As an avid racing fan and video game enthusiast, it should come as no surprise that I thoroughly enjoy playing the Forza Motorsports series. And while I enjoy hardcore racing games that offer as much simulation as you can get with a console game, the open word and more arcade-like Forza Horizon series holds a special place in my heart too. Horizon is a "racing game" that is centered around an ongoing car and music festival that has the player earning wristbands as you make your way to the top of the list of the festival's top drivers, and joining in after-parties when the sun goes down. If you've ever played the game, you know exactly what I'm talking about (and if you haven't you definitely owe it to yourself to check it out), but suffice to say, Gridlife is indeed a case of where life imitates art. A 3-day event that is focused on racing, dancing, and partying, and this year I was there in the midst of all of it.
This was my first Gridlife Midwest event (or any event ran by the Gridlife folks for that matter), and while I have the sunburn and stickers to prove I was there, the time spent at Gingerman Raceway left me with great memories, and it was definitely enough fun to make sure I come back next year. I was persuaded last minute to come and check the event out by a bunch of friends last week, and even though I didn't get to drive my car on the track, I had a great time just as a witness to the entire festival. The entire small town of South Haven is invaded with all sorts of cars for the weekend, and all you have to do is show up, get your wristbands, and have a good time. It was as simple as that.
Time attack runs, HPDE (High Performance Driving Events), and drifting sessions filled the track schedule up all 3 days. There were plenty of fast cars that made an appearance this year, and at least 4 different new class records we set for this event. Chitown Subarus members Graham Gaylord and Eric "Dewey" DeWitt both took home some hardware and raffle prizes for their accomplishments on track. Graham placed 1st in Time Attack AWD Street Mod, and Dewey placed 2nd in HPDE+ AWD Street, so score one for the good guys and making the rest of CTS proud!
But the real stars of the show had to be the drift cars. This was my first time witnessing a drift event, and oh my lordy I had no idea what I have been missing out on. There is something to be said about a car flying past you at speed, on the edge of control, and showering the entire track with smoke and occasional dirt. The drift cars always drew the largest crowds, and for good reason too. Ryan Tuerck and his infamous GT-4586 was there, as was Vaughn Gittin Jr with his RTR Mustang and some of the Hoonigan guys. All of their cars were all out on track to put on a show, and their cars were some of the most exciting to watch. Even the factory backed Falken Tire drivers impressed, going 4 cars in tandem at times in some corners! The "Drift Taxi" was a 4-seat Infinity M35 with a Nissan Titan V8 swap that offered some lucky raffle winners the chance to go door-to-door with these guys too, and it was incredible to watch it all unfold on the track.
The paddock and the festival camping area was also a sight to behold. Everyone was making mid-day changes and repairs to their cars, and finding ways to keep both their cars and themselves cool (heck, even I got under the hood of one for a bit). Everyone was like one big car family working side by side with one another. It didn’t matter what you drove or if you needed spare parts, there was a feeling of comradery and mutual respect that you should be able to find at any track day. Everyone was there to go fast and have a good time, and nobody wanted to impede anyone else’s opportunity of doing just that.
If you couldn’t find at least one car that caught your attention walking around the paddock or the camping area on track, I’d have to have you examined to make sure you’re not clinically dead. From a 4G63-swapped Volvo Amazon to a Chevy Cavalier on Hoosiers with a supercharged Cobalt motor I stumbled upon, if you could think it, it was probably there, and I think that was what really made this event special to me. Sure, you had your Miata’s and S2000’s aplenty, but it was the odd ball cars that made walking around enjoyable. Every day seemed to bring different cars into the event, so you almost always saw something new. In order to stand out amongst a crowd of highly modified track cars, you had to have something truly unique to make people go “woah”.
But for those of you who know, the real fun of Gridlife is what happens when the sun goes down. While there is late night wrenching going on all over the place in preparation for the next day of racing, everyone else is cracking open a cold one with the boys as the nightlife at the track comes into its own. Each night there was a tent with music that had everyone’s head banging into the midnight hours, alongside a ferris wheel and small carnival rides. There was even a "Silent Disco" with everyone dancing to the same music while wearing headphones if that was more of your style (and it was not mine). It was your typical EDM festival atmosphere, and going into the festival camping area (better known as Guam) opened your eyes to a whole other level of people consuming alcohol responsibly. If you ever wanted to party with some pro drivers, this my friends, is your opportunity. They go just as hard off the track as they do on the track, and as I found, it doesn't matter where you're from, nothing brings people closer together like cars do (and beer).
All and all, it was one hot, long and tiring weekend, but I’d do it all over again without hesisitation. And who knows, maybe I will when Gridlife visits Road Atlanta later this summer for the Gridlife South festival.