn - The path the car travels through a turn should be tight, with the nose of the car close to the inside of the turn. For extra points, a driver can also display the ability to keep the rear of the car close to the outside of a turn.

    Photo courtesy Fred Chang,

  • Speed through a turn - Faster is better. Judges like a high-speed entry, turn, and exit.

  • Drift angle - The drift angle is the car's angle during a turn relative to direction of travel. The more the back end comes around, the better. This element also includes the amount of time that angle is maintained. Essentially, the ideal drift angle would have the car perpendicular to the direction of travel through the entire turn.

    Photo courtesy Fred Chang,

  • Performance/execution - In drifting, showmanship counts. Judges grant performance points based on elements like overall driving style and smoke generated by the tires during a drift. Drivers used to be able to gain performance points by opening the door during a drift or sticking their arms or legs out the window, but that's not allowed anymore in most competitions. Windows have to be up and doors have to remain closed.
In the next section we'll look at the tandem portion of the competition.