Mad Mike Whiddett: Living the Dream
Driving Line Issue 4 | Cover Story
We’ve just pulled into Leffew Bull Riding World, a big, isolated ranch situated halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco off Highway 101 that may as well be its own world. It’s calming being here, almost too serene, and just steps away are the Leffew’s pride and joy, a collection of bulls that are raised and trained to teach only those daring enough to master the fine art of professional bull riding. This facility is also used plenty by the entertainment world when a bull is needed for some type of stunt work (look up old episodes of Jackass); you won’t find a more dedicated group of guys who have the necessary skills to handle these fine animals. In fact, you wouldn’t be able to find anyone but the Leffews; they were the closest and only place we could find to help us pull off the task of getting Mad Mike Whiddett on the back of a bull. This environment only seemed so fitting considering the mad man and his racing career. If the name Mad Mike hasn’t already conjured up images of screaming rotaries and clouds of tire smoke, it soon will. Already a huge celebrity in his home country of New Zealand, he has his eyes set on the biggest prize of all: winning an American championship, which also happens to be the world’s premiere drifting series, Formula Drift. Having taken several championships in FD’s Asia competitions, he has yet to complete a full schedule in the U.S., but he’s well on his way, scoring fan favorite votes with ease in his little MX-5 Miata race car, a wild machine that’s powered with a 1,200hp twin-turbocharged 4-rotor motor. Mad Mike’s dream is the classic dream that most people living in other parts of the world often strive for, which is ultimately the same dream as ours: to work hard doing something you love and succeeding because of that hard work… the American dream. How does someone nearly 6,500 miles away from the epicenter of drifting come to light as a sliding superstar? The competitive spirit began at a young age, on a horse ranch of all places: “My mum used to drag me along with her [to the ranch] every weekend to tend to the horses. I passed the time playing with remote control cars, and one day she brought me this dirt bike. She didn’t even know how to start it up; she just wanted me to keep busy while she was with the horses. I started racing in my teens and did really well in the junior leagues but couldn’t keep up with it because it was too expensive. Eventually motocross found its way across the Pacific, which I was able to pick up and took part in the first freestyle demonstration in New Zealand. Did that professionally for three years.” These action sports didn’t play kindly with Mad Mike’s body, and put him through its paces more times than he can count, he recalls: “I’ve broken nearly every bone in my body. I have titanium rods in certain places. I’ve fractured four vertebrae and was told I’d be paralyzed from my T7 down. Pieces of bone sticking out of my arm, broken ribs, over 20 concussions…this was all from doing motocross. Then I found this thing called drifting…” This isn’t to say Mike wasn’t always a fan of cars because of his motocross career; in fact, it’s quite the opposite – the love for cars goes way back. As a teen, he took a liking to Mazdas and rotaries because they were affordable, fun cars. He says, “While most of my friends would go off and spend their week’s wages on beer, I’d go straight to the trade and exchange section of the paper (this was before the Internet) and find cars from $1500 and under to buy. Could’ve been an old Corolla or a Mazda 626, as long as it was rear-wheel-drive and $100 bucks. I’d go half with a friend, and whoever flipped or blew it up would have to buy the next one. That’s how it was nearly every weekend, and we’d practice on gravel roads.” Those very roads taught Mike a thing or two about proper (and not so proper) driving technique, which brings us back to the drifting thing. “When I first saw drifting, I was blown away,” Mike’s eyes light up as he explains, “My fiancée was like, “You could do this!” We sold our show cars to build our first drift car, and there were no pro-ams or grassroots events, so we just jumped straight in with the big guys of New Zealand. There were no opportunities to go to a track to practice drifting but we still built a true competition car after discovering [drifting] was an actual sport. I managed to get into it at a good time considering the pros already had 8-9 years on top of me.” Sometime in 2007, big things started happening for Mad Mike. D1GP (Japan’s original marquee drifting series) held a driver’s search in New Zealand with hopes of bringing international talent outside of Japan to the U.S. in the ‘D1GP Japan vs USA’ competition. D1GP only had four spots to fill; Mike placed fourth, which gave him a license to be able to come to the Irwindale Speedway, America’s original House of Drift, to play against the world’s drifting elite. “Other than the Japanese, I was the only foreigner to qualify for the Top 16,” he says, “That helped set my name in stone for the drifting community.” Mike also stood out in a sea of V8s with a crazy rotary, however, with limited resources, he’d turn his attention to Formula D’s Asia series, taking wins and building his brand and reputation as being a wild and phenomenal drifter, which ultimately led to his relationship with a certain energy drink company. “Once I became a more successful driver [in FD Asia], that’s when Red Bull came to me and said, Welcome to the family. That’s the email you always dream about getting…” Mike was also able to land a solid connection with Mazda, which combined with Red Bull, led to a collection of rotary powered monsters bearing unique personalities. “Each of my cars is named after a BUL, which is all part of my deal [with Red Bull]. At first it was Mad Mike and Red Bull, and since New Zealand only allows six characters, my first competition car was dubbed MAD BUL. The next one was BAD BUL. You know my current car – RAD BUL – mostly because it’s this crazy little thing with tons of power. I’m finishing one now that will be used in Japan nicknamed HUM BUL because the Japanese are often characterized as being humble whereas their cars are the complete opposite.” But 2015 is all about Mad Mike getting to know RAD BUL – it’s a brand new car, having seen competition a small handful of times. “I still need to learn the tracks, collect data and work with a new American team. By feeling it out this year, I can come back in 2016 and really do some damage. I’ve already shocked some, shocked myself even, so that’s really cool.” Mike knows that to become a champion, it takes far more than being just a driver; it requires an entire package to pull it off. His last American appearance in 2010 was a struggle, and he knew he wouldn’t come back until he’d gotten things together. Now Mad Mike is prepared. He’ll continue onward with his quest for a Formula D championship title. It’s all he can think about; it’s his interpretation of that American dream. “Coming from New Zealand, watching competitions on television, there are just so many fans here [in the U.S.]. I just want to compete against the best and be the best. America’s the biggest place to make it happen. Everything I’ve wanted to do – motocross, freestyle motocross or drifting – it’s the best in America. There’s nothing better than having rad people, product and partners who want to succeed, who have the same dreams, knowing that it takes hard work to make it happen. When I used to watch Supercross, I’d always tell my mom, That’s going to be me someday. I’m going to race in the States. I might have two extra wheels now, but here we are; I’m living my dream.”
MAD MIKE WHIDDETT DOB January 10, 1981 HEIGHT/WEIGHT 172cm (5’6”)/70kg (154lbs) HOMETOWN Auckland, NZ THEME SONG Anything by Odesza – I tend to be overexcited so I need something to calm me down. FAVORITE COMPETITION CAR RAD BUL by far because it reminds me of why I started getting into competitive drifting. FAVORITE TRACK Irwindale Speedway; it’s not only an explosive track but it also creates an amazing atmosphere with high banks – plus from the outside looking in, it’s California, what could be better than the California Dream? DREAM MATCHUP Chris Forsberg being the current champ, but for my driving style, it’d have to be Vaughn Gittin Jr. because his driving is similar to mine, very aggressive with American muscle. Captain America versus a Kiwi guy would be a fun match, plus he’s a great driver. I hope to one day line up with him in a final battle. WHAT YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT DRIFTING: Fear, the adrenaline. That point where you’re the pushing the boundary and scaring yourself. That’s the addiction I have, including the showmanship. I like putting a show on for the fans. IF YOU COULD BUILD YOUR DREAM MAZDA, IT WOULD BE: We’ve pretty much built it; the MX-5 is it. But for fun, I’m an old school guy, so it’d have to be a ’76 RX-3 coupe with a 4- or 6-rotor, something crazy like that. A wild street car.
2015 MAZDA MX-5 26B-TT "RAD BUL" ENGINE Mazda 26B four-rotor engine by PPRE; PPRE modified OEM Mazda rotors, 3-piece eccentric shafts, custom exhaust manifold, aluminum intake manifold and plenum; OEM Mazda 3mm apex seals; Garrett GTX40 turbos (x2); TurboSmart “Mad Mike” Signature Line Comp-Gate 40 wastegates (x4); modified billet ProStreet Performance merge collectors; PWR front-mounted intercooler, rear-mounted radiator, inline water-cooled oil cooler and dry sump; Plazmaman throttle body; Mechman alternator; M&W Ignitions CDIs; WB2 wideband controller; CAN Hub modules; Racepak Smart Wire solid state power module; custom 4” exhaust system ENGINE MANAGEMENT Haltech Platinum Series Sport 2000 engine management system DRIVETRAIN Holinger Engineering 6-speed sequential transmission; Direct Clutches ceramic twin-plate clutch; Winters Performance Quick Change rear end by ASD; PPRE custom diff cradle; The Driveshaft Shop axles SUSPENSION & CHASSIS KW 3-way adjustable coilovers with remote reservoirs; Megan Racing adjustable arms and links; custom Wisefab steering lock kit; Full PPRE FD-spec rollcage, seam-welded BRAKES Wilwood Performance forged billet Dynapro 6-piston calipers & Ultralite rotors (front), Dynapro 4-piston calipers (rear), Ultralite rotors and brake bias adjuster; ASD hydraulic handbrake WHEELS & TIRES 17x9.5”/18x10.5” Rotiform SLC forged 3-piece wheels; Nitto NT05 235/40R18 and 265/35R18 tires EXTERIOR Modified FD3S RX-7 Rocket Bunny rear over-fenders; Goodwin Racing carbon fiber doors and carbon fiber hard top; Autokonexion front over-fenders; Hybrid Lab FRP rear fenders; modified Mazda OE front fenders and hood INTERIOR Racetech RT9009HR carbon-Kevlar seats; Takata RACE 6 harnesses; Haltech/Racepak 1Q3 digital dash; Sparco Competition steering wheel; Lifeline plumbed fire extinguisher; Racepak switch panel Story: Jonathan Wong; photos: Casey Curry (lifestyle), Danny Nguyen (automotive) Extra special thanks to Judd and Gary Leffew for hosting us at the Leffew Bull Riding World; without their help, we’d be knee-deep in some bull’ish!