Vaughn Gittin Jr. Shows The Drive's Resident Road Racer a Good Time in a 2018 Ford Mustang RTR

Nitto Tire throws a party with Vaughn Gittin Jr., Chelsea DeNofa, and a whole lot of vaporized rubber.

Formula Drift has exploded in popularity since its first U.S. events in 2003, but to many, it’s still as opaque as a thick cloud of tire smoke. That goes for me, too; my Formula Continental and Spec Miata road racing experience over the last eight years have taught me that being sideways on a track means something has gone very wrong, not that everything's going according to plan. But hey, I’m as much an adrenaline junky as a gearhead, so I didn’t think twice about accepting an invitation from Nitto Tires to come drift around the private Thermal Club racetrack in Palm Springs, California in a 2018 Ford Mustang RTR

Toss in two household Formula Drift names, Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Chelsea DeNofa, into the mix—and the result was a party of screaming engines, squealing tires, and yes, a whole lot of vaporized rubber.

The big open patch of asphalt Nitto had the Mustangs running around on was already dark with skid marks by the time I hopped in the Mustang RTR to ride along with Gittin for a tandem drift. Shouting over the engine noise to tell DeNofa to keep an eye out for his signal to jump in—a simple come-hither motion out the open window—he eased the ‘Stang out onto the cone course the event organizers had set up, and idly tossed it around a few times to warm up. I told myself I wasn’t going to be one of those people who holds onto the “Oh shit” handle for dear life...but the first 30 seconds made clear that there wasn’t much of a choice, unless I wanted to get bounced around like a piece of popcorn in the too-big bucket seat.

Even after all these years Vaughn Gittin Jr. has spent behind the wheel, it's clear he still has a grand ol' time drifting, as he edged the cars closer and closer together with minute throttle, steering, and emergency brake inputs. Two full 360-degree rotations later, and his car locked in next to DeNofa’s as the pair of Mustangs pirouetted around the huddle of photographers in the center of the circle. Formula Drift is judged on, among other things, the fluidity of and commitment to the drift, and it's clear that Gittin is a master of the craft; the car's motion was so smooth it bordered on a graceful dance, though any resemblance to actual ballet was completely ruined by the screeching tires. (Well, that and my half-hysterical laughter.) After two more revolutions, we slowed to a stop, and another drifting enthusiast was born. Vaughn Gittin Jr. really does have the best day job.