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Profile: Rudy Ibanez, Professional drift driver

Rudy Ibanez
Anthony Mair

You’re skidding sideways in a car at high speed — wait, let’s see if we can better capture this experience in cold print: YOU’RE SKIDDING (white-knuckled …) *SIIIDEWAAAAAYS* (… while giggling …) AT high speed (… and laughing the whole ride)!!!! That’s more like it! No bland explanation will suffice when you’re the passenger in a hot ’Vette on the custom track at Exotics Racing, gargling adrenaline as the car “drifts” — you know, power-skidding a souped-up car sideways through turns, accompanied by the shriek of anguished tires, as seen in the movies — and the whole thing feels fast, crazy and barely under control, and the only reason you can laugh is that Rudy Ibanez, professional badass driver, is at the wheel, providing the fast, the crazy and, most importantly, the control.


>>We slowed his roll just long enough to learn a little more.

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>>Around Exotics Racing, a joint out by the speedway where you pay to drive super cars (Ferrari, McLaren, Lamborghini) or ride with a drift pro like Rudy, they talk of him as if he is a benevolent madman: You never know what’ll happen when Rudy blasts onto the track! He concedes that his reputation is well deserved.


>>An average day on the job: 60-80 rides, often more. He might burn through three sets of tires in a day.


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>>Time of year makes a difference in drifting. In this heat, the track feels “greasy” and automotive performance sags “by 10 or 15 horsepower,” meaning Ibanez has to work harder to coax max thrills from a car. By contrast, he says, the asphalt is “grippier” in winter.


>>Most days he drives a truck to work.


>>Ibanez, 32, began racing go-carts at age 7 in San Diego. A “Navy brat," he kept racing wherever the family wound up stationed — most crucially in Japan during his teen years, where drift driving was a thing well before it blew up in America.

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>>But he first learned to drift in a place much different than Japan: frozen Lake Michigan. Rudy’s father was an ice fisherman. Rudy wasn’t. “But that’s how the drifting started. We'd go out into the middle of Lake Michigan in a beat-up F250, and he’d teach me to drift on the ice.”


>>Teenage drifting on twisty mountain roads in Japan: “At night it’s deserted,” he says. “You have guys at the top and bottom with flashlights, and you go at it, up and down, for seven hours.

“You learn your limits right away. You know that if you mess up, there’s a guardrail and then there’s a cliff.

“My father kind of looked the other way. ‘As long as you come back in one piece, and your mother doesn’t find out what you’re doing, I guess we’re okay.’”


>>Back in America in the early aughts, studying criminal justice at Cal State San Bernardino, he slid into the nascent drifting scene. “I was able to get onto the bandwagon before the scene blew up.” His Japan-tooled skills resulted in three national drifting championships.


>>As a favor to a racing colleague who worked in Hollywood, Ibanez skipped school one day to consult on a movie that involved drifting. (“The guys at Universal can’t drift cars,” his friend told him; drifting was still a new phenomenon outside of Asia.) “I wasn’t going to do it,” he recalls. “I had a paper due that day.” He did, though, and wound up as stunt coordinator for Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift. He’s worked on other films in the series, including the one filming now, as well as Iron Man films and the Dukes of Hazzard movie.


>>When you zoom onto the track, even for the umpteenth time in a day, you still have to respect that shiver of fear, he says, lest you get complacent. “When you throw the car sideways, you’re still sideways. If you look over, my hands are sweating, too.”


>>“Every time you go out it’s a different ride,” he says. Words of wisdom right there.

Scott Dickensheets is a Las Vegas writer and editor whose trenchant observations about local culture have graced the pages of publications nationwide.