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Drifting along
Spectators enjoy Saturday's racing

Smoke, bits of tires and the smell of burnt rubber filled the air as drift racers drove practice runs around a course at the Thomson-McDuffie Regional Airport on Saturday morning.

About 60 drivers were gearing up for qualifying runs and the competition itself, which began later in the day, or just driving to experience the thrill of a successful drift.

Overcast weather kept the turnout lower than expected, but Josh Galbreath, who spearheaded the event, said he was more than satisfied with Clear to Drift 2.0.

"Overall, the event was great," he said. "We wish the weather would've held out so more people would've come, but we couldn't have asked for a better competition."

The area's second sanctioned drift race built on the success of June's Clear to Drift, Galbreath's first endeavor to bring the sport to Thomson.

"I'm just happy that the drift community was here in my hometown," Galbreath said.

He worked with the staff at StreetWise Drift, an organization based in Charlotte, N.C., to organize the event.

Brian Phillips, the founder of StreetWise Drift, said making the event a competition instead of an exhibition gives it a purpose for the drivers, many of whom are trying to reach a higher level in the drifting world. It also supports the area through a fundraising partnership with the Thomson-McDuffie Chamber of Commerce.

Phillips has run the company for three years and has been racing for 15.

"Hosting these events helps the county, helps the town and helps us grow the sport," he said. "We filled a gap at the grassroots level."

The fans were most excited to see Pro-Am driver Jodin LeJeune and Amanda Cowles, one of the few female drift racers on the East Coast.

LeJeune, driving a forest green Infiniti G35, gave the crowd an exhibition of professional drift racing.

"It meant a lot to me to have some of the drivers like Amanda come back and to have Jodin there," Galbreath said. "He's kind of an idol to me. I've watched that guy all the time, and he's probably up there on my top list of drivers."

Cowles and her husband, Matt, came to the event from their hometown of Charlotte, N.C. The drift-racing duo competes as much as possible, and their goal is for at least one of them to turn it into a career.

"He's my No. 1 competitor," Amanda said. "I usually win, of course."

Matt Cowles started building cars four years ago, about the same time he and Amanda got married.

"For our anniversary, we'll buy each other new tires," he said.

This is Amanda Cowles' third year drift racing, but her love of cars goes back much further.

"I've always been a motorhead, since day one," she said.

As a fan favorite, anytime she wasn't driving she was signing autographs or posing for photos.

"The little girls especially touch my heart," she said. "Being a girl out here, it feels like they can relate to me because there are only a handful of females who drift."

The Cowles have come to both Clear to Drift events and plan to return if any are held in the future. They love the course and the warm reception from the community.

"The track is excellent because it gives drivers the opportunity to go out of their comfort zone and reach top speeds," Amanda Cowles said. "And the people here have really embraced us."

Thomson resident Jessie Hicks and her 13-year-old son, Josh Hadden, ran into the Cowles at the Thomson High School football game Friday night. They recognized the drift racers from the June event and went out to see them drive Saturday.

Hadden even got to ride in a drift car for the first time with Amanda Cowles, his favorite driver and a role model.

"It was the coolest experience ever," he said after climbing out of the car and removing his helmet. "I wasn't scared. I felt like I was flying. I want to do it again."

Hicks said her family has attended both drift events because they love the atmosphere and the people.

"It's something you don't see much around Thomson," she said. "I'd heard about drifting before, but you just come out and get hooked on it."

Galbreath said he hopes to have another drift event in Thomson sometime in the spring or summer of 2012.

"All the drivers love it," Galbreath said. "The general consensus was that this one was great, just like the first one. They're looking forward to another one."

Web posted on Thursday, November 03, 2011

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