Ready To Rock: Interview - Vaughn Gittin Jr Secures His Second Formula DRIFT Championship a Decade After The First

Ready To Rock: Interview - Vaughn Gittin Jr Secures His Second Formula DRIFT Championship a Decade After The First
Adam Gordon: First of all, congratulations on the big win. First championship win since 2010 - that’s a big deal. How does it all feel now that it’s over?

Vaughn Gittin Jr: Yeah, it feels amazing. I mean, honestly, I really haven't thought too much about it since it happened. You know, with all the things we have going on. But reflecting on it, it’s something I'm extremely proud about - it's really cool. I didn't even realize at the time, but I’m kinda having some really great luck with the ends of the decades, right? 2010, 2020. It just feels good. And also to get first and second in such a challenging series and challenging sport, I think is just a huge testament to our commitment and the things that we're doing all around the board to earn such success. So it definitely feels good. It's always nice to see vision and hard work and commitment earn great results for us and our partners.

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After all these years, you’ve kind of solidified yourself as a veteran in the field. How has the competitive field changed in those 10 years between championships?

I've been doing FD since 2004 - since the first round. I've only missed one event in 17 years. It's been crazy. You know, the sport has been constantly progressing and challenging more than ever. The builds, the drivers, the talent, what you need to be on a competition weekend - what you need to pull out of yourself time and time again is, I think, the biggest challenge out there, and frankly is what keeps me coming back year after year. I just enjoy it a lot and I like a mental battle, a physical battle of driver skill, but also the battle with the machine and running these things on the ragged edge, keeping them going - keeping them out of the wall. It's just one of the ultimate forms of challenging yourself that I've found in motorsport. So it's quite surreal that I've been doing it this long. It's for sure given me a tenure, but I think that's just a testament. We haven't changed what we do, how we approach it. We've been here fighting, and we've had seconds, we've had thirds. First just eluded us. So here we are.

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In previous interviews with Forsberg and Deane, they’ve both attributed consistency to their victories. Is there a particular aspect of competition that you focus on to stay consistent?

Consistency is really the only way to win championships. I mean, you make one dumb mistake you're out in the top 32. It really, really hurts your chances. So for me, it's really just focusing one battle at a time and focusing on getting through it. And I find that results become a side effect of the mindset of: “Hey, I need to go out and be the best that I can during this battle.” And you don't think about winning it. You don't think about losing it. You just do the job that the judges asked, you educate yourself on your opponent and do the best you can to battle them. I find that if you take that approach, you can expect good results unless you do something stupid. But consistency is also related to the team and the vehicle and the equipment that you have chosen to run and battle with, because if you have equipment failures - well then you can't be consistent. So it's a lot mental, it’s a lot physical as it relates to our Mustang RTRs. So you need all those things to come together to earn success and consistency.

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You mention educating yourself on your opponents before you battle them. Is there anyone out there that you consider a serious rival?

I mean, everybody is really, really good. Chelsea and I are teammates, but we're rivals when we're on the track. Forsberg and I are good friends, but when we're on the track, we go back and forth, so he's a big rival. Aasbo - obviously he and I have a long colored history of smashing each other, battling each other, and me running him over.
I think without a doubt in the top guys rivalries just just happen. I don't really think about it as, you know - what happens on track is what happens, and we all want to win and we're all competitive. So for me rivalries or something to talk about, something for fans to talk about, but to me, it's just everyone. Everyone is a competitor and I don't sleep on anybody. Certainly when it seems more and more when I battle people, they end up putting on their best run that they've ever done. So I just assume I have to do it better.

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With the new season approaching fast, how is your pre-season prep going?

Everything's going good. Being a professional fun-haver and playing in a lot of different spaces. Right now our Formula D focused team is in FD mode. For me, I won't really start getting into it until testing, which is probably March-ish. I just got back from King of the Hammers racing off road, and I've got quite a few other projects going on. I just kind of dive in and out of my head space as needed. Immediately after Irwindale, we had debriefing, we talked about, “Hey, we won a championship. That happened, but it doesn't end.” You know, we don't get lost in that. We just keep moving forward. So we got a plan of adjustments we're going to make. All the cars are really dialed, but with myself and Chelsea behind the wheel, we can always nitpick things that we want to change or that we didn't get to last year, so those things are being implemented now just to make the cars even better and better to drive and, and all that. Very soon, you'll be at Road Atlanta for round one, which you know I am super, super pumped about.

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Are there any major changes to your car or your team moving into the 2021 season?

No. I mean, there were a lot of changes leading into the 2020 season - pretty much a pretty full revamp of the team, and new processes, new things like that. I'm going into 2021 with just some small changes. We're going to make some adjustments to some things we learned on the front end this year. Our motor program and all of our real hardware stuff is really refined and works very well. So the architecture and everything is pretty much going to stay the same. Just a couple of little tweaks to make the car steer a little bit better - ease of driving, you know. In a sport where your chase runs are dictated by a lead driver that's either extremely good or trying to figure his life out, you need to have that adaptability and adjustability. We're just constantly refining that, but other than that, the cars are going to be very similar to what they were last year. Until somebody forces us to take another step. We’re in a really good place - we'll never sit still, we're always making some adjustments. I mentioned that whole reliability thing and we've got a very reliable program, and very reliable components that we use. That's one of those things that you don't fix if it’s not broke, you know?

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Is there a driver whose driving style do you most admire on the grid?

I have a lot of respect for Chelsea and one of the reasons why he is on my team is that he has a chance to be the best in the world at this sport, given his commitment and his intimate knowledge of it. And, you know, the fact that he drives literally every day at his school. He's the guy. I’ve really been enjoying watching Adam LZ’s come up. I think he's got a lot of natural talent. He's got a good style. Let's see, who else? I mean, obviously James Deane. We'd love to see him back on the grid. It's been nice to see Tuerck in a new car and relaxed where he's not like thrashing and getting in the car, but Tuerck’s always had style. The other thing too, I think, has been cool to see JTP (Justin Pawlak) come around. He's always had really good style, he's always been aggressive, he's been a bit slow, but he started to get some speed in the car and he's coupling it with his style, and that's been really cool to see his progression as well. So I think top three: Chelsea, Adam LZ, and JTP, I think. All of them have great style and very different styles and approaches. They’re very fun to watch.

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A big part of your personal brand - and I’m sure, your own enjoyment in this career - is being a professional fun-haver. What’s the key to keeping the fun at the forefront of serious competition when things get tense?

For me, being a fun-haver, it's a mindset, right? We all know that there's going to be challenges in anything that you do. It's a glass half full mindset, right? Find the good things in everything, and you'll always have fun every day of your life. And that's kind of like what fun-haver means and what that is to me. At a Formula D weekend, there's some things that aren't fun. You know, it's stressful. It's crazy. You're constantly battling with yourself. It’s those voices in the head that are telling you that you're going to hit the wall, you know, things like that. You just laugh at them and then have fun with them. When you're kind of having that struggle or getting a little bit stressed, you have to acknowledge - I'm sitting on a freaking race car, you know? Like this is fun, quit being an idiot and getting stressed out about it. So for me, it's just mindset and perspective. I choose to be a very happy, love-filled guy, and with that commitment to myself comes the commitment of being grateful. I've worked hard to be here and be doing this, and I need to love every moment of it. You take the good with the bad, you know? It’s drifting - sometimes you might not agree with the calls of judges, or you might not like what somebody did on the track when you were running them, but getting mad about things that happen? It already happened, so what's the point of getting mad? Just find the fun in it. And if you lose, go back to the trailer, and figure out how to be better. Always try to improve. So for me, that's how I approach it, and it's what works for me.

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Is there a specific track that you look forward to more than others on the FD circuit?

I love Atlanta. I was really bummed to leave Atlanta last year. I love that track. Really fast entries, like a very committed and technical track. I’ve had a ton of success there and it's just a great event overall from a fan perspective and track perspective. I'm really, really looking forward to Englishtown. You know, my first organized event was at E-town and they've done a really good job of building - I think - one of the world's first purpose-built drifting stadiums. I mean, a drag strip my father used to drag race on back in the day is now turned into drifting, which I think is a huge testament not just to our sport, but a testament to their commitment to the sport. I think that's going to make for some great battles. For the audience, a fan experience that has never been experienced before. I’m super pumped on that one.

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Which city on the FD circuit has the best food, and what are some of those foods?

So we've got Atlanta - some good barbecue in Atlanta, for sure. I do eat some meat, but recently have gone plant-based cause that's been working very well for me. So Atlanta also has good juice and smoothie spots. I know where all the smoothie spots at all stops are. Oh, and Seattle! Seattle's gott good food - Indian food, Thai food, and Mexican food, all within reach of our hotel. A lot of good natural places to eat and things like that, which is what speaks to me these days. So I have to say Seattle for the food tip is my favorite. I think Seattle is the one that would surprise most people, and they’ve got great seafood too.

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Outside of drifting, I know and your team stay busy with all sorts of fun stuff. What else have you been doing this past year?

We have quite a few businesses going on. So that and Formula Drift, and then a ton of activation, and extracurricular events, and special projects, and things like that. Last year we debuted the Mach-E 1400, which was our first EV build, the project between RTR vehicles and Ford Performance. I'm an old IT nerd and I love technology, and I've been watching the electrification space for a long time. It is an honor for Ford to ask us. We ended up building this amazing electric vehicle with Ford Performance. We built it all at our facility here in Charlotte. It’s just a mind blowing car. It really opened my eyes to electric, and what's possible and what the capabilities are - it’s just incredible. It was an incredible experience. We've been doing some planning on the next things we're going to do with it. I’m also going to be busy with product development and new vehicles. The new Bronco is coming out, we've got constant development and Mustang products, so that's doing really well. And of course, the Fun-Haver Off-Road team. So that's basically a partnership between myself and Loren Healy that runs out of New Mexico. Really just planning a lot of product development, and races, and activation, and things that we're doing. I've basically taken what I do and have done on road for the past 17 years and kind of brought that over to off-road, which is a space I love. Drifting is a sport that sets you up to be good at anything behind the wheel. I mean, not to be arrogant, but it's the ultimate car control - and what's car control? It's just weight. Knowing when to go and knowing when to stop, knowing how to move things around. So that translated very well to off-road, and I've become a very good competitor in the Ultra4 series. Over the past five years, I’ve been running with guys that have been doing it for 15 or 20 years. My family and I also moved down to North Carolina from Maryland, you know, we've been in Maryland forever, now we’re in North Carolina. So it's been quite a lot of stuff going on, especially in a really crazy challenging year, but you take that fun-haver mindset, find the best in everything, and focus on the goals and focus on the things you want to come to you. It's all been rocking and rolling. You know, work hard, play hard, and surround yourself with a good team and anything's possible.

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Vaughn, thanks very much for your time. We’re all wishing you well for the next season. We hope to see you on the podiums once again.

Thank you very much for that. I really appreciate it. If we’re not there, it’s not going to be for lack of effort. I’m very committed to everything I do. We’re all in. We look forward to seeing you out there and hopefully a more normal year. See you out there!

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