LOS ANGELES - In the San Gabriel Valley outside Los Angeles, owners of sport compacts are getting sideways about the latest driving craze.
Here, nestled among the concrete and a short distance from the Miller brewery, lies the Irwindale Speedway. This is the U.S. birthplace of "drifting." While the film The Fast and the Furious gave America's youth another excuse to drive fast in a straight line, drifting has them doing it around corners at the limits of control and traction.
Imagine circle-track or off-road rally racers flinging their cars around dirt corners in an almost sideways attitude. Now place that idea on an asphalt racetrack with Japanese 1980s and 1990s-era sport compact cars.
Trading paint between vehicles in a two-car heat is common, as are drivers trying too hard and smacking the outside wall at up to 100 mph. Tires howl and pour off smoke throughout the race, while turbochargers whistle furiously and transmissions roar in protest under the strain.
Drifting, observers say, is hot among the sport compact crowd. And while automakers like to talk about how important aftermarket sales are, they have shown little interest in digging through old catalogs to make reissue parts. In some cases, it's because of uncertainty over the volume of business.