Ground Zero: Meet the 52-Year-Old Rookie Drifter
What do you do when you’ve married the girl of your dreams, realized your career goals, built a successful business, taken typical leisure sports to impressive extremes and even grown bored with more "extreme" well-to-do pastimes? Simple: You get into drifting.
Meet Don Boline. At 52 years of age, he’s possibly the oldest, most experienced and most accomplished rookie in the history of competitive drifting, and he’s the owner of this supercharged Z33 Nissan 350Z Top Drift machine.
Don is living proof that age sometimes really is just a number. To talk with him and uncover all he’s accomplished, you might be surprised that Don's only 52, if not for his young demeanor, and humble and inquisitive approach to learning new things...like controlling a car going sideways at speed.
Life Before Drift
To better understand Don’s intent with drifting, it’s important to look back on his prior accomplishments. He originally got into cars at a young age, but turned his meticulous nature and mechanical inclination toward woodworking after realizing how much more money there was to be made in construction, carpentry and real-estate renovation.
That was 35 years ago, and nine years later he founded Concept Builders, a high-end remodeling firm serving primarily the foothills of the San Gabriel Valley. “At the time, and still today, there were just too many people taking customers’ hard-earned money and returning sub-par work,” Don explains. “I saw a real market for high-quality materials, detailed work and expert craftsmanship.”
For 35 years Don’s survived and thrived as an entrepreneur by a small set of rules, among them: “Be the best at what you do, arrive five minutes early, work your ass off and leave five minutes late.” With his business running on its own (during the times he’s been able to fight the urge to “Donify” everything himself—his term), he and his wife applied that conviction to golf, to the point where they “got pretty good and pissed a lot of people off.” After that it was onto skeet shooting and action pistol competitions, and then cooking, where at least one online authority credits Don as a master chef.
A Legendary Teacher
In each endeavor, Don’s fundamental approach has been the same: Go all the way. Learn from the best, use the best parts and ingredients and take the learning process as far as you can go—otherwise, what’s the point? His approach to drifting was much the same. When a Google search for “drift lessons” turned up Naoki Kobayashi and his Drift 101 initiative, Don had found his next starting point.
You could call Naoki-san the godfather of drifting in the U.S., and you wouldn’t be wrong. His involvement with organizations like Drift Day predate Formula Drift in the U.S. and was crucial in the beginning of competitive drifting here. These days he helms Drift 101, the country’s premier drifting instruction organization, headquartered at Willow Springs in Southern California.
Designed for beginners, Drift 101 provides professional instruction, rental drift cars (from an assortment of S13 and S14 240SXs, Z33 350Zs and more), tires, safety equipment—everything needed to start from ground zero in the drifting world. This is exactly where Don started two years ago, on his 50th birthday.
“I’m not really sure what attracted me to it,” Don begins, about drifting. “It just looked fun. And I knew I wanted to learn from the best.” Naoki-san got Don behind the wheel of one of his S13 rentals for a few sessions, then into an S14, then into his Z33 250Z. “That’s when it clicked,” recalls Don. “I knew I had to find one of these for myself.”
Building the Right Car
Luckily for Don this is Southern California, and finding a Nissan 350Z that had been at least partially prepped for drifting took him just a few towns over to Riverside, where he found this then black and slightly neglected gem. It came with a Vortech supercharger, hydraulic hand brake, some basic suspension mods, a partially constructed roll cage and was battered just enough to have a low price and still remain largely functional. But it also came with some surprises, namely a chassis wiring harness that had been chewed to bits by mice, which fried two ECUs during Don’s early practice sessions before it was discovered. A refresh was needed.
Don once again placed his trust in Naoki-san, handing him and R-Spec Auto in Van Nuys the keys to to tie up all the loose ends, bring the cage up to Formula D competition-spec, replace the half-eaten chassis wiring harness, add Feal coilovers and a Power by Max steering angle kit to all four corners and employ the use of a venerable ACT clutch kit for those oh-so-important traction-breaking clutch kicks. Which, with the Nitto Tire NT05 rubber on Don’s 350Z front and rear (courtesy of Huntington Tire and Auto), is no easy feat.
Naoki-san and the R-Spec team got to work on the inside as well, fitting the cabin with Sparco Seats and Schroth harnesses, a Momo wheel, custom hydraulic handbrake and all the necessary bits to be safe and compliant.
The exterior was left largely untouched, save for a complete vinyl wrap by G2 Graphics, and while it all might not look as radical as some other pro-am cars out there, Naoki and Don both feel it has everything it needs for this stage of Don’s plan.
Don's Goals for Top Drift
We caught up with Don at this year’s Round 1 of the 2018 Top Drift competition season, where despite laying down some truly impressive rookie runs in practice sessions, Don and the team were still battling some mechanical gremlins that kept them out of competition. “I’m writing 2018 off as a learning year,” explains Don. “I want to get a feel for the tracks, the competition, learn what I need to improve, and look at 2019 and 2020 as the years where I’ll make my moves.” His ultimate goal? “For now, it’s just to earn a Pro 2 license,” he tells. “Then, re-evaluate.”
Spend some time hanging out among drifters, or even watching a pro competition over a live stream, and you’ll realize just how tricky it can be to wage a successful campaign. But does it really need to be? Work with the best people, add in the best parts and craftsmanship and get in plenty of seat time. It’s a recipe that’s worked wonders for Naoki and his students, and Don in his many previous endeavors. It might just prove once again what’s possible when building on a strong foundation—no matter when you decide to do it!
If you liked Don's 350Z, check out some of the other cars we loved at Top Drift!
Z33 Nissan 350Z
|ENGINE||Nissan VQ35DE engine; Vortech supercharger w/6-lb pulley; custom exhaust; Koyo radiator; Mishimoto oil cooler, silicone plumbing; Improved Racing oil filter adapter/relocator; Nismo oil cap; Motordyne intake plenum spacer; Aeromotive fuel pressure regulator, gauge; F&L 114-octane fuel blended with 91-octane pump gas; tuned and reflashed OEM ECU; Painless chassis wiring and fuse panel|
|DRIVETRAIN||ACT clutch, heavy-duty pressure plate; Nissan viscous LSD|
|SUSPENSION||Feal coilovers, Power by Max steering angle kit|
|BRAKES||OEM Nissan Brembo brakes, custom hydraulic hand brake|
|WHEELS & TIRES||18x9.5” STR Racing wheels, 245/40R18 Nitto Tire NT05|
|EXTERIOR||AutoTecknic carbon fiber air duct; Quik-Latch anodized hood pins; G2 Graphics complete vinyl wrap, designed by Chase Graphics|
|INTERIOR||Sparco seats; Schroth harnesses; Momo steering wheel, quick-release hub; AEM gauges (water temperature, oil pressure, air/fuel ratio, oil temperature); HANS device; Formula Drift-compliant roll cage; custom aluminum footrests|
|SPONSOR & THANK YOUS||“Thank you to Drift 101 and Naoki for getting me to this point, and for the great build, Rspec for the continued track prep and mechanical support, Huntington Tire and Auto for the awesome Nitto Tires and expert alignments, my Concept Builders team and everyone else involved with this new project.”|