I have loved cars since I was a child. I would stand by, watching my father piece together vintage automobiles and stand with him at the side of the track as they circled, just escaping from the ordinary weekend. Those memories are still with me.
When the opportunity to attend SEMA as a photographer presented itself, I could hardly wait and jumped at the chance.
Arriving at the track in Las Vegas for the North American Festival of Speed, it brought back memories and fueled new excitement. I could scarcely wrap my head around the fact that I, simple me, was standing on the side lines of the track with Porsche race cars zooming by and to be honest, I was head over heels in LOVE! It was that feeling of a long lost love that you never forget, the taste of your favorite ice cream that only comes out once a year, the absolute passion of something that is difficult to put into words. Luckily, those that also share my passion understand.
The air is filled with the faint scent of motor oil and purring of engines. From the moment I arrived as part of the MyLife@Speed crew, I was whisked into the whirlwind that is the track life. Before my mind had a chance to acclimate with all the shiny things that now surrounded me, I was introduced to Odi, a driver of the most colorful car waiting to hit the track. I was assured he would be both experienced and safe for me to do a ride along.
As I waited, it wasn’t long before I noticed a fellow observer and she seemed to be a little more familiar with this “track ” world than I was, so I asked her if she knew if the drivers were racing or just timing runs. She chuckled a bit, which was when I realized that I might be a bit out of my depth and she might be more than a simple observer. She explained that the drivers I was watching were “drifting.” I pressed for an explanation, which she was happy to provide. I only wish I had thought to bring a tape recorder. She spoke rapidly and so passionately about the sport of drifting, her enthusiasm was infectious.
She explained that the drivers are looking to hit “points” as they race. They are judged in a variety of ways. They may be judged on artistry, how artistically they can place their vehicle on the marked points using line, angle, speed, amount of smoke, and show factor. While I have always found the freedom and symmetry of racing beautiful, I had never known that artistic driving was, in fact, a competition. It made complete sense to me. Controlling the power of a moving vehicle at high speed requires a particular grace and artistry that is unrivaled in other sports.
My personal Drift consultant, who I soon came to know as Amy, explained that Drift can also be judged in tandem. In this competition, two drivers race one in front of the other. The lead vehicles actions are mirrored by a second vehicle attempting to pass while still hitting marked points on the track. The vehicles switch places half way through and are judged and placed in brackets until all but one car and driver are eliminated. It was at this point, that the rather superfluous number of zip ties I had witnessed holding cars together made sense! It was also the moment that I realized that Amy was most certainly more than a casual observer of Drifting. Intrigued, I asked her if she raced. She smiled as she gave her answer: No. “Then how…?” I asked. She explained that she was a Spotter, the eyes and ears of the driver. Her job is to sit near the judges, headset in place, and direct the driver towards the points he cannot see also relaying comments judges made.
I was hooked.
Prior to this point, I had no idea that the drivers were unable to do it all themselves. The fact that they depended on someone to guide them in the right direction, to ensure success, fascinated me. I was even more intrigued when I asked Amy to spell her last name for me and she simply pointed to the car Odi was driving. The ring on her left hand confirmed my suspicions. Amy was not only Odi’s spotter but his wife.
Everyday life, at times, can be enough to spark a battle that threatens the harmony of a marriage. So, I was curious to see Amy and Odi Bakchis work together, to discover their secret. How is it that they manage to consistently be two halves of (a very successful) whole? How is it that, while guiding that vehicle around rough corners with the grace and precision of an artist, chancing the tenuous relationship between car and race track, does Odi manage to have complete faith in someone he cannot see, someone whose eyes are his one sure guide?
Amy and Odi have raced together for two and a half years and even though they reside in California, they frequently travel now that Odi is racing Formula D. They seem to work together seamlessly. I never expected to find myself contemplating the true essence of trust and marriage on a Las Vegas racetrack, but here I was – witnessing not only a sport, but a team.
So when Amy asked if I was ready to ride, there was no hesitation in my answer: “Yes, please!”
Amy worked with precision, placing her helmet on my head and fastening it under my chin. She placed me in the passenger seat and tightened the harness to fit snugly over my shoulders. She instructed me to hold onto the seat or the harness straps but never the door. She gave me warning that this particular car, a Nissan 240X, would be louder than most because it has a Corvette engine. She smiled and waved, over the growling of the motor, and we were off. I half expected to be propelled forward immediately, head bobbling like those strange little bobble head dolls, that sit on the dashboards of cars. But there was no roller coaster, no bobble head phenomenon as we crept slowly forward to meet the other drivers at the line. I leaned back into the leather, the smell of rubber surrounding me and the heat inside the car intensifying my excitement.
I caught a glimpse of Eric Gearhart, another of our MyLife@Speed photographers, racing to capture pictures of my “first time” and that’s when it hit me: I was in a Drift Car. I was, in mere seconds, going to be racing and drifting down a track with a driver that others only dream of riding with. I was no longer on the sidelines, watching a Saturday crowd of weekend racers. I was HERE – about to live on the edge!
As the flagger gave us the thumbs up and I felt the engine accelerate, a huge smile came across my face and I realized that I love my life at speed!
I braced myself for the first corner, again expecting plenty of jerking and bobble head action but was surprised by the smooth and controlled turn. Just as I had began to relax, our back end spun to the side but just before I had a chance to panic, Odi spun the wheel with seemingly effortless precision and we were back to gliding, the car placing perfectly on point. The breeze whistling through the door cooled my face as I watched the driver hunt for point after point, meeting each one adeptly. Drifting, it turns out, is the perfect combination of speed and agility, raw adrenaline and refined elegance. Once again, I was hooked and was so thankful to have such an amazing opportunity. I knew at that moment, I truly was one of the lucky ones.
The ride ended much too soon and before I could catch my breath or erase the ear to ear grin and replace it with a more sophisticated smile, Amy was at the door, helping me remove my helmet and hugging her husband. As we walked, I overheard conversation about the need to switch out the tires, reminding me that these two were truly a team in every sense of the word. I learned that in Drifting, tires are swapped out every three runs, at most.
I was brimming with excitement, full of new knowledge and the adrenaline high of my race. I wanted nothing more than to thank Amy and Odi and be given the opportunity to continue to learn. I raced back to the MyLife@Speed truck and flung open my suitcase, ravaging the contents as I searched for my last clean women’s shirt and beanie with MyLife@Speed logos.
I hurried back to Amy and found myself in the midst of a media frenzy as photographers and reporters jockeyed for a word or picture of the freshly announced winners. I reached through the burgeoning crowd and slipped the items into her hand. She paused and smiled, showed them to her husband as they embraced, oblivious of the cameras and attention that surrounded them. There, in the midst of frenzied fans and voracious media, they celebrated with knowing smiles and an easy adoration, built from the trust it requires to let someone hold a part of your dream in their hands and I smiled too.
I came to Las Vegas to photograph cars and to re-live the joy I felt as a child watching my father and his cars. What I learned was that racing is more than just fast cars and bright colors, motor oil and squealing rubber. It is about all of those things, but it is also skill and grace, adrenaline and focus. It is raw speed and intricate artistry. It is trust. Isn’t that the truth about life? That we trust those closest to us, to support us and guide us, as we seek our dreams? I know “trust’ is the truth for Amy and Odi Bakchis.
I know that I too trusted someone who took the time to teach me and now I’m hooked on speed, hooked on racing, hooked on the feeling of freedom that comes with the smell of motor oil and burning rubber. Thank you Amy and Odi Bakchis. You exemplify My Life at Speed!
This is Odi’s first year on the Formula Drift circuit. Keep up to speed with him at: http://bakchis.wordpress.com/.
Odi top 16 at Formula Drift Monroe
Photos by Eric Gearhart
Co-written with Kelly Wells