GRIDLIFE Midwest Music and Motorsports Festival
Location: GingerMan Raceway, South Haven, MI | Date: 9/9–9/12
GRIDLIFE: MUSIC, RACING, DRIFTING. WHAT A PARTY!
Written by: Rex Roy
Sick of commonized, commercialized, and sanitized racing? Are you searching for a little “Burning Man” or rave? How about flying laps by cars created within the confines of a very thin rule book? Maybe you long for the bygone days represented by the fictional NASCAR driver, Stroker Ace, where every race ended with a big party?
Welcome to the GRIDLIFE Midwest Music and Motorsports Festival at GingerMan Raceway. This is the opposite of an uptight event attended by all-too-serious people. While highly competitive, GRIDELIFE lightens things up with a carnival atmosphere punctuated by expert rubber shredding, noise, speed, tire smoke, music, and hard (but never on track) partying.
Many of the GRIDELIFE competitors are making the move up from autocrossing or regional SCCA events, and while there are some “teams,” don’t expect closed 53-foot semi-trailers staffed by teams of engineers reading real-time telemetry feeds. This is a crowd of young enthusiastic amateurs and pure competition junkies.
What GRIDLIFE Is
Since 2019, GRIDLIFE has offered racers and their possies three distinct and unique on-track opportunities. First, there’s the TrackBattle Time Attack, where drivers engineer their cars to do the fastest possible lap. Next, there’s Drift, where drivers haze their tires to create massive clouds of smoke and skillfully slide around the course at high speed. (Unlike most drifting events that are held in parking lots, GRIDELIFE drifting happens on road courses). Finally, there’s GRIDLIFE Touring Cup (GLTC). This event engages a diverse and competitive field of drivers and cars in wheel-to-wheel racing that you’d expect on a road course, but the relatively open rules set welcomes a wider-than-expected field of very different vehicles.
To understand the audience GRIDLIFE is going for, event promotors headlined the bands playing over the weekend versus the drivers. While it may be uncommon for racing events, GRIDLIFE’s unique promotion draws thousands. Top billing was given to The Floozies on Friday and Big Boi on Saturday, along with seven bands throughout the four days of festivities. Attendees are encouraged to camp on-site, eat on-site from curated food stands and trucks, and play on-site at the gaming arcade.
But, that’s not to say there wasn’t plenty of exciting on-track action. The 11-turn GingerMan Raceway is purpose-built for safety with ample runoff, sand traps, and increasing radius corners. This serendipitously makes it a great venue for high-speed drifting, one of the event’s major draws. Big name drifters including Chris Forsberg, Ryan Litteral, and Matt Field put on a great show of car control. Although not a typical race-to-the-finish-line competition, drifting is indeed the ultimate expression of car control, and drivers are judged based on their on-track line, angle, and style in this GRIDLIFE event.
GRIDLIFE’s Time Attack is more traditional. Competitors hit the track for solo runs with a warm-up lap, a flying timed lap, and a cool-down lap. There are seven classes that range from the approachable and inviting SundaeCup category featuring cars like Honda Fits and Mazda2s, all the way to Unlimited class, with crazy wing assemblies and a relatively small rulebook. The field is an eclectic mix including everything from JDM rotaries to traditional American V8s and even EVs. Drivers are more YouTube personalities than SCCA National winners, but there is some crossover, and many of the cars are considered very well prepared.
The Time Attack’s Street Mod category has seen a fantastic point battle all season long, with Jackie Ding leading Michael Aumick, Eric “Dewey” DeWitt, and Alex Moss. As the car was in prep, Ding’s famed Toyota Supra was not present, but instead, he competed in the Street class in a Tesla Model 3.
Illustrating the commercial growth of GRIDLIFE, Falken Tires sponsored a class. Additionally, Valvoline, Weld Racing, MOMO, Hawk Performance Brakes, and many other aftermarket brands support the event.
GRIDLIFE’s arguably most exciting session is its Touring Cup, the popular and diverse wheel-to-wheel racing series. This past weekend attracted a 50-plus car grid for four sprint races plus an additional qualifying shootout. Eric Kutil won the final race, followed closely by Andy Smedegard, who did run the quickest lap at 1:39.330.
The PRI Road Tour was in a unique position to sit down with competitors to get their perspective on the weekend’s competition and the state of the industry. Some of these folks include:
- Nate Hamilton, a veteran drifter who ran his LS-powered Nissan at GingerMan.
- Tiffany Kelly, who ran hard all weekend in GLTC and was seventh in the shootout. She ran in top quarter of the field in final two races, coming in at ninth in the final race.
- Pete Granberg kept having fun even though he and his Subaru BRZ suffered an off-course undo on the very first lap. He peeled off his front splitter, and being that this is an amateur event, he didn’t have spares or a professionally trained pit crew to fix the damage. He certainly helps you understand why GRIDLIFE events are so much fun, off-track, and on.
Hours of action were livestreamed on Facebook and YouTube, and competitors regularly updated their own social channels with photos and videos throughout the event. But the PRI Road Tour captured some incredible content, which can be seen in the accompanying video and photo gallery (below).
While a great time was had by all at GRIDLIFE, literally every vehicle that was run at GingerMan this past weekend had an OEM powertrain. Most were modified in some way, which makes the shops that built these cars, and the suppliers that provided the parts, potential targets of EPA enforcement actions. The cars that ran at GingerMan were purpose-built drift and race cars, but that doesn’t matter to the bureaucrats. If left unchallenged, those participating in GRIDLIFE may face EPA regulatory action that has impacted many.
To help ensure that motorsports competitions like off-road racing continue to thrive in the US, become a member of PRI. Check out PRI’s new membership options for individuals and businesses here. Plan to attend the 2021 PRI Trade Show in Indianapolis on December 9–11 to catch up with the latest products and services. To register as an attendee for the 2021 PRI Trade Show, visit here.