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Behind the Wheel with Andrew Schulte: Spirit of the Streets

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

[dropcap style=”style1″]E[/dropcap]arning a third place finish, Andrew Schulte took hold of his first podium finish of the season in his 1993 Nissan 240SX during Round Three of the 2016 Southwest Drift series hosted by VegasDrift.

During the first round of the series, Schulte qualified in 16th position resulting in a head-to-head battle against the number one qualifier. Calm and confident, Schulte was not going to give him and easy victory.

_DSC6605Schulte qualified in 14th position during Round Two of the series, earning a battle against the events number three qualifier and was challenged to a “one-more-time” run.

Drifting in his home state, Schulte managed to qualify in second position with 90 points during Round Three of the series, held August 27 at the Musselman Honda Circuit in Tucson, Arizona.

The high qualifying position led to Schultes first battle with fellow Arizona drifter, DJ Lloyd. Victorious after a one-more-time battle, Schulte progressed in the bracket and battled Blake Olsen, who ceded the win to Schulte after suffering mechanical issues. Having made it into the final four, Schulte battled Matt Haugen but was defeated by his thousand-horsepower Genesis. The loss moved Schulte into a battle with Mike Burns for the third place podium finish.

With the completion of Round Three, Schulte holds seventh place and has earned 97 points in the series.

CSJ: With Round Three held in Tucson and having more Arizona drivers in attendance, did you go into this event feeling like you had a “home field advantage?”

schulteAndrew Schulte: To be honest, I do. I know this track well where many of the other drivers were new to it. I also had a lot more people here supporting me for this round which helps the mentality and kills some of the stress for sure, but it still didn’t feel like just a practice event. All the structure, organization, and other Pro-Am drivers kept me from forgetting that we were in a competitive setting and even on a familiar track, the road up to the podium still required my best driving skills.

CSJ: You have qualified in the top 16 at each round of the series with Round Three being your highest. What was the qualifying process like for you at this event, how was it different from Rounds One and Two?

_DSC7148Andrew Schulte: My confidence was a bit higher than usual for Round Three because I’ve driven on the Tucson track many times, so it was familiar and I felt comfortable on it, whereas the tracks used in the first two rounds of the series were completely new to me.

After I made my first pass during qualifying, I knew I would get into the top 16 without a problem as soon as I crossed the finish line because I knew I made a very clean and smooth run, but I didn’t know exactly how high the score would be.

When I was back on grid I heard the announcer say, “ladies and gentleman we have a new qualifying leader with a score of 90.” To be sure, I asked my spotter, Griffin Bode, to clarify and he came back on the radio confirming it. I was so excited, I felt like I could take on anyone.

The Top 16 –

CSJ: How were you able to carry that momentum into your first battle was against fellow Arizona driver, DJ Lloyd?

A_DSC7530ndrew Schulte: In battles, high qualifiers go against lower ones, and it typically gives the advantage to the better qualifying driver, however this was not the case for me. DJ is a very aggressive and capable driver who only scored low in qualifying due to a technicality with a debeaded tire, so I knew I still had my work cut out for me when facing him.

That said, I was still really excited to battle him because we have driven together before, I love driving with him, and I know his style so I was able to better prepare for the battle.

Although he’s my friend, I did feel as though I had a slight advantage because DJ’s car is notoriously unreliable and he was struggling with some serious clutch and transmission issues just prior to our battle. I hated seeing something bad happen to his car, but I also wanted a fair battle for both of us. I had to treat this instance with a competitive mindset and try to drive my hardest while trying to use his car issues to my advantage.

_DSC7554His car was making some seriously terrible noises and he drove that car as hard as ever. If anyone else was driving, they probably would have passed on the battle to protect their car from further damage, especially when DJ and I got a one-more-time battle.

I was excited because I love driving with DJ and I still felt confident that I could pull the win out of our one more time battle, but I also felt nervous for him and I was hoping that his car would make it out of the battle alive. His car held up and he drove it hard, but a couple mistakes on his part paired with consistently clean runs on my part gave me the win and I was on to the top eight for the first time this season.

When I won that battle I was thinking to myself, “that’s it Andrew, you can officially beat people who you looked up to when getting into drifting.” From that moment on, no competitor intimidated me.

The Great Eight – 

CSJ: In a previous interview you had mentioned one of your Round One highlights was driving alongside Blake Olsen during practice. What was it like going head-to-head with him in the top eight?

_DSC7274Andrew Schulte: Blake is a great driver, I have drifted with him before and I know that I can drive just as well so intimidation was not a factor in my battle with him.

Going into it, I felt confident because Blake was having problem-after-problem with his car all day long and I felt like he probably wasn’t in the right mindset for the battle. Again, I don’t wish ill upon any competitor or their machine, but he was struggling, and I knew it so it gave me confidence. Another confidence boost came from knowing I had qualified higher than Blake, so I got to lead first.

When we started our run I tuned him out and I just focused on running my qualifying line.

About half way through the course I was able to look back for a moment and I didn’t see him behind me. I had no idea he had gone off track and became inactive, but in the back of my head I was excited that I had such a huge advantage. As I crossed the finish line I saw him cutting the course back to the hot pits and I knew that something had gone wrong with his car.

I pulled to the line for my follow run and the starter told me Blake’s car was broken and is not able to be repaired in time. I felt bad for Blake but at the same time I was excited to be advancing onto the final 4. I took the optional parade lap without him chasing just to get another extra little practice session before my next battle.

The Final Four – 

CSJ: Your previous battles were against familiar drivers with power levels similar to your own, what was it like facing fellow Arizona driver, Matt Haugen, in the final four?  

_DSC7884Andrew Schulte: Going into battle with Matt, I knew I was at the disadvantage, though I still wasn’t intimidated – I knew that I would lead because I qualified higher but I also knew that his car is far more capable than mine with twice as much power so he can literally run away from me when he is in front, and I knew that if I lost to him, I would still have a shot at the podium in a battle for third place.

I just ran as hard as my car would let me on my lead run and sure enough, he stuck right with me. The only thing I could hope for was a major mistake on his part in his lead run, which didn’t happen. He pulled a few car lengths on me and was handed the win.

I was excited for him that he was going to battle for his first win of the season and I shifted my focus to my third place battle.

The battle for Third – 

CSJ: Your first battle was against an Arizona driver you look up to and your final battle of the night for third place was against Mike Burns, another Arizona driver you look up to. What was that experience like?

Andrew Schulte: _DSC8013When I learned my final battle would be with Mike I was beyond excited. I’ve always looked up to Mike and he is one of my inspirations to start drifting in the first place. I was stoked for an opportunity to face him in a competitive setting.

My driving in the final battle definitely showed how bad I wanted to win. I was 100-percent willing to risk totaling my car for the sake of giving the judges a clear image that I was the winner. I laid down a solid lead run and then drove the most aggressively I ever have in the chase position.

We have driven with each other before so I don’t think it gave either one of us an advantage, but I know Mike loves big angle so I was hoped that driving style of his would give me a lot of opportunities in the follow position to close the gap and stay tight with him.

_DSC7993On my chase run I had what I think, was the entry of the night, as I initiated right next to him. I was so close I was convinced that I was going to hit him and he could have reached out his window and touched my hood if he wanted to. I stayed right on his door for almost the entire run and finished right there with him. I knew at the end of the battle that I had way more proximity and I was optimistic that I would be given the win, which I was.

CSJ: Prior to the start of the event, you had mentioned your goal was to win a battle and you went on to earn a podium finish – how does it feel to not only have met your goal, but surpassed it as well?

Andrew Schulte: I completely blew myself away, and I took all the momentum I had from reaching my goal and ran as far as I could with it.  The atmosphere was incredible with so many of my local friends there and my car was performing so well. It almost felt surreal as I was given the win in my battle for third place. I was yelling and screaming in my car and smacking my dash as I was driving back around to my team in the hot pits.

CSJ: Before Round Three, had consistently qualifying in a lower position and not winning any battles discouraged you from competitive driving?

_DSC6462Andrew Schulte: Honestly, it did slightly.

CSJ: How have you been able to overcome that?

Andrew Schulte: I just kept thinking that the season is not over and realizing all the factors keeping me from advancing further, were all things that I could overcome and in round 3, I did just that.

CSJ: Do you think getting such a huge win has effected your attitude or outlook on the series?

Andrew Schulte: I’ve always thought of the series in a positive light, but experiencing going through an entire event all the way to the podium has really made me appreciate exactly how much effort VegasDrift puts into making sure their series does the best possible job in preparing us for the next level.

The traveling, the different courses, the organization, the professionalism, the structure, the competitors, and right down to the award ceremonies and “bottles of champagne” Every little touch really adds to the experience and it’s all so much fun.

CSJ: How has competing in this series effected you’re driving skill or style?

_DSC7024Andrew Schulte: I’d say the biggest thing that I have learned or changed would be starting to adapt my driving line to one that a judge wants to see instead of one I might naturally run. I’m going into each event now with a clear image of what the entire round will look like depending on where I qualify.

The guys competing in the series bring everything to the table, every round and driving against this caliber of competition at these events has also made me a more confident driver.

I have also learned just how quick tables can turn, and an underdog in one round can suddenly find himself as the guy to beat in the next.

CSJ: How has competing in this series changed your views of competitive driving or Formula Drift?

_DSC7156Andrew Schulte:
The feeling of just drifting and having a great time with my friends is still what I love and want to get out of this hobby, but experiencing the feeling of battling through competition to a podium finish was definitely a feeling I would love to feel again.

It’s hard to say what the future holds so obviously anything can happen, but it’s really all going to come down to resources and financing to determine whether I can, or will, go farther than Pro-Am levels of competition. Currently without significant financial benefits, I couldn’t even come close to affording to compete at the professional level.

CSJ: With round four on the horizon, what are your expectations?

Andrew Schulte: I just plan to do the best that I can and drive my car as well as it will allow me to drive it. I want to see the podium again for sure so I am absolutely going to try to get up there!

CSJ: Shout outs and thank yous’?

_DSC6168Andrew Schulte: My crew chief, spotter, and great friend, Griffin Bode, deserves more credit than I can express. He takes great pride in the responsibilities that come with spotting for me and is passionate about helping with vehicle prep and maintenance at the events. He works extremely hard and there is no doubt he played a crucial role in getting me up on that podium. I might be the one standing up there, but I want everyone to know that this is a podium finish for the both of us.

My friends at the track are seriously the best I could hope for. The thing I love about Arizona drifting is the sense of community. All the drivers and friends are always looking for ways to offer help to each other. It felt so amazing having so many people helping me and supporting me on track, especially as we got down to the final battles.

_DSC6241Special thanks and shout outs to Griffin, Dustin, Dustin, Dave, Josh, Chasen, Scott, Chelsea, Donnie, Kieth, Mike, DJ, Bryan, Austin, Hans, Nicole, and anyone I may have left out. Also, thank you to everyone who follows me on social media and supports me that way.

All of the support I receive from my sponsors makes this possible, period. I appreciate the confidence they have in me and the support they give me. I want to thank Lastplace Company, Achilles Tire, Mishimoto, 2F Performance, Elevens’ Paint, Very Rare, and Hyer Quality Detail / Ceramic Pro AZ.

Sharing the excitement of my first podium finish with so many people and especially with my friends on track all hugging and piling on me just made it feel that much sweeter. All of you guys are appreciated so much.

Being in a champagne shower was one of the best experiences of my life so far. I want to note that driving two-hours home at midnight with matted hair and sticky skin from the champagne was one of the most uncomfortable drives of my life. But I didn’t stop smiling the entire way!

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