Turning Japanese

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Hampton, a former Indy Racing League contender who gave up "normal" race car driving once he discovered drifting, is also the first Arizona driver to go pro.

"I won't drive unless I'm getting paid," says Hampton, who also teaches part-time at the Bondurant racing school in Chandler. "And right now, drifting is where the money is, if you can get sponsorship. And a lot of big companies are starting to come on board."

Already, Hampton says it's not uncommon to see companies like Yokohama and Toyo shelling out up to $40,000 a year to keep their tires on a sponsored driver's car. The California-based parts maker APC ponied up $150,000 this year in team sponsorship and launched a special lightweight products line, Drift Works, especially designed for the drifter. TV is getting in on the act, too. Premi'ring this month, cable's Spike TV will begin offering Redline TV, a series that promises to bring "the kinetic world of drifting" to Spike's estimated 90 million viewers.

For Hampton, drifting is a performance, the closest a race car driver can get to feeling like a rock star.

"It's the ultimate MTV mentality in motor sports," he says of the drift shows. "There's a new car coming out on the track every 20 seconds, and there's lots of mistakes. If people go to races for the crashes, you're almost certain to see some at a drift event."

While Hampton professes much respect for the sport's Japanese originators, he clearly feels it's something Americans should have cooked up first.

"It's absolutely on the bleeding edge and out of control," he says, getting excited. "I mean, people deciding it's more fun to drive sideways than it is to drive straight? Why didn't we think of that?" •

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Jimmy Magahern
Contact: Jimmy Magahern