Published on May 8th, 2016 | by Jos Roder2
Dream Big: The Jake Jones Story
When it comes to pursuing a dream, what would you sacrifice? What would you spend? How long would you keep pushing?
Jake ‘Driftsquid’ Jones is one of Australia’s top drifters. With an undeniable drift passion Jake has experienced an amazing career as Drift Life discovers. What you might not know is the sacrifices, financial costs and disappointments Jake has faced along his journey. In a brutally honest, frank and thought provoking interview Jake lays everything out on the table, discusses a world of smoke and mirrors and the trials and tribulations that he must survive to achieve his ultimate dream. This is Jake’s incredible drift life.
What attracted you to drifting?
The total craziness of it! I remember watching my first Option DVD of a D1GP held a round in a Tokyo car park and I was blown away by what the drivers were doing with their cars. I couldn’t stop watching it and had to find out more. This is where it all began for me. I was set on pursuing drifting.
“The Option DVD had opened up a portal to a new world”
In fact, that video was the catalyst for spending the next 5 years of my life working to save the funds needed to get started. Working after school and weekends in a part time job earning $8.80 an hour wasn’t really cutting it, so I eventually jumped at the decision to quit school and start a full time job. Looking back now that I’m older and wiser, I’m not sure if I would have made the same decision haha.
After reaching my savings goal and with the assistance of a bank loan I proudly purchased my first drift car (a white Nissan 180SX with a CA18DET engine). I figured if I bought a drift car that had already been built and tested, I would eliminate the lengthy modification and set up process so I could just focus on learning the art of drifting.
Your first foray into drifting didn’t exactly go to plan though?
Well, the first time I took the car out, literally the first lap, I punted the wall coming onto the Mallala straight! I hadn’t even completed one drifting lap!
You can imagine the thoughts running through my head at this stage and put doubts in my mind as to whether or not I should even continue.
It all could have ended here, why did you persevere?
I still hadn’t really drifted, so I bit the bullet, extended my loan and with help from All Type Crash, repaired the car. They went on to become good mates of mine and helped me through my early days of drifting.
After the car was fixed I found out I had a small head gasket leak. I tackled the repair myself with the help of Google then drove the car to Turbo Tune (my local tuner) only to have the engine start pouring out smoke; the piston rings were fried. Extending my loan, again, Turbo Tune built a forged CA engine for me.
“I’d purchased a car, had a crash, blown a motor and spent a total of 20K plus without even burning 1 set of tyres!”
After all this you could say I was a little iffy about continuing but I’d dived into the deep end and knew I had to keep pushing. This inner determination is the reason I’m now here talking to you all about my insane drifting career. The financial blows have been hard to take but I’m still here purely because I LOVE drifting. There really is nothing better than the sheer rush of steering a car that is ultimately out of control.
You continued modifying the Sil80 before a new car came along?
Yeah, by this time I had spent a bucket load on my poor little Sil80 and had upgraded to the RB25 engine.
It was an awesome car to pedal however I needed to spend another 20k on it to bring it up to the spec I wanted.
So I ended up putting an offer in to buy the heavily modified RB25DET powered Onevia owned by WheelWorx and driven by Adam ‘Mayhem’ May in Drift Australia.
After they agreed to sell, I had to max out my loan and rely on selling the parts from my Sil80 to help cover most of it. Unfortunately that didn’t go to plan, after making nowhere near as much as I thought I would I ended up with a huge debt again!
My luck didn’t improve after that, you wouldn’t believe it but my new Onevia’s engine blew up straight away due to a faulty oil pump! I was devastated, but I built a new one. The story gets even more ridiculous though, and soon after I blew the freshly rebuilt engine at a Tasmanian competition due to a faulty fuel pump.
This is where my love/hate relationship with the RB engine began. I freaking love RB’s and the note they make, preferring them over any other engine but sometimes they’re prone to breaking. Finding the right setup was a mission but with the help and experience of Hi Octane Racing we have found the winning combo. Best of all it’s affordable!
“On the other hand, I blew 12 gearboxes during that same period.”
What were your goals in those early years?
Every year my goal was to compete in as many events as possible with the money I had. I worked every single bit of overtime I could get and in 2009 I remember going through my receipts.
“I was a tyre manufacturer’s dream that year, using close to $19,000 worth of tyres!”
Basically 200 Neuton tyres were turned into smoke!
I seriously look back on those days and think ‘that was living’. Travelling Australia with bloody good mates and creating friendships that will last a life time! It was the best few years and really opened my eyes up to Australia and the people involved in the scene.
You entered your first national competition as part of the Drift Australia event at Oran Park in 2009. How did that play out?
This event was crazy and memorable. After a massive build up and assistance from my dad and brother, I got to Sydney and was enjoying the awesome Oran Park layout in practice on Saturday right up until I had the biggest crash of my life.
I had spun and didn’t notice a Corolla flying up straight into me. We were both ok, but I was devastated. In true drift spirit we had the onevia ready for battle the next day with the help of other teams and drivers working through Saturday afternoon. Sunday was a new day and I battled hard, surprising myself and many others by ending up on the podium!
Many of the top Aussie drifters are S.A based, why is it such a strong training ground?
I honestly feel as though we have an advantage over other states purely because of Mallala’s layout. It has a slow speed section and a high speed link. It’s the best of both worlds and allows us to adapt to other tracks easily. This, along with a SHITload of YouTube videos has made my life easier.
In 2011 you became the first Aussie to compete in a full season of D1NZ and in your own car.
This was a massive risk and all came about after making contact with my idol Mad Mike and partner Toni in NZ via email stating my intention to come over for a D1NZ season and how I should go about it.
Their first response was a life changing message for me. They took me under their wing and gave up a spot in their truck to transport me across NZ. I was over the moon and did everything in my power to get to NZ. To this day I am grateful beyond words for what they did and still do to help me progress in my career.
How much of an influence has Mad Mike been in your career?
Mike has been a huge inspiration. I’ve always loved his style and attitude. He, along with his fiancée Toni (who has also played a huge role) have both worked so hard and I look up to them in a big way. They have had the biggest impact in my career and are easily the nicest people you’ll ever meet. They have given me an unreal amount of advice, but implementing it has not always been straight forward. I could go on for days about what they did for me and I won’t ever be able to repay them. In short, if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be where I am today. That is 110% true.
The Mad Mike ‘brand’ has been growing year by year. The future for them is so huge it’s scary. I can’t wait to see what happens next for them.
How would you sum up that season in D1NZ?
It was the most insane roller coaster ride of my life. The professionalism and attitude of the D1NZ drivers was next level. I was thinking ‘wow I’m in the big league now’. Not only were the events unreal, the atmosphere and post drifting activities made it the place to be. I made great friendships and saw parts of the world I never thought I would.
Unfortunately, the drifting side was a nightmare. I wish I could have had a better string of luck. I maxed out my bank loan…again to make it all happen and I’m actually still paying it off.
Experiencing the devastating Christchurch earthquake would have been surreal?
This was a life changing moment for me. As the quake hit, I was with my mates in Christchurch in the SPEC workshop. I had my gearbox completely pulled down on the work bench. Then BOOM it hit and all I remember was people screaming “RUN! RUN!” Everyone was running out the workshop and thankfully we made it out without anything falling on us. Sadly, not everyone was this lucky though.
I have many other stories from this adventure that no one would believe. Reliving it all now with Drift Life, I can’t believe what a roller coaster ride I had!
The Red Bull Drift Shifters event must have been another roller coaster ride?
The Drift Shifters concept is incredible and it’s exciting to think of the format’s potential.
Even though I only put down three competition drift runs, the Red Bull experience was easily the highlight of my life.
Red Bull looked after everyone, making sure we would never forget the adventure. I even had to conquer my fear of heights to bungee jump off a perfectly good bridge. The only way I could do it was by getting a big run up and jumping! It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done!
Next up was Queenstown where Red Bull put on a massive schedule of unreal activities. With the Oxbow Adventure Company we experienced speed boats, helicopters, V8 dune buggies, shotguns plus sprint boats. It was totally insane. I’d need another interview with Drift Life to explain the whole trip. NZ is amazing and so is Red Bull NZ!
In 2012 you had the opportunity to compete at the highest level, D1GP in Japan.
This was the ultimate dream for drifters. Drive at an actual D1GP event. Not only was I going to drive in a D1 Grand Prix, but I was going to do it in one of the drift cars I always admired, Tanaka san’s GDB WRX from Team Orange. Team Orange was keen for me to join them for one D1GP event because of the fact that I was supported by Yokohama Australia.
This deal was a cross promotion between Yokohama Australia and Japan organised by CT from Yokohama in Australia, Furutani san in Japan plus many others.
I couldn’t afford to pay for the drive and trip costs myself so CT came up with an ingenious social media crowd funding campaign, before they really existed! Yokohama/Advan would offer a $1 donation toward the trip for every ‘Like’ the Advan Facebook page received.
It worked well for everyone, with my fans promoting it we added close to 12,000 new likes to the page. So well in fact that Yokohama had only budgeted for $8,000 instead of the $12,000 we made. With the additional funds, I made the event and it was a dream come true. I footed the rest of the bill but I didn’t mind as it was a once in a life opportunity.
After the test, he said ‘yeah he can drift but he is nothing special’. After I drove the WRX at D1GP his opinion had changed to ‘he is a diamond in the rough and I think he can one day join Team Orange!’.
Although their English was not as good as it is now, they are genuine blokes who love to help out. The training side of it all was a HUGE eye opener. I learnt so much that day training and still implement their techniques now. Don’t get me wrong I have my own style but during chase battles I still use their techniques to help me.
How would you describe your driving style?
Aggressive. The way I drive has also helped my popularity I think. I’m very abusive with my machinery and yes it has consequences but it’s the way I like to drive and I won’t ever change it.
Competition day at D1GP must have been intense?
Yeah it was. The whole weekend was surreal. Although I was knocked out in my battle I was still happy with my performance in front of the huge Tokyo crowds and loved every minute.
“Even today I’m still the only Aussie to have competed in D1GP which is a little strange I think.”
I’m proud nonetheless. The opportunity is there for Aussie’s but the financial support isn’t unfortunately. I’d love to be able to make it back there someday.
How did the Team Orange WRX handle compared to the Sonvia?
The power was perfect with literally no lag and it was geared to rip in any gear but it was stupidly twitchy. Even Kumakubo said it’s not an easy car to drive. I think everyone would understand this after seeing him not even qualify for WTAC in Australia in 2012.
Were you able to push 100% at D1 knowing the cost of the car and the effort of pulling everything together?
No! Everyone knows that I like to be aggressive, but I was informed ‘if you break you buy it.’ so I was in full conservation mode. That really sucked and played a huge role in my driving style during the weekend. It was a crazy experience though and I’d do it all again, however I’d make sure I knew about the insurance clauses before I drove it next time.
If you learnt one thing from the trip, what would it have been?
You need four things in motorsport: skill, a strong network, passion and money. Unfortunately I’m missing one of them but still working hard to get it.
You are now gaining a profile in Asia, having success in the Red Bull China Drift Series.
A perfect example of networking, this all came about when I was lucky enough to meet James Tang (Chinese Red Bull drifter and owner of the TRC workshop) at D1GP when driving for Team Orange. The worldwide drift community is quite close knit, so if you think someone from half way across the world has no clue who you are you’ll be dead wrong that’s for sure.
I greeted James with Japanese slang to which I got a weird look and him strongly advising me that he was from Hong Kong! Whoops. It was pretty funny and started our crazy journey together. James contacted me a couple years after D1GP explaining he could help me join his series (Red Bull China Drift Series). We built up some sponsors locally in China and now run a successful drifting program which is working way better than my Australian program.
“I’ve now been to China six times and it gets crazier every single time.”
I bloody love everything about it, despite the language barrier. The people, fans, crowds and the drifting is just incredible.
I’ve made lifelong friends and achieved some great results, even winning a round in 2014. My most recent trip in March I managed 5th place at the Zhuhai International Raceway in the TRC Supra.
We have a saying called ‘China Style.’ Often what happens in China stays in China due to social media and internet restrictions. The place is just insane and I have so many stories for when I’m an old fossil!
How do opportunities like the Top Gear Festival, V8 Supercar demonstrations and the Mt Alma Hill Climb come about?
A common misconception is that these opportunities just ‘pop up’, with offers filling your inbox. At the end of the day all these experiences don’t come from nothing. You need to work for everything you do, show interest, put in requests and just keep pushing. If you don’t ask, you won’t receive.
The Top Fear Festival was a stand out though. I was pitting next to the Red Bull F1 team and meeting Dan (Daniel Ricciardo) and having a good chat to him was cool. It’s awesome to hang out with people from different forms of motorsport and understand how things work in their world.
Jake blazing the main straight for the crowd during the Top Gear Festival at Sydney Motorsport park in 2014
The drifting dream doesn’t come cheap. Have you tried to add up how much it has all cost over the years?
This is something only my mother has worked out and reminds me of every so often. I sometimes look back at the years of work and overtime that I’ve done and the debt I’m still in.
“Let’s just say that I could have left home years ago if I didn’t drift. I would have paid off my second house easily by now!”
I am still living off a maxed out loan plus a second loan from another bank now! I’m pretty deep in the financial game and this might explain why people think I’m living the dream but in reality it’s all smoke and mirrors. Many people have no idea on the real struggle and sacrifices I have to make. Can we stop talking about this now haha!
On the flip side though, I think of all the experiences and friendships I’ve made from this insane career. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Can you explain some of the sacrifices you have made to keep the dream alive?
Eating and living cheap, being in constant debt, not having a nice daily (car) and missing out on social events are just some of the sacrifices I have to make. However, these are things people do to make their dream come to life. I’m pretty sure everyone who has enough passion for something would be doing the same as me. I’m still pushing hard and will keep pushing until my mother kicks me out the house!
From the outside looking in, you have been successful with sponsorship and self-promotion over the years, often supported by big industry names. Onlookers see your high profile career and might imagine that you are paid to drift or at the very least cost neutral. What is the reality of these outside perceptions?
Yes, you could say I’ve been successful with sponsorship and promotion over the years, but what defines success in this game? People look at my overseas drift adventures, see the wild Sonvia or the new BMW project and assume I must have it easy with truckloads of cash coming in.
“My bank manager and I can assure you that this drift life is nowhere near cost neutral!”
However I have had some awesome support over the years, even for my new M3 build from a product perspective. I was never going to be able to achieve one of the worlds craziest drift car builds alone. Every single one of my sponsors knew this and some even jumped on-board with product because they believe that if anyone could get it done it was me.
Recently you have had a couple of disappointing setbacks on the sponsorship front for your 2016 and beyond plans?
It’s all a huge learning curve and can be a pretty ruthless industry at times. We hear so many stories of drifters burning companies but on the flip side, I could tell you many personal stories of being burnt by companies myself. It’s all a huge learning curve and can be a pretty ruthless industry at times. Sometimes I feel like I have no back bone when sponsors take you for granted, leaving you worse off than if you had never gotten the sponsor on board in the first place. The old ‘If you over deliver this year we will come on in a bigger way next year’ trick gets me every time.
I have sat down with companies who say they will come on board once you commit to or finish a project like the M3, but after initial enthusiasm, pull the pin. It is always a huge kick in the guts.
It really makes you step back and think why? Why the heck should you bust your butt trying to do everything you can in hope sponsors will keep their word? It certainly puts a damper on your spirits in a big way. All I can say is, never believe what you hear and always get contracts written up.
With these setbacks, what is the next step to finish the M3 build and attract new sponsorship?
I am now at the point where I can’t just get another loan out to make drift events possible like I would normally. I’m trying everything though and the more I put in, the more I realize that if you want anything done you really need to do it yourself. I have to work as much overtime as possible currently just to keep afloat but hopefully I’ll have the ‘RBM3’ out this year running off my own back.
It’s just bloody hard when your work won’t give you time off to be able to fly interstate for a meeting, or even allow the time off to make a certain drift event. I’m in a pickle, rut whatever you want to call it. It sucks but I’m doing everything I can at the moment to pick myself up and chase the dream.
On the positive side, you must have been doing some things right to attract sponsorship and often, sustain them over a longer period. What have you learnt in this difficult area that has helped you and may help others?
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got some awesome support on board for my program and have had for many years now. Ultimately, I believe this is due to my sheer dedication and drift passion. I’ve tried all sorts of ways to get new companies on board but the best way is face to face. Let them see first hand and how passionate you really are. I do everything and anything I can to make drifting a possibility for me and have done for years.
“A sponsorship proposal letter has literally never got me a single thing”
I’ve produced that many over the years and I’ve only ever received hundreds of ‘our budgets are finalized but please stay in touch’ email replies. Face to face is the way to go but getting that to happen is almost a full time job in itself.
You knew early on in your career that promotion was important, building a public profile quickly.
Starting in 2008 I began blogging nearly everything I did on the drift front. I was once that kid trying to get information over the internet and never able to find it, so I started the blog knowing I could help others and in turn create exposure for myself. The blogs continued when I built my website and more recently have only ceased due to Facebook. Websites are currently a thing of the past but I will be getting back into mine as I think FB will come down in the next few years, Hot Tip!
Are you aware that you have the highest Facebook following of any Australian drifter?
Yeah this is something I’m pretty proud of and it was higher than most V8 Supercar drivers for a long time (Ed: Jake is currently at 145,000 likes on Facebook). I love the fact I have a huge following and the fans appreciate what I do. At the end of the day it wouldn’t be possible without the fans , so thank you all.
How hands on are you on the spanner front?
I do everything I can on the car mechanically as well as managing myself and my program. I pretty much do everything besides the internals of the crazy RB engines. Of course my mates are always happy to help. This is a huge part of the operation.
The Sonvia has gone through that many rebuilds it’s insane, including a rewire plus general strip down and re-assemble before this season’s ADGP began. The Sonvia is due to retire to be honest. The poor things gone through hell and back and I actually have another shell ready to take all the parts from it. Watch this space.
“I’ve tried to make the Sonvia a new aged looking car but sponsorship proposals don’t go well with a 1988 model car haha”
After 7 years in the Sonvia, you are upgrading to the wild BMW. What was the catalyst for the new direction?
I’ve jumped in the deep end to build my ultimate drift car, an M3 with a crazy RB28 power plant. I LOVE the E92 chassis, but I could never afford it. One day I was messing around on Gumtree (Australia’s equivalent to Craig’s List) and BOOM a genuine M3 chassis was up for grabs. I rang the dude and bought it straight away. When I got it home I figured out I needed a LOT of support to get it completed. The car was originally planned to debut at World Time Attack in October 2015 so I’m way behind in the build but getting closer now.
How will the BMW be an upgrade over the Sonvia?
Firstly we have built this car to make fixing issues easier and also to improve my seating position.
The engine is a crazy full custom built Powertune Spec 2.8L which will see close to 10,000RPM and sound like a freaking monster. Grip levels in the car will be insane. The weight will be similar (the Sonvia is a heavy old girl) but the BMW will have an added 400hp.
Importantly a brand new BMW is a lot more appealing to sponsors than a 1988 Nissan Silvia.
“The car is also being built to full Formula Drift USA specifications. Hint, hint!”
You clearly have a vision, so where exactly is Jake Jones drifting in 2016 onwards?
I was competing in this season’s Australian Drifting Grand Prix (ADGP) however as much as I would love to continue the sheer cost of a full campaign is through the roof now and without major sponsorship it is basically impossible. I could previously max my loan out and make it happen, but with the added burden of the major M3 costs, that is simply not sustainable. This, coupled with the fact I’m in the final year of my electrical apprenticeship means I can no longer get time off work. It can be really challenging to manage the work/drift life balance.
So what is the ultimate dream Jake? Where does this all end up?
My goal is to make my drifting career self-sufficient, but my dream is to be able to live of it. I truly believe it’s possible and one day I will find the right company who can see the benefits of the crazy ideas I have in store.
Drifting isn’t something you can do by yourself, who have been your biggest supporters?
This is something that no one ever asks and it’s something I should explain.
My mother has pretty much allowed me to keep this career going. By simply putting a roof over my head it has saved me the massive expense of renting or buying a house, allowing me to spend everything I make on my drifting career. I still have bills like everyone else but having a room and a shed to work from has helped me get where I am today. Thanks mother, love you :)
My dad has been supportive ever since he saw me on TV. He gives up his daily car so I can tow myself around the country. This usually happens when I have to sell my daily and get some cash for drifting. Love you dad.
My big bro has also helped me more then he knows. He has pushed me to make events I didn’t think I could make or thought I should miss by letting me borrow money, and his tow car so I could attend interstate events. It has made a huge difference. My younger brother and sister are also supportive of what I do and I love them all heaps. Thanks guys :)
“where the heck would anyone be without good mates”
My mates are basically family as they go through the works with me. Whether it’s boiling or freezing in the shed or at the track they will always be there to support me. Some of you may think it would be awesome to be a part of a crew like this but its hard work and they don’t get paid, as much as I’d love to. This doesn’t bother them as they just enjoy helping me out and I can’t thank them enough. Here’s to a heap more crazy adventures ahead guys. Thanks so much for everything!
I also want to thank all my sponsors past and present for assisting me on this crazy drift experience and everyone else who has helped along the way.
HARD RACE AUSTRALIA
HI OCTANE RACING
HI OCTANE DIRECT
ROYAL PURPLE AUSTRALIA
HGT PRECISION GEARBOXES
Finally, what advice would you give to young drifters about pursuing a drift career?
You really need to step back and think about how badly you want it. Lets face it I’ve devoted the last 10 years to pursuing the dream and I’m still chasing it. I’ve worked my arse off to get where i am and I still have so far to go. This path doesn’t bother me but it may bother others. I still get nervous, excited and it truly feels like the first day i started drifting every time I line up for a run. I think as soon as that feeling disappears is when you lose interest and should stop.
Drift Life wants to thank Jake Jones for his time, honesty and ultimately inspiration provided by what is one hell of a drift journey. We thoroughly enjoyed learning his story and we hope you enjoy it also.
Thanks also goes to Laurence Janus from JDMism for sub editing.
Photo Credits: Many of these pics have been taken from Jake’s archives, with author’s unknown. Please contact Drift Life to receive credit as we always want to acknowledge and support photographers.