Lisa McDonald sits down with the 'driftchick' to see what's in store for the 2020 season of Formula Drift USA.
In the world of competitive drifting, drivers are constantly pushing themselves, their cars and their abilities to make it to that coveted podium spot. One driver who stands out is Kelsey Rowlings. Kelsey has been competing in Formula Drift USA as a Pro 2 driver since 2015. Her one of a kind Nissan 240sx stands out in the crowd, with that colorful Voodoo Ride wrap! She also has the skills to push for those top spots on the podium at each and every event.
Her current Nissan 240sx S14 shell, started as a basic build that had to be modified to make it legal for the Formula Drift series. Her team spent six months building the car, which was almost completely custom made to her specifications. The cars engine, a Ford 5.0 Aluminator, makes her car one of the most unique builds in the series, because it had never been put into an S chassis before. The car has had its fair share of issues, and for the past few years the power steering pump has caused major headaches for her and the team. The lack of space in the engine bay has made the power steering issue problematic. (the pumps were blowing up) Because it is unique to this build, no one really had an answer on how to permanently fix this issue. Her team worked diligently to come up with a solution. Last season in 2019, she believes that solution was found. So now, she can focus on the upcoming 2020 season. Kelsey is hard at work dialing in her car to be as competitive as she can this year. This should make for a very exciting season, not just for her fans, but for all of the grass roots supporters in the Orlando drift scene.
But becoming a fierce competitor did not just happen overnight.
What some people may not know about Kelsey is that she actually grew up as a musician and horseback rider. She went to the University of Florida as a music performance major, with the bassoon as her instrument of choice. During her college years she switched her major to English, but still enjoys music and does miss performing. She is also an avid horseback rider and has been riding for over 20 years. Up until very recently, she worked, full-time at a horse farm, caring for horses and doing physical tasks on the farm.
Kelsey never had a big interest in motorsports.
That all changed when she flipped on her computer and started watching YouTube videos on the sport of drifting. Her adventures in drifting began in 2008, but her excitement piqued when she attended Formula Drift at Road Atlanta, in 2009.
Like many other drivers, Kelsey started drifting in a stock ’97 Nissan 240sx with an open diff! Not knowing any better, she hit the track. She later said in her own words, she was terrible! But aren’t we all when we first start drifting? In the beginning, the comments were pretty harsh. She remained thankful for her friends, family and fans, and because of them she did not shy away from the sport. She was determined to improve her driving.
Her partners give her the support that she needs, but Kelsey said the most support comes from her dad. He comes to all of her events and is ready with tools out, whenever there is an issue with the car. She said she would not be where she is today, without her dad.
Kelsey loves to offer friendly advice, and help support grassroots drifting. She lends a hand in Orlando for ‘Learners Day’, where first time drivers come to the track and learn the sport (or is it art?) of drifting. She gives first hand advice as an instructor, and helps new drivers overcome obstacles that many of us have to ‘unlearn’ when it comes to driving techniques. New drivers, often times, are not even sure what kind of car would be the best one for them to start with.
“Although I think the 240sx is a great car to start with, they are getting harder to find at a reasonable price, so I usually recommend a 350z, E36, or E46 Chassis,” said Rowlings.
Kelsey has also started a ‘girls only’ drift clinic, which resonates strongly with women who feel intimated while trying to dip their toes into the male-dominated sport. Kelsey said when she first started, one of the toughest parts in improving was moving past the terrible comments from men who didn’t accept her presence at the track. Although that may not be everyones experience, and a good majority of the guys are very accepting of female drivers, she wanted to offer an environment of comfort for women who really want to give it a shot without that fear of intimidation.
One of Kelsey’s favorite things about drifting is the ride-alongs. Giving people that experience, especially if it is their first times doing it, gives her gratification in knowing she has put a smile on someone’s face and it is a motivation for her on a personal level, but continuing to practice can be challenging for her. She’s only able to get on the track once or twice a month, so she relies on watching other people drift and heeds advice of those with more experience, even though she has been drifting for 11 years. It is a constant evolution of knowledge and experience.
Kelsey feels as if she is waiting to be discovered, and each year has been a slow progression in this crazy sport of drifting. She is still learning how to approach and secure new partners, but very much considers herself to still be a grassroots drifter. Kelsey spends a lot of her time and money, just to be able to compete at the professional level.
Over the next five years, Kelsey said she hopes to be moving up to the main roster of Formula Drift. For this 2020 season, she is looking forward to finally having a car with reliable steering. With confidence in the car, comes confidence in her driving, and now she believes nothing will hold her back.
“My journey has been a long, roller coaster ride. There have been so many great moments and so many terrible ones that have led me to where I am now,” said Rowlings. “Each one has taught me so many different things about life in general, so I wouldn't change a thing.”
And neither would the rest of us. Kelsey said she is looking forward to improving and discovering the journey of where drifting will take her.
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