New Zealand’s number one female drift driver, Jodie Verhulst, takes our editor, Jenny, out for a spin.

WORDS TALIA WALDEGRAVE / PHOTOS JAHL MARSHALL

Jodie Ver­hul­st is the num­ber one female drift car dri­ver in the coun­try, and watch­ing her dri­ve is phe­nom­e­nal. Her arms and legs move at high­speed, as if she is per­form­ing a type of dance, but her demeanour is cool, calm and col­lect­ed.

It’s real­ly just mus­cle mem­o­ry, and I don’t even know what I’m doing half the time.”

Jodie might be one of the nicest peo­ple I think I’ve ever met. My edi­tor says, “You look quite alike, don’t you think?” Jodie nods, smil­ing polite­ly, but all I can do is blush. I cer­tain­ly don’t see a sim­i­lar­i­ty but am hum­bled to be in any way likened to this beau­ty.

It is the hottest day of sum­mer and we are all the drift­ing finals at ASB Bay­park Are­na. It is an absolute assault on the sens­es. Sti­fling heat is inten­si­fied by the com­pul­so­ry wear­ing of closed-toe shoes. The incred­i­ble noise is like noth­ing I’ve ever heard; pierc­ing and shock­ing, it sends vibra­tions rat­tling through my entire body. The smell is an over­whelm­ing com­bi­na­tion of high-octane fuel and burn­ing rub­ber. Cars come at me from every direc­tion, and it pays to be on high alert. It’s ridicu­lous­ly excit­ing. In the cen­tre of it all sits Jodie, calm­ly remov­ing her hel­met to be inter­viewed, after tak­ing the edi­tor scream­ing round the track for a ‘hot lap’ before the finals.

Jodie Verhulst, Tauranga, drift, female drift driverYou’d be for­given if, like me, you were not entire­ly sure what drift­ing is. Don’t tell any of the lads in my life because, along with the pho­tog­ra­pher from this shoot, they’ll either scoff at or dis­own me for admit­ting my igno­rance. I had to ‘Google’ drift­ing and take a quick lesson on YouTube to upskill myself in the field. Drift­ing is a tech­nique in which a dri­ver delib­er­ate­ly over­steers, los­ing trac­tion while main­tain­ing con­trol. It’s all about show­man­ship, angle, speed and line.

Drift­ing is like bal­let, but with cars. You’re mim­ic­k­ing the car in front and get­ting as close as you can with­out touch­ing. There are two laps, one when you’re the lead­er, one when you’re the chaser. It’s a dif­fi­cult sport to get your head around in the begin­ning, because instead of brak­ing into the cor­ner, you’re actu­al­ly accel­er­at­ing.

Although we live in a time when there’s a bal­ance between the sex­es, when we are no longer unequal, you def­i­nite­ly feel a bit of pres­sure being one of the only females.

It’s a shame, because so many are inter­est­ed, but you real­ly have to know a male who is involved. My broth­er intro­duced me to cars, and my part­ner, Drew, intro­duced me to drift­ing. It was all down­hill from there.

The respon­se I got at Bay­park blew me away. I had wom­en com­ing up to me, say­ing how much they love my dri­ving: even the old­er ones. I’ll often catch the shy ones out of the cor­ner of my eye and I love to be able to give them some­thing real to look up to oth­er than Hollywood.That, espe­cial­ly, is a high­light with what I do. Although it’s just a by-pro­duct of my dri­ving, it makes me real­ly hap­py; it’s real­ly cool.”

Jodie Verhulst, Tauranga, drift, female drift driver

Jodie’s part­ner, Drew, is the oth­er half of her team. and togeth­er they live and breath all things drift­ing. I com­ment that she is very brave, work­ing so close­ly with her part­ner in such an intense envi­ron­ment.

Drew has been an incred­i­ble men­tor and sup­ports me one hun­dred per­cent. I’m very lucky that he’s unfazed by hav­ing his part­ner com­pet­ing alongside him. One day soon, I’d love to go head-to-head with him in com­pe­ti­tion.”

This leads me to ques­tion the safe­ty of drift­ing. When watch­ing the sport, I found myself on edge of my seat for the dura­tion of each race.

The cars are get­ting more pow­er­ful and faster, so risk increas­es, but safe­ty is always at the fore­front of our minds. We have a cage, har­ness­es, and hel­mets, so com­pared to oth­er sports, it’s quite safe. If you’re not get­ting that feel­ing of nerves, that feel­ing of adren­a­line, and if you’re not scar­ing your­self, then you’re not push­ing hard enough. It’s very pow­er­ful and you def­i­nite­ly work up a good sweat. I spend most of my day here drenched. Get­ting into the car is like step­ping into a sauna.”

Jodie Verhulst, Tauranga, drift, female drift driver, Jenny Rudd, UNO. magazineJodie’s sweet nature seems a con­tra­dic­tion for some­one who would head into bat­tle, delib­er­ate­ly aim­ing to knock out her oppo­nent. It’s clear that drift­ing, like so many sports, is incred­i­bly com­pet­i­tive.

It’s a tough sport, and in the last two years, the gap has closed so much between com­pet­i­tive dri­vers. You have to do some­thing spe­cial and real­ly push the bound­aries to stand out. I’m com­pet­ing again­st peo­ple who have been in the sport five or six years longer than me, so I real­ly have to go as hard as I can. It’s about more speed and bet­ter angles.”

”Height­en­ing this adren­a­line-fuelled atmos­phere are the fans. “The atmos­phere at Bay­park is insane, espe­cial­ly because this is our home track. We’ve had peo­ple com­ing real­ly close and scream­ing their encour­age­ment, but that’s all part of the build up and it adds to the excite­ment. When the dri­vers were intro­duced this morn­ing and my name was called, I couldn’t believe it. The audi­ence just went nuts. There’s just noth­ing like that, and I’ll nev­er for­get it, not for my entire life. I was actu­al­ly chok­ing up a lit­tle bit.”

I men­tion that a lot of my friends have been talk­ing about her, with­out know­ing about our inter­view. “There are a lot of clos­et drifters out there, I think!”

Jodie is not the first per­son to try to get me into a drift­ing car. I have absolute­ly no qualms in telling you all, I do not have any inter­est in try­ing it. Save your tyres, save your petrol, and use it more wise­ly on some­one else. I’ll be sit­ting firm­ly on the edge of my seat.

There’s a lot to think about at such high speed. It’s a guess­ing game as to where the oth­er car is because you often can’t see any­thing through plumes of smoke.”