Top 7 Drivers in Top Drift
Pro-am drifting is kind of crazy right now.
Some series are shortening their season schedules, while many regions are shuttering altogether. That isn't necessarily the case in SoCal, where two series are still running strong. Capable and formidable competitors traveling here from other regions to compete means that, at least for the time being, there’s possibly no better place in the country to see tomorrow’s big names than Southern California.
Enter Top Drift, which has long been the premier pro-am drifting competition in the region, if not the country. It’s the series responsible for rearing drifters like Jeff Jones, "Rad" Dan Burkett and plenty more, and is run by Formula Drift veterans Hiro Sumida and Taka Aono. Its traditional, four-event season is held on four very different tracks within Willow Springs Raceway, just north of Los Angeles county lines, and is designed to give drifters a feel for all they might encounter in the pro ranks.
While certain past seasons might have been easy to call, with one or two standout drivers dominating competition, the last few seasons have been anything but. We’ve seen sure bets stumble, underdogs prevail and more than a few transplants and rookies dominate veteran competition. At the close of Top Drift’s fourth and final round in 2018, this leaves quite an interesting mix of names who could be tomorrow’s Formula Drift champions.
1. Dominic Martinez
Drifting is hard. Cars, maintenance, transportation, tires and seat time—they all boil down to time and money. Even if you’ve got a natural inclination for drifting, the logistics of it are difficult for most of us to manage, but every once in a while, a competitor comes around who seems to have all those bases covered. Meet Dom Martinez.
At only 16 years of age, Dom’s got a proven V8 S14 240SX modified in all the right ways, a solid team of friends and family (crew chiefed by his dad), a couple years’ experience and most importantly, natural ability in spades. He’s earned wins in Round 1 and 3 this year, qualified high all around and while he was ousted in Top 8 at this latest and final round, amassed enough points throughout the course of it all to clinch second in the season championship chase—a result he might’ve achieved the previous year, had he not gotten grounded and been forced to withdraw prior to the final round. Means, motive and opportunity put Dom at the top of the “Who to Watch Out For” list.
2. Rome Charpentier
About a half-dozen Top Drift competitors have steadily progressed into “impressively good” territory over the last few years, and Rome Charpentier has pulled ahead of that pack in 2018. He podiumed at Round 1 and podiumed or made it into the Final 4 in each subsequent round since then, from behind the wheel of his trusty no. 17 E36 BMW. He didn't get any wins, but that type of consistency in an otherwise tumultuous year is what deservedly earned him the 2018 championship.
While there’s no word yet as to whether Rome will make the jump to FD Pro 2 in 2019, whenever he decides to do it, he’ll make life very difficult for the rest of the field.
3. Alex Grimm
Alex has had a crappy year, but in terms of raw talent, you’d be hard-pressed to find a pro-am competitor with more of it. His multiple podiums and top-qualifier performances achieved with his V8-swapped S30 Datsun 240Z in 2017 and previous years were only upstaged in his door-clinging tandem drifting with pros in bashes like Street Driven Tour and All Star Bash, all of which has impressed us for years.
While he scored an impressive win in Round 2 this year, besting drifters Zach MacGillivray, Pablo Cabrera, Dom Martinez and Brian Page-Howell in the process, the tuning and learning curve with his new, Pro 2-spec Chevy Camaro proved too steep to graduate from the pro-am ranks just yet. With that ironed out, we’d make Grimm the heavy favorite win the Top Drift championship in 2019 and pose a serious threat to Pro 2 in the near future.
4. Shaun Doom
Everyone loves a good underdog story, and in Top Drift competition, that story is Shaun Doom. Where V8 S14s seem to be the hot ticket to championship success, Shaun is keeping it real with a turbo-four S13—a turbo KA24, at that! He’s killing it, steadily progressing at every round in 2018 to finish in third, both in the final round and in championship points for the season.
We’d be surprised to see him make the jump to Pro 2 competition next year, with one more year of pro-am (and possibly an engine change—let’s be real) likely transforming him into an even more threatening challenger. We’re excited to see just how much better he can get and farther he’ll go.
5. Aaron Muss
In a lot of ways, Aaron “AJ” Muss should be at the top of this list, but something tells us we might want to save that for another day. This guy is definitely going places! His main gig is being a back-to-back champion snowboarder and 2018 Winter Olympics qualifier, but when he’s not doing that he likes to drift his turbocharged E46 BMW.
We’ve seen him at the Hyperfest/U.S. Drift pro-am competition at Virginia International Raceway and were surprised to see him trek all the way out from his New Jersey home to compete in the final round of Top Drift at Willow Springs in Southern California. We were even more surprised when he beat Shaun Doom and Rome Charpentier to take the win, throwing a major wrench into the championship order! We're not sure when or where he might pop up into Pro 2 competition, but when he does, he’s sure to put on a hell of a show.
6. Amir Falahi
Think of Amir Falahi as the Dom Martinez of the north. He has a great team of family and friends behind his pro-am drift campaign, a great car in the form of his insanely loud V8-swapped E30 BMW and plenty of natural ability to bring all that to its full potential. After the sudden closure of the Bay Area region’s Golden Gate Drift pro-am series, a handful of the region's top wheelmen began flying south for the summer and wreaking havoc on series like Top Drift, where Amir has been steadily gaining ground.
After forgettable performances at Round 1 and 2 in 2018, Amir landed in second in Round 3 (falling only to Dom) and had the unfortunate circumstance of meeting Rome Charpentier in the Top 16 this time in Round 4, who he almost beat in a One More Time match! Forget what the points say—if you’re looking for someone to keep an eye on in coming seasons of pro-am or even Pro 2 competition, keep Amir Falahi on your radar.
7. Zach MacGillivray
“Zach Mac” is on a championship curve. It might not be as steep as some of the other drivers here, but he’ll get there. Zach kicked off the Top Drift 2018 season by qualifying in the top spot and finishing fifth at Round 1 from inside his Z33 Nissan 350Z. He has driven ferociously since then but just didn’t catch the best cards in the deck. He qualified fifth but fell to eventual winner Alex Grimm early in Top 16 at Round 2. He qualified fourth at Round 3 but met Rome Charpentier in Top 8, who went on to take third. In this fourth and final round, he encountered some mechanical gremlins that made him exit his battle against fourth place finisher Vadim Todorov.
It’s a good bet that Zach will be back next year, and an even better one that if he is, he’ll be a championship contender and a near shoe-in for that coveted Formula D Pro 2 license.
With the 2018 Top Drift season in the books, we’re looking forward to seeing these aces emerge in Pro 2 and improve in Top Drift competition next year, and we will be every bit as eager to see who steps up to fill their places.
Looking for more? Check out the gallery below!