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Instructor shines on drift circuit

Tyler McQuarrie makes a good living doing what he teaches racers not to do on a track.

“Yeah, it’s everything I teach them not do to,” said McQuarrie, 30, a high-performance driving instructor since 1997 at the Jim Russell Driving School in Sonoma, Calif.

“But at the same time, at the Russell school, we teach that it’s important to learn how to drive a car past its limit if you want to learn how to drive it to its limit.”

And as an open-wheel, sports-car and stock-car racer, he never intentionally slid his ride to where clouds of rubber created enough smoke to choke Smokey the Bear.

But in Formula Drift, the more you slide and burn rubber, the better you do.

McQuarrie, of Walnut Creek, Calif., is seventh in points heading into today’s competition at 6 p.m. at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The top 32 cars from Friday night’s late qualifying session advanced to today’s rounds of tandem, single-elimination runs.

In drifting, two drivers intentionally cause their vehicles to overpower their mandatory street-legal tires with excessive horsepower, which causes loss of traction resulting in a sideways slide, or drift.

The competitors, about half of them American and half Japanese, are skilled racers. They use shifting, acceleration, braking and steering to perform the best ballet on wheels.

“It’s similar to racing on oval tracks or road courses, because you still have to hit your marks (targets on the track surface),” said McQuarrie, who started drifting five years ago. “That’s what gives you a clean, fast lap.”

Twelve years ago, when drifting was in its infancy, McQuarrie was in Europe pursuing his ultimate goal of driving in Formula One. About two dozen each year get to achieve that.

When it did not pan out in Europe, he returned to California to compete and began working at the Russell school and racing everything — developmental IndyCars, USAC Sprint Cars, American Le Mans Series sports cars and NASCAR regional stock cars.

“I probably spent too much time trying to get into Formula One,” he said. “When I came back to the States, you needed to have money or a sponsor.”

When someone offered him the opportunity to drive a car, it usually wasn’t the best equipment.

That has changed this year for McQuarrie, after getting hired to drive for the Falken Tire team.

“That call was different,” he said. “I’m used to owners asking how much I could bring, and they wanted to know how much I wanted.”

Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at jwolf@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0247.

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