INTERVIEW: Vaughn Gittin Jr. on stepping back from drifting

2010 and 2020 Formula Drift champion Vaughn Gittin Jr. posted a video to Facebook on Thursday titled, “!!BIG NEWS!!”

“What’s up friends? For the past 20 years, competitive drift has been a huge part of my life. And with that, I’m announcing today is that we have decided to step back from competitive drifting for a little while,” he wrote. “This is not a retirement. This is not a goodbye. It’s see you later. I’m still going to be continuing to drift.”

Yes, tire-smoking American drifting icon Gittin Jr. is taking a step back from following the Formula Drift circuit to not only keep a close eye and coaching/mentor position with team driver Chelsea DeNofa, but to also explore other adventures and opportunities within the automotive world. The 2020 Formula Drift Champion and currently fifth in 2021 series points with only Saturday’s Formula D finale set to run at the “House of Drift,” otherwise known as Irwindale Speedway, Gittin Jr. spoke about the Facebook post and what it all means.

“The biggest thing for me is that I’ve got a lot of passions and a lot of opportunities that I’ve earned over the past 20 years with this crazy ride and chasing my dreams. Formula Drift has been a huge part of me and my success and what I’ve been doing. Right now at this juncture, time is my most valuable asset. I’ve got a lot of other ambitions and special projects that I want to put some focus towards.

“Right now and despite Formula Drift being in its heyday — it’s in a golden era right now — but for me and for my timeline it just makes sense to step back a little bit a little bit and re-assess and just focus on a couple other things for a little while. My mindset is right now that I will be back in Formula Drift in a couple years to compete once again. Whether that is just a few rounds a year or a complete championship effort.

“For me right now, I’m really enjoying off-road and I’m really enjoying Ultra4. We just wrapped up a national championship in that this year and that has been something that has been really, really challenging me and is something I want to put a bit more effort into. I’m also enjoying some of the off-road enthusiast adventures and outdoor events. You know I first started out in motocross and it has been fun to kind of come full circle back to the dirt.

“Chasing a championship in Formula Drift, or chasing a championship in any firm of racing, is a big effort. It’s a lot of energy, effort and time. I’ve been having to miss some really cool opportunities. I’ve missed some of the fun enthusiast events where I get to go and be with like-minded enthusiasts and car people and I want to spend a little bit of time doing that again instead of just putting so much effort and focus on chasing a championship that we’ve earned twice.

“It has been something on my mind for a couple of years now and I’m extremely grateful to be in a position where myself and my team and the amazing people around me have earned so many great opportunities. I want to see those opportunities through. And one thing that I didn’t mention is that we’ve now got some great future technologies and electrification projects that we’ve been working on with Ford, and for me as a X-IT nerd, that’s all something that really piques my interest and I think that we have an opportunity to shape and show what driving in the future is going to look like. For me, that’s a very important thing for the future generations. I want everybody to be excited about driving and I want to be able to inspire people to chase their passions. I think this is just another step in that direction for a little while.

“One thing for me that I’ve realized over the last 20 years is that we are the makers of our own destiny and we can do anything we want to put our effort, energy and belief into. For me, that understanding is a great freedom and I’m just following my heart and passion and that’s where we are at.”

Shortly after clinching the 2020 Formula Drift title, Gittin Jr. spoke about a reticence to keep chasing after competition titles and event wins. Something of a 20-year grind for a man who refers to himself as a “professional fun haver,” that is, in fact, exactly what Gittin Jr. now wants to go off and do.

“Yeah, and that’s it,” nodded Gittin. “I’m a competitor. I like to compete against the best and I obviously like to win. I think winning is a great token for effort and it’s a great thing for a team and as a driver you always want to be the best. In this new age of media and content, there are other ways to reach people and to inspire them beyond just constant competition. For me, my fulfillment comes from fun and inspiration and competing. I’m still going to compete and do all those things.

“By no means am I retiring. I’m just taking a step back from what has been my number one for 20 years. I will never stop drifting for as long as I physically can. I love it. It’s a passion. It’s fun and it ticks all of the boxes. Yeah, I am definitely on the continued path of living out being a Professional Fun-Haver. I hope that comes along with inspiring others to do the same.”

With RTR Motorsports wheelman DeNofa currently in second place with a very realistic shot and claiming the title at Irwindale on Saturday night, Gittin Jr. is absolutely focused on all things RTR both now and in the immediate, near and distant future. A throwback to the days when American stock car racers such as Richard Petty and Bobby Allison raced and looked after their competition programs, Gittin Jr. is all-in.

“Look, I really enjoy uplifting people and things. Whether it is a sport or other competitors or my teammate or my friends or my family, for me it is something really fulfilling,” he explains. “You know I’ve worked really hard to be in a position and to now have the ability to bring others up and I enjoy that and that’s what you’ve been seeing with Chelsea DeNofa. We all compliment each other. I’m just really grateful to have such amazing people around me and the opportunity to make each other better. I think that’s very similar to how guys like Richard Petty and Bobby Allison and Roger Penske have worked. It feels damn good and I’m just enjoying every bit of it.”

And if anything, Vaughn Gittin Jr. is absolutely a car guy.

“I was the guy who when he was four or five years-old could tell you the make and model of a car by its headlights and taillights. Driving has been such a big part of my life and so have cars and automobiles, in general. It’s no surprise that I have a car company and we build cars and I have a ton of wild builds that we drive and perform in. I look at that path and it has just been destiny for me. I’ve loved it like nothing else. For me, I just want that to continue for others. I’m one person and one experience, but if my experience and my passion can truckle down to generations, for me that is the ultimate and that’s what I want to continue doing.”

So what will 2022 look like for Vaughn Gittin Jr. and RTR company?

“2022 is going to look like I’m drawing a line in the sand with 25 events a year. It’s all awesome stuff. You’re going to see me starting off the year at King of Hammers racing Ultra4. I’ll then be chasing the championship in Ultra4. There will be a five event series in that. I will be participating in a lot of fun enthusiast-focused events and off-road adventures. I’ll also be focusing on some of the automotive festival events. I’ll be coming to some Formula Drift events to maybe do an exhibition and show off some special vehicles and to support my team. I’ve also got a lot of great content ideas. I want to grow my interface and interactions on YouTube with fans by curating fun content. I’ll also have a couple of special events that I want to put on with my good friend Cleetus McFarland and some other people that we have some ideas for one-off-type events with. Yeah, I’m not going to be sitting on the couch, that’s for sure.”

And so now it is on to the House of Drift.

“Yeah, I’m really excited about competing at Irwindale on Saturday,” said Gittin Jr. “Irwindale has been one of the greatest places of my career so far. It really was my launch pad when I won the USA versus Japan event in 2005 and I’ve also locked in two Formula Drift championships there. This weekend I’m going to say ‘See you later’ to that pace for a little while and I’d be lying to you if I haven’t gotten a little emotional watching these videos we’ve putting out and seeing fans’ comments and stuff. It’s good to feel those things and it’s going to be interesting and one thing is for sure: I’ll be leaving it all on the track at Irwindale this weekend. It’s my hope that Chelsea ends up wrapping up the championship and I can come in just behind him in second. Whatever happens in between is going to be damn exciting to watch!”