By Dylan Evans, DODOlogic Contributor
Hey! Long time no see, DODO fan base! How’ve you been? Catch any of that Final Bout Special Stage West a few weekends ago? Well good, because so did I. Strap yourself in for another round of “Guy who takes pictures at one event a year dives into a philosophical and introspective discussion about drifting and car culture overall in North America, as if he has his finger on the pulse.” (Spoiler alert: he doesn’t, as he spends most of his time inside reading comic books.)
This year, Final Bout has been split into three stages scattered across the country. Called “Special Stages,” these smaller, regional events are put on to not only spread the good word of the Bout, but to give drivers and attendants a little break from cross country travel. Now, I say smaller, but I only mean in literal length. I think just as many cars showed up to Pat’s Acres Racing Complex last Sunday as there were at the two-day Final Bout events the previous two years.
Last year, just before Final Bout, when I first heard the rumors of them holding a “Final Bout” style event at PARC, I laughed out loud. Having been attending events there for the last few years, it never struck me as the type of venue that could hold an event like Final Bout. That’s not to say anything poor about the venue or the owners; Chris and his family have opened the doors wide for drifting in the Pacific Northwest the last few years. After the loss of PGP, PARC became THE grassroots track in this area. The go-cart track turned drift course is small enough that almost any RWD car and driver with a heavy right foot can familiarize themselves with the art of drifting, and technical enough that the same driver can develop a car and their skill to an incredible level, while still being fun.
That sort of “run what you brung” attitude is part of the reason why I never pictured Final Bout happening there. Every now and again, you get a good-looking car on the grid, but for the most part the typical crowd leaves quite a bit to be desired in the style department. That, and the pit area is about half unpaved and about as smooth as the surface of the moon (I’m exaggerating here). The lowest car on a given drift day at PARC would have looked like a monster truck at Final Bout (I’m not exaggerating here…. literal monster trucks). And again, I’m not trying to slight the track or the ownership. Chris is as committed as anyone to keeping drifting alive in the Pacific Northwest and has made several huge steps to make drifting easier and better at PARC. I still just could not imagine seeing the GoldStar or Animal Style cars drive through the pit without demolishing pieces of highly expensive fiberglass. But, as I found out, it’s just one of those things you’ve got to see to believe.
While plenty of expensive fiberglass did get blown to pieces, I don’t think there was a single driver attending the event who will tell you it wasn’t worth it. These guys go days without sleep prepping these cars and countless dollars to make them look as good as they do, only to have it all washed away in a single corner. I think it might actually be more cost effective if everyone just got together for a big BBQ and literally burned the money they spent. Despite all that, there was an unbreakable positive energy throughout the whole day. Everyone is so glad to be there and be surrounded by their worldwide drift family that no amount of obliterated BN or 2nd lap rod-knock could keep them down.
Based on the sheer amount of high-fives and smiles you see at these events, you would never imagine that there are actually people who are upset that they exist. Yes, you heard that correctly. There are people out there who would seek to tarnish the image of Final Bout. What drives these non-believers, these blasphemous heretics, to think such a way? We may never know. Could it be that they’re sour over not getting accepted to drive? Do they disagree with what we consider “style and good looks?” Let’s be real, it can’t be the latter, because if you don’t think Dom’s Z32 is the dopest shit that ever was, you have a bag of rocks for a brain. So maybe it’s the former.
That brings me to maybe my only problem with Final Bout: It’s become almost too exclusive. Do I think that it’s the pinnacle of talent and style in North American drifting? Yes. Do I think there are some teams who are only invited back because they are grandfathered in? Yes. Do I think there are some teams who deserved to be there more than others, but were not accepted? Yes. Do I think these problems will persist in future years? No. I think the act of splitting the event into three regional qualifiers has already alleviated some of those worries. The idea being that the “best of the best” will receive invites to Final Bout 3: Ultimate Last Stop To Slidewayzville (not sure if this is the title, but if it isn’t it should be). I don’t know if it’s a growing pain or an inherent issue with having an event with such a high bar for entry.
The “smaller” regional events seemed like an easier way to get your relatively unknown team its shot to prove your worth on the big stage, but if you aren’t buds with anyone or have an alumni to vouch for you, you’re put much lower on the priority list than someone else who does. I’ve felt this even as a media correspondent. I think a large portion of why I consider myself so involved with these events is because of DODOlogic’s sponsorship of the event and how I was introduced: as a friend of the Hotboyz, who had driven Club FR Jam the year prior to Final Bout 1. I honestly don’t think I’d be as close with anyone involved in the event as I am now if I hadn’t been friend-vouched for.
That isn’t necessarily the fault of Final Bout or its staff. There’s no way you could know who deserves to be there when you’ve got this many people interested in driving. You’ve got to guard yourself, especially with an event of this caliber. You let just anyone in to drive and you never know what you’ll end up with. But I do think there’s a yet undiscovered sweet spot for this. Final Bout staff, if you’re reading this, I critique because I care. I’m not familiar with the application process, but there’s gotta be a way for a team with no references or giant social media following to be able to strut their stuff and earn a spot on the grid with these grizzled veterans. In its third year, I think they’ve started to explore ways to do that. With three regional events, teams have less competition for a spot on the grid, as well as a less-daunting (but still incredibly far for some) drive TO the grid. There will always be new or unknown teams trying to prove they have what it takes and I believe that this year’s format proves that the Final Bout staff are aware of that. I imagine that as much as these drivers want to be accepted, the people behind Final Bout want to accept them. Like I talked about in my article last year, the people behind the scenes aren’t in this to make a buck or show off for themselves. They are truly, genuinely trying to advance grassroots drifting in North America. The reason Final Bout is billed as a competition is because they want to be beat. They want to push people to produce the best-looking cars and driving this country has seen.
As they say, haters gonna hate. As long as Final Bout exists, there will be people who try to paint it in a negative light. Second gear on a go-kart track not for you? Get back to driving mommy’s FD Pro-am build. Sour that your team didn’t get accepted to drive this year? Stop shit-talking the events, actually put effort into your car and your driving and your team and make another attempt next year. You straight up don’t like the style or the mentality that cars should look as good as they drive? Well, then this is obviously not for you and that is O.K. Final Bout doesn’t have to be for everyone and it shouldn’t. Like I said, for the people putting this on there isn’t a big payday or Instagram following if they do it right. The reason they can be so selective and specific in the style and team admittance is because this event follows their vision, not a corporate payout or profit margin. It is the brainchild of a group of people who didn’t like what they saw in popular drifting and knew there were enough people out there who agreed with them. I mentioned this last year and I’d just like to reiterate it, this isn’t the only form of drifting or even car culture in the world. Final Bout caters to a very specific subgenre of car culture. While it may not be your favorite, it’s the only one that matters to these people, so let them have it. If you don’t like what they’re doing, make your own event that caters to your favored subgenre! You don’t have to like this, so stop having such a shitty attitude about people that do.
At its core, Final Bout is a team event. The reason they bill it as a TEAM competition is because they want to foster that team mentality. They want to start a gang war in the friendliest way possible. I believe that team emphasis is a great thing. Instead of promoting single shining heroes, it promotes a group of like-minded friends who share a love and dedication to one thing. In the same way that the people behind it share a love and dedication for drifting. The reason I defend this event so hard is because I know how much time and effort goes into putting it on and how much passion these people have for it. I doubt the naysayers care half as much about anything as these people do about this event. In a vast ocean of “people who like cars,” they want to nurture a community of like-minded individuals coming together to destroy some fiberglass, shred some tires, share a banana or two, and have a good time. That team mentality has evolved past having a matching color group of cars and now represents Team Final Bout. The group that puts on these events, drives these events, enjoys these events. Individuals who come together to share and enjoy something they love. Three years in, and I can totally tell why someone would be upset about being left out. I’m truly grateful that I was welcomed in early on and I’m glad to be “on the team,”