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.
You’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’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’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.