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Vaughn Gittin Jr. & Shannon Campbell on What It Takes to Win


For decades, most professional auto racing has been the playground of a select and well-financed few. A kid with a heavy right foot and a garage full of tools and aspirations doesn’t stand much of a chance to take the checkered flag at Daytona or have his grinnin’ mug added to the Borg-Warner Trophy. That being said, this is the land of opportunity, and there are still a few top-tier racing organizations that are more welcoming to drivers with more heart than dollars. Formula DRIFT is within reach of any hotshoe with the skill and discipline necessary to melt tires with attitude and style, having been developed on the nighttime streets of Japan, and later, the USA. Off-road racing has always been a good entry point for the competition-minded and ULTRA4 is at the top level, basing a whole series around the annual The King of The Hammers spectacle in Johnson Valley, Calif. Anyone reading DrivingLine has fantasized more than once about stripping down a vehicle, boosting the power and taking it out to see what it can do against whatever the other guy’s running. To get an idea about what it takes to not just run with the big boys, but to step out of the crowd and on to the podium, DrivingLine spoke to two driving titans, hoping they could explain what it is that transforms a pretender into a contender. Vaughn-Gittin-Shannon-Campbell-Win-Drivers-Vaugn-Gittin-Jr-champion Vaughn Gittin Jr. has been a primary force in Formula Drift since its inception. A car-nut since birth, Vaughn had modified a 240SX in his home garage and was raging parking lots and industrial parks all over Maryland, unaware of what was happening in Japan and a few American cities. “I was introduced to drifting through a video. I was hooked right away to this sport where you could show your personality and your style behind the wheel. I went to my first officially legit event in Englishtown, New Jersey. I loved the sport, the scene, the action, and the challenge. It was me and I just went after it.” Punk kid to track hero came fast. Now a top dog in the global drift scene and notably the Formula Drift circuit in his Monster/Nitto Ford Mustang, Vaughn has dedicated his life to earn the kind of backing that lets him destroy tires and blow minds in video productions and other racing environments. “I like jumping trucks. I like driving rally cars. I like being in UTVs and getting wild off-road. I just built a truck for SEMA called The Ultimate Funhaver that jumps and drifts. I’m all about having fun. I’m a self-proclaimed professional Funhaver.” Vaughn-Gittin-Shannon-Campbell-Drivers-DSC_1680-copy Gittin can’t take ten steps at an event without a fan wanting an autograph or photo. He enjoys his success and enjoys signing his name and posing with fans. “I didn’t come from money, so it’s not like I showed up and bought my way in. I’ve seen this from both sides. And people’s perceptions can be interesting. Some see all this and think that it all just fell from the sky. I built my first car on my back in my garage. Spent every dollar chasin’ it. And in some ways it’s almost easier on the struggling route, when you’re doing it on your own and it’s not a full-time business with expectations on your shoulders.” Don’t let his persona as a professional Funhaver fool you, behind his whiskered grin and quick laugh lies the steely determination of an apex predator. “The competition at this point is so insane in the things we are doing that for me a weekend of legit hardcore competition is like survival. By that I mean surviving the noises in my brain. Surviving the challenges on the track. When it’s over I need a full day to chill. A day away from everyone because I have to process everything that happened. You spend the weekend in such an intense, focused state, that it does take a while to get back to semi-normal.” Vaughn-Gittin-fan When asked if there is any single event that stands out, in a career of countless victories, he doesn’t hesitate. “Winning the 2005 USA VS. Japan D1GP is still, for me, the single most successful event in my history, and perhaps American drifting history. The Japanese drivers started the whole drifting sport and they came over in 2003 and 2004 and just made the Americans look silly. They were playing with us like little kids. Then in 2005 it was my first year in the Ford Mustang and we single-handedly beat just about every previous Japanese D1 champion driver in head to head battles that night.” He grins at the thought. “To be standing on the roof of my car in front of Irwindale holding up the first-place trophy was epic for so many reasons. When I brought a Mustang out that year people looked at me like I had two heads. We just went for it, we owned it and it was just amazing. That victory was a statement for drifting and it showed what passion and commitment can achieve. It wasn’t supposed to happen. It was like America had arrived.” Vaughn-Gittin-Shannon-Campbell-Drivers-LAR_5472-copy Vaughn Gittin Jr. signs a poster for a fan, then breaks away to check on his new 2015 Mustang RTR. It’s a good-looking car made tastefully more aggressive by the addition of his own RTR bodywork. “I work very hard to get and maintain the support, I own my own team and I have a great group of people that I am fortunate to have work with me. It’s amazing how important it is to surround yourself with the right people. But it really is a mental game, especially in a sport like this where you can’t make any mistakes. I have some techniques that I use to get my head in the best place to compete. I’ve studied methods and trained mentally for years and I still don’t have it mastered. Maybe one day it will get easier,” laughs Vaughn. He taps the roof of the black racer, thinking, “Every time you’re at the line ready to compete, you have to be absolutely the best you’ve ever been. Because the other guy is likely gonna be the best dude out there. When you have the right team, equipment and a beast of a car, the mental game is the only other link. It’s what separates the best from the rest.” Vaughn-Gittin-Shannon-Campbell-Win-Drivers-Shannon-Campbell-champion King of The Hammers is the wildest, most extreme off-road competition ever conceived. Combining rock crawling with 130mph+ desert racing, anyone who captures the first-place crown is part wildman, part explorer, and part magician. Shannon Campbell has been crowned The King twice. An icon of off-road racing for almost two decades, his victories are too numerous to mention. Anything he has to say about what it takes to win is worth putting down your corndog and listening to. Years of building his own racers and putting them to the ultimate test have taught this veteran badass a thing or two about leaving the other guy in the dust. “You have to use your head. There are a lot of variables in this kind of racing. I come out to slaughter everyone, you have to be aggressive, but if you don’t use your head, you’re gonna break. Vaughn-Gittin-Shannon-Campbell-Drivers-shannon-campbell-ultra4-off-road “Usually, I’m relaxed right up until the flag drops. There’s so much to do to prepare that it can be overwhelming. I can’t wait for the flag to drop because then I just have to drive and finish it. Conservative driving saves the car and wins the day. I want to be out front, driving conservatively. But when the variables hit, that’s what really makes me click. When you’re down for a couple of hours switching out a tranny, that’s when I turn loose and drive like an idiot to get back to the front. Sometimes you over-drive and that’s why some people like to watch us. Sometimes I do dumb things and people are afraid to look away from me because they might miss something good. The goal, though, is to stay conservative, but be ready to turn it up to overcome the variables. It’s the balance. You have to be aggressive and drive as hard as you can, but not so hard that you wreck it. But still, things just happen. It’s pretty wild,” he says , laughing. “The wins don’t really sink in with me. I’ve won the Hammers twice, but I couldn’t even tell you how many other races I’ve won. They don’t sink in because as soon as they’re over I’m thinking about what we can do to win the next one. Vaughn-Gittin-Shannon-Campbell-Drivers-DSC_3808-copy “To win out here, you gotta be on your game. The car has to be prepped and you have to have good equipment. And it’s about 50% luck. Sometimes you can create your own luck, but other times it’s just the way the ball bounces. Things just happen. The first four years at King of The Hammers I almost won, and then something dumb took me out. Ruthlessness doesn’t come into play out here. You just have to use your head and be aware of where you are. Don’t get stuck. Don’t get out of the car. Just keep moving.” Campbell has enlarged his operation to three cars to include both his son Wayland and daughter, Bailey. “It’s a lot of work. It seems like a lot of fun, but when everyone else is on vacation, I’m in my garage working on my junk. You just have to get after it and go.”

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