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Behind the Wheel with Andrew Schulte: From sliding in Sin City to drifting Denver

Editorial Note: This is the second in a series of articles following Andrew Schulte through the multi-state Formula Drift sanctioned 2016 Southwest ProAm series hosed by VegasDrift. Photography by Jose Pineda

[dropcap style=”style1″]A[/dropcap]ndrew Schulte earned 74 points in his 1993 Nissan 240SX during qualifying runs in the first round of the 2016 Southwest ProAm series, held May 1, in Las Vegas, Nevada. As a result, Andrew was one of the top 16 drivers, of the initial 32 entered in the competition, to proceed with tandem battles between one another.

CSJ: Andrew, you are behind the wheel on the grid before your first judged run, whats going through your mind?

Andrew Schulte: Honestly as little as possible is on my mind. The biggest challenge drivers face with qualifying runs is themselves, it’s easy to get into your head and overthink things and stress yourself out which can hinder your driving skills.

What I do is I come up to the line and go at it as if I’m just making another practice run. I drive the same way I’ve been comfortable driving all day. I think it’s better at that point to just do that rather than trying to change your line or add aggression that you hadn’t done during practice. That stuff should be done in practice when it doesn’t matter.

_DSC0675CSJ: Last year during round one you had qualified in the top 16 and again this year, your method seems effective. How do your thoughts change as you switch from competing with yourself to preparing for each battle against another driver? 

Andrew Schulte: I knew the entire 32 car field was very competitive and everyone had great runs. I was not satisfied with my run and I knew that I could’ve made a better run, so I was so relieved to find out I had qualified, but because it was in sixteenth position, my first battle was up against the number one qualifier.

I was just thinking about how I know I have the skill to hang with anyone of these guys and just because I qualified last doesn’t mean I can’t be competitive. I told myself that I was going to give this guy a run for his money and not make it easy for him.

That’s exactly what I did.

_DSC0925He had the higher qualifying position so he lead the first run. I had a slight bobble when I initiated behind him but for the rest of the run I matched his line and transitions really well and kept good proximity.

I had a solid lead after we switched places and I put the car where the judges wanted to see it, I heard Griffin on the radio telling me that I was pulling a gap on him.

Pulling up to the finishing box I was optimistic and expecting a “one more time” from the judges. Things didn’t go in my favor however and my bobble on my follow run was weighed heavier than any gap I pulled when I was in front so I got knocked out.

I’m not upset with the results because the entire field was very competitive, I know I can drive better than that and I expect to place higher in round two. I felt super confident during practice but I was not satisfied with the two runs I made during qualifying.

This event taught me what I am going up against this year and also what I need to do to succeed in competition.

CSJ: Now that you have seen the other drivers competing and have gone head to head with them, how do you feel about the competition this year? 

Andrew Schulte: Everyone is super good this year! To give some perspective on that, there were 32 cars at the event and every single one of them put a score on the bored for qualifying.

In past years I’ve seen a hand full of cars spin on both runs and not pose a threat. There are also a couple drivers who earned their Pro2 license last year but decided to do one more season of ProAm before moving up so having those guys around makes things a lot more challenging.

_DSC0719CSJ: This was also your first time working with a spotter. With Griffin Bode as your eyes outside of the car during round one, how did he effect your performance on the track?

Andrew Schulte: I never really believed people when they stressed the importance of having a spotter but after working with Griffin I realized that having a spotter is a must!

We had radio communication between him in the stands and me with a headset in my helmet so he was able to tell me how my line looked right after each run as well as tell me about how the other competitors are looking.

Having this information relayed in real time was a huge help. Every time I would partner up with another car for a practice run Griffin would tell me how they have been looking so I know if I should apply pressure or keep my distance in preparation for them to spin out.

Griffin also helped me by taking care of tire changes and other vehicle maintenance for me so I could cool off and stay focused.

There really is a huge importance to the driver staying in the correct mindset so I can focus on what I’m doing on track and not getting tired and distracted by doing a lot of vehicle work.

I can’t thank Griffin enough, he did an awesome job and I want to work with him for as many events as he can make it to!

_DSC0846CSJ: In our last interview before this event, your had just suffered a collision with another Arizona driver, Chris Soehren, during Import Face Off. Having made quick repairs, how did the car preform during round one? 

Andrew Schulte: The car felt really good. I am so happy that my car has given me minimal issues so far in it’s life with the V8. I hope that trend continues! My Achilles 123S tires offered plenty of grip and lasted a decent amount of time before needing to be changed.

I am making a couple small safety changes to help the car get through tech inspection, but I have no plans for any performance changes. I feel comfortable in my car the way it is and I feel that it is competitive so I’d rather not have to adapt to any changes that aren’t necessary.

I am however at the point where I can drive my car to it’s limit and I find myself needing more power to drive even harder. Between this season and next I plan on adding some power for sure.

_DSC0922CSJ: In the last interview you had also mentioned you had never been to the Vegas track before, having completed round one, do you think being on an unfamiliar course layout made driving in the event more challenging?

Andrew Schulte: There is something to be said about driving on your home track so much that you can almost drive it by muscle memory alone, and you know, I was nervous coming into Vegas because I had not driven the track before and I know that it is completely bordered by walls. But the Vegas course is not too challenging and after I got a couple of practice runs in I started to feel really comfortable with it.

The way they set up the course leads you into the walls at a very manageable approach angle so you can get nice and cozy with the wall with minimal worry about smashing into it. I actually had a lot of fun on the course!

Other than learning the new layout, I didn’t really view anything throughout the day as a challenge beyond the normal task of drifting.

_DSC0899CSJ: We talked about the competition and challenges you faced in round one, what were some of the highlights? 

Andrew Schulte: One of the highlights of the day included meeting a few people who follow me on social media but have never met me. It’s a really cool feeling when someone you’ve never seen before comes up to you and starts telling you what a big fan they are!

Not to sound egotistical but being important enough to someone where they make an effort to meet and talk with me because they like what I do makes me feel really special, and I like being some sort of an influence on someone.

Another highlight was getting some solid practice runs with fellow driver Blake Olson. Blake is a driver who earned his Pro2 license last year so getting to drive with him is a great way to gauge the level of driving required to make it to the next level, and I was able to drive just fine behind him so I was happy with that!

_DSC0714CSJ: How are preparing for the next round of the series? 

Andrew Schulte: The next round will be in Colorado at another track that I’ve never driven at before.  I am just trying not to make a big deal of it and remind myself that drifting is my passion and I am doing this to have fun first and foremost.

I truly love and appreciate all the support I get from both the community, and my sponsors. I care so much about it and having people around me in the community who are just as passionate as I am or even people who just support me but don’t necessarily share my same level of passion means so much to me. I have such a huge respect for all the well known Phoenix drivers who inspired me when I first started drifting in 2011 and want to thank everyone in the community who has befriended me since I started 4 years ago.

As long as I can have my car and get on my friends doors on track, I couldn’t be happier. I love just blowing off some steam with friends at the track, I need that to not let myself get too serious,  so I will be out at Wild Horse Pass on May 14.

I also Want to thank the companies who I am involved with and/or sponsored by. Lastplace Co. Elevens’ Paint & Fiber, 2F Performance, Achilles Radial, and Mishimoto.

Round two of the multi-state Formula Drift sanctioned 2016 Southwest ProAm series hosed by VegasDrift is scheduled for June 12 at the Colorado National Speedway in Denver. 

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