You won’t find Joe Riley sitting behind a desk wearing a necktie anytime soon.
Riley, a 2011 Clay graduate and Curtice resident, is currently enrolled in high performance motor sports at the University of Northwestern Ohio and is scheduled to graduate next fall.
Riley, who played soccer at Clay, used the two years of auto mechanics he took in high school to earn a scholarship to the Lima, Ohio-based college.
“They teach you different aspects of building a race car,” said Riley, 19. “You have to take a fabrication class, a welding class, fuels, engine machining, engine building. I just grew up around cars. I collected Hot Wheels growing up and I heard about Clay having an auto program. I knew about that since the sixth grade and knew right then I wanted to be in that.”
|Joe Riley enjoying motor sports at the University of Northwestern Ohio.
When a recruiter from UNO visited Clay and made a presentation, Riley realized his immediate future was set.
“I knew then and there that’s where I wanted to go,” he said. “My auto instructors at Clay, Mr. (Thomas) Carter and Mr. (David) Shafer, they are the reason I’m doing so well at school. I’m not struggling with my classes at all, and it’s because of them and the auto program at Clay.”
Riley’s ultimate goal is to become a professional “drifter.” Not the kind who sticks out his thumb and hitchhikes across the country doing odd jobs. Drifting has become a popular racing sport in the U.S.
“What I would ideally like to happen is to basically have a career drifting professionally,” Riley said. “If that doesn’t happen, I can do stunt driving and stuff like that and work with race teams. I love to drift. I find it the funnest thing to do, ever.”
Riley found out about the sport of drifting, where drivers maneuver around tight, technical turns - think obstacle course — when he went to see the movie The Fast and the Furious. He then got a glimpse of professional drifting on TV a couple years later.
“I hadn’t seen it in years, and that’s when it grabbed me,” he said. “I just got drawn to it. At that point I had just gotten my license and I didn’t have a car that was ‘driftable.’ I finally have one now, my first car I could drift. I was 17 and I didn’t have a place to do it, then I started school down here (UNO) and it has an autocross club.
“They take an empty concrete lot behind the school and they set up cones and a course. It’s timed. You can’t have two cars on the course together because of safety issues. I had to modify my car to do it, and I’ve been drifting at these autocross events. I wasn’t going for time, I would just drift the course.”
The American drifting scene's roots can be traced back to the late 1980s and early 1990s, but the sport exploded in Japan about 15 years ago. In fact, some professional Japanese drifters are the equivalent of national celebrities.
“The idea is to get the cars as close to the cones, or ‘clipping points,’ as you can,” Riley said. “Drifting is a judged event. There is solo drifting and tandem drifting. Solo drifters get judged by how fast they were going, how sideways they were, the line they took – there is a specific line – and the overall impact of how they drifted.
“The tandem events are where two separate people are driving and the idea is that one car leads and one car follows, which is designated before the run. The lead guy is supposed to set the line taken and set down the best run he can. The second car is to follow that guy’s line and stay as close as he can, all while drifting. After that first run, the lead car and chase car switch roles and go at it again. The amateurs only do solo because of the safety issue. I would like to do the tandem.”
Riley, who plans to practice drifting at Columbus Motor Speedway on Oct. 6, called drifting “the funnest thing to do in a car.”
“It’s an awesome adrenaline rush that I’ve never had before,” he said. “Apparently I have a natural ability to do it. It takes a lot of practice. Some people have a really good natural foundation of talent for it. It came very easily for me and I have no idea why. My mom (Val) said my dad (Bill) used to drag race motorcyles, and my dad and uncles (John and Dan Riley) have always been into cars and stuff.”
There are pro drifting tracks in such states at California, New Jersey, Florida and Washington. Riley’s goal is to eventually go pro and visit every one of those tracks.
“It depends on how many sponsors recognize me,” he said, “and that depends on how many drifting events I can win. They’re held all over. There are pro leagues and amateur events. To find those, you have to go on the Internet and look up the forums. You can make some money, but I want to do it just to do it. That’s part of why I’m taking the major I am, so I have something to fall back on.”