Monday, 17 May 2021 20:40

Neal skids to 1st in 2nd round of MB Drift comp at Rockingham Speedway

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Daniel Neal, right, and Jody Utsey skid along the Rockingham Speedway road course Saturday in the final showdown of MB Drift's Round 2 competition. Daniel Neal, right, and Jody Utsey skid along the Rockingham Speedway road course Saturday in the final showdown of MB Drift's Round 2 competition. Photos by William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — After taking time off and driving a new car, Daniel Neal didn’t expect to win the second round of MB Drift’s competition series Saturday at Rockingham Speedway.


Of the 15 drivers skidding along the speedway’s road course, the judges decided Neal was the best drifter of the day, earning him $500 and a bottle of champagne.

“Coming back to a win like this, it feels amazing,” Neal said in the garage following his victory. “Today was amazing. I cannot believe we got the win today.

“I had low expectations coming out with an untested car, me not being testing for a year and to take second in qualifying and first (in competition), I’m over the moon.”

Neal, an engineer technician from Charleston, South Carolina, who has been driving for about five years and competing since 2018, just returned to the scene after taking a year off following a failure with a former BMW.

“The engine just didn’t last very long, so we took the year off to try to figure some stuff out,” Neal said. “What we did in that year off was just kinda re-evaluate what we wanted to do with competition or just keeping it fun.

“Right now we’re deciding to keep it fun … this is grass roots, so that’s keeping it fun for me.”

Saturday, Neal was behind the wheel of a hot pink Nissan Silvia with a fully built SR20det engine — a car he had never driven before.

“It was a little tough at first,” Neal said about the course, “but once I learned to handle the car, once I learned its little quirks … it was pretty easy.”

But not without its challenges.

Drivers lined up along the front stretch of the speedway’s 1.071-mile oval, roaring counter-clockwise and entering the road course about midway between turns four and three. Cars were solo for qualifying and ran tandem for the competition, with drivers taking turns leading and following.

“From sweeper one, there’s a long-distance where you have to switch back to come into the next sweeper and that’s where I had a problem,” Neal said, adding that the clutch on the car was slipping in third gear, causing him to run the track in second gear.

Like many of the early NASCAR drivers, Neal got his start zooming down dirt roads — but on a go-kart.

“It was like a hard-packed dirt and it created like a film of sand on top so I could take the go-kart and I could slide it … and I just did that for hours.”

Later on down the road, he traded a Jeep Cherokee for Nissan 240SX.

Neal said he had never driven a car like that, but after a little research and discovering it was a model used in drifting: “It was like, immediate, like, ‘I have to do this.’

“Once I saw it was a competition and you could take it farther and possibly make a career with it, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Neal, 28, spent his first few years of drifting honing his skills as a driver on both ovals and road courses.

“Everybody has to learn that first part, just learn how to handle a car at this speed and this rate of angle,” Neal said. “And to pull an (emergency) brake to power over a clutch kick, that’s all things you kinda have to learn before you can get into a competition like this — and take a win.”

Raising higher in the sport is difficult with no financial backers, Neal said, adding that the professional levels of drifting seem to take some of the fun out of the sport, “so we’re deciding to stay on this level for a little while.”

Neal said he’ll be competing at another event in June with a $10,000 purse.

Drivers Jody Utsey and Nathan McDuffie — the day’s No. 1 qualifier — placed second and third, respectively.

First-round winner T.J. Gutierez finished in 8th place, but leads in the point standings, followed by Utsey, Dan Selwa (second place, round 1), Joe Busam (third place, round one), Drake Carter, Neal, McDuffie and Steven Larsen.

The next competition is slated for June12 and the fourth and final round is scheduled for Aug. 14.

Daniel Neal, left, sprays down Nathan McDuffie with champagne after the top three winners were announced.

MB Drift co-founder Marshall Eggerling said there were about 25 drivers at the event, with those not competing able to get in some seat time and practice their skills — both during qualifying and after the competition.

There were very few issues with cars, Eggerling said, except for one driver who broke a tie rod during qualifying.

MB Drift’s Devin Crezee said they had to change the route at the last minute after weather problems postponed repaving plans.

“That was a kind of a little bit of a scramble, but it worked out really well,” Crezee said. “The driver feedback today was that the course was great, the track was great. We haven’t heard anything negative at all, everybody seemed pretty happy.”

Crezee said they change the layout of the course at each event, making the next more difficult than the previous, to build drivers’ skills and progression through the season.

Eggerling said the course for Saturday’s event was challenging because of the higher speed. While the course itself wasn’t long, the drive to get back in line was a little longer, which gave the tires time to cool down.

“It bought out a totally different driving style than some people are used to,” Crezee said about Saturday’s course.

With the second round of competition in the rear-view mirror, Eggerling, Creeze and Zach Sebald are looking ahead to Round 3 next month.

Eggerling and Creeze said they will probably return to the road course for the next two rounds to utilize the paving rescheduled for this week.

MB Drift has a deal worked out with the speedway’s owners to contribute to track maintenance, in what new Vice President of Operations Justin Jones calls “mutually advantageous agreement.”

“We want to capitalize on our investment as best we can,” Eggerling said, “...but we still have to find a way to make it a fast but challenging course to still continue to build the skills from this round as well.”

Crezee said the new paving on the infield road course will make it more versatile for drifting.

The first round was held at “Little Rock,” a half-mile replica of Martinsville Speedway, which sits just south of the main track.

“We’re going to continue to use Little Rock, (but) not as often,” Crezee said. “It’s such a different kind of a feel for drifting because there’s elevation changes … The go-kart track there that we use dips down, so you end up high and then down and back up again and … it feels really cool as a driver, because you really can throw it in really hard and sling it through those corners.”

Crezee continued, saying they plan to use the smaller track for the Fall Matsuri Halloween Havoc, slated for Oct. 23-24, while also using the road course.

“We’re going to try to run both tracks at the same time, so we can have a ton of drivers and people can get tons and tons of seat time,” Crezee added.

One of the advantages the road course has to the Little Rock is the covered garages, Eggerling said.

“This is really an added bonus for all of our drivers, to be able to use the covered garages that former NASCAR drivers used to use … so it’s a really awesome experience for them, as well,” Eggerling said.

“Especially during the summer when it’s hot,” Crezee added. “Today, it really warmed up. You come into the garages, it was shaded, there was a little bit of crossbreeze through it. It felt so good to get out of the sun and hang out … it really was great for today and it’s going to be great for the rest of the summer.”

With the coming addition of infield lights, Eggerling said they’re planning to have one of their events start in the late afternoon and run past midnight.

The MB Drift crew also welcomes Richmond County residents to their events, which are scheduled each month through November.

“I know it’s not the traditional type of motorsport,” Eggerling said, “But if you come out and experience it, nine times out of 10 you’re going to fall in love.

“A lot of times, we’ll put people in cars doing ride-alongs and all that stuff to get a really immersive experience.”

Following Saturday’s competition, the full course was opened for free drifting, with several people able to take ride-alongs, including RO Executive Producer Russell Parker and Scuba Steve.

“Some people say it’s too much wear and tear on your car and tires,” Eggerling said. “But it’s such a fun thing to do that everyone should come out and check it out at least one time and then they can decide first-hand whether they like it or not.”

 

 (Correction: The word "rebuilt was changed to "fully built." 9:04 p.m. 5-17-20.)

 

 

Last modified on Monday, 17 May 2021 21:05