Behind the Wheel with Austin Kregle: Drifting in Denver
[dropcap style=”style1″]A[/dropcap]ustin Kregle, competing in his 1995 Nissan 240SX, set out to dominate the short-track oval of Colorado National Speedway in Denver, Colorado, June 12, during Round Two of the 2016 Southwest ProAm series hosed by VegasDrift.
Kregle was significantly more aggressive and noticeably more confident as he pushed his car to new limits that had not been seen during Round One of the series.
Looking very competitive, on his last practice run prior to qualifying runs Kregle crashed sustaining minimal damage. The decision was made to compete in his qualifying session however, a second crash rendered Kregle unable to qualify in the top 16.
Kregle scored points put towards his over all standing in the series and is currently tied for the 25th overall position.
CSJ: With the conclusion of Round Two we are half way through the Southwest ProAm series, when you set out to compete in all four rounds did you think you would have encountered the challenges you have?
Austin Kregle: I figured I would face some challenges, but not exactly the challenges I have come across up to this point, you just have to stay positive and do your best to overcome them. When you compete in this series you gain so much more experience and improve yourself as a driver.
It goes to show you cannot fully anticipate or predict what challenges you will face until they happen and if you want to be the best, you have to drive against the best.
I learned in Round One in Las Vegas that my car lacked grip and speed, so I decided to install new coilovers and rear traction rods for Round Two which I feel make a huge improvement in the cars handling.
Overall, I think I did very well even so it may not look like I did with how my car looks now, but with better handling I was able to drive more aggressive and keep my foot to the floor. I gained so much experience and confidence in my driving abilities driving on this track. I defiantly feel like I leveled up as a driver after this event.
CSJ: What was going through your mind the moment you realized you were going to crash into the wall?
Austin Kregle: The first time, I didn’t think I was going to crash. It felt like the rear of the car was close to the wall, but not that close and after I realized I hit the wall I reacted to regain control of the car and prevent anymore damage.
I was being confident with my driving and I decided last minute to make a third pass before qualifying started after I had told myself and my spotter, Bryan Young, that I was only going to make two final runs before practice was over. Of course, the unplanned run is when I crashed. I was very mad at myself and I remember thinking once I got control of the car, “why did I do that?!”
My next thought was that the car was destroyed just before qualifying and my day was done, but after I got back to the pits I realized I had been lucky and the suspension appeared to be pretty much ok.
During my qualifying run I was a little lower on the bank and I felt my car straighten and I lost the drift. I tried my best to correct and keep off the wall but it all happened too fast and it was too late.
I felt like the first crash affected my first qualifying run because I didn’t want to crash again. The second time I hit the wall was a harder impact and I knew for sure the car was damaged and needed to limp the car off to a safe place.
I knew I was done for the day and I immediately questioned why I was being so aggressive knowing I just put the car in the wall and I did not know how the car would handle. I should have been very conservative on my first run to feel the car out and make my second run count.
CSJ: Do you think you crashed because you pushed yourself or your car past its limits?
Austin Kregle: At first I was intimidated with driving on a banked track because I had never done that before Round Two, and then to drift along the wall on top of that. I quickly learned the track and became comfortable and quickly became confident drifting on the bank and driving up along the wall like the judges wanted to see.
I was pushing my car harder than I normally do. My foot was to the floor with the engine bouncing off the rev limiter at the top of third gear for most of the track. l feel like I was pushing myself more than I was pushing the limits of my car.
My driving was aggressive and I felt very confident. I knew I was doing so well and I had a good chance of qualifying near the top if my qualifying runs were as good as my runs in practice. I think I got a little ahead of myself being a little over confident, too aggressive, and pushing a little too hard.
CSJ: How bad is the damage to your car?
Austin Kregle: I kinda slid into the wall instead of hitting it head on and I was expecting the core support to be smashed as well as frame damage, but for hitting a wall the way I did the damage does not appear to be that bad.
The core support is slightly smashed behind the passenger headlight, but the frame appears to be straight – I’ll have that confirmed when it goes to the frame shop, – the right side suspension arms and wheels took a lot of the damage and force – which is good because that is easy to fix, – both motor mounts where ripped into two pieces and are destroyed – which surprised me,- the front and rear fenders can be replaced, if not repaired, and the rear quarter panel definitely needs to be pulled back into place.
As of now I plan on competing in the rest of the series. I just need to replace all damaged parts which takes time and money.
CSJ: Despite crashing and your day ending early, what was the best part of competing in Round Two?
Austin Kregle: Honestly, knowing how close I was getting to the wall and how well I was driving on that track felt so good! My biggest challenge at first was getting over the fear of drifting on the bank and riding the wall and I seemed to get over that fear pretty quick.
I struggled with the transition to that flat section of the track after the first bank most of the day because I kept having too much speed and when I would hit the transition the car would want to spin. I had to learn to slow the car down on the bank to prevent the car from over rotating when I transitioned on to the flat road. Once I got the hang of it, it was so much fun drifting on the bank and maintaining the drift for so long!
I remember telling Bryan over the radio after one of my runs how awesome it felt and how much fun the track was. It felt even better when my spotter, other spectators, and VegasDrift staff told me how awesome my driving looked, that I was getting super close to the wall and they knew I was going to qualify well that day.
It validated that I was doing well, my driving had style, and impact that got the spectators excited. Getting the crowd excited and putting on a show is what its all about!
CSJ: It sounds like Round Two was a lot of fun and has proved to be a significant event for you as a driver. How are you taking that momentum into Round Three and preparing for the Tucson track?
Austin Kregle: The main thing I learned in Round Two is how much of a mental game competitive drifting is. To prepare for round three I need to focus on clearing my head before qualifying, not freaking myself out and not let the pressure get to me.
I need to fix what is broken on the car before Round Three and make sure the car doesn’t have any severe damage. Since I destroyed all of my front control arms, I am considering upgrading to a better angle kit for more angle.
Also, I definitely want to take a trip to Tucson and get familiar with the track before Round Three because its been a few years since I last drove on it.
I would like to thank my spotter Bryan! He has been a big help this season when it comes to advice over the radio and helping in the pits, and especially for riding with me for the long 14-hour drive to Colorado.
Also my girlfriend Chelsea for flying to Colorado to support and cheer me on!
Lastly I would like to thank Danny at Efficiency Mechanical, the guys at 2F Performance and Dyno-Comp for the support this season!
Photography by Hans Marquez and Rebecca Nguyen