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The Story of A Champion

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Mike Essa taking a sharp turn at the track

There are few people out there who are talented enough to participate in motorsports, and it may be why the individuals who decide to do so are so praised.But we never go in deeper into the lives of these men and women who have not only the talent but the wits and fearlessness to go compete with automobiles at all speeds. It’s a true beauty, motorsports(if you enjoy motors and all), and in this piece, I will go deeper into the life of a man who has the seal of approval in the motorsports world. And his name is Michael Essa.

Mike Essa is a professional racecar driver in a competition called Formula Drift.What is Formula Drift? Since it’s arrival in the U.S. in 2001, the Formula Drift league has been a great platform for drivers such as Essa and drivers everywhere, and it has received a mass following since it’s arrival. The competition is held upon numerous tracks around different states in the U.S. and how it works is two drivers begin by battling each other in a drift battle on the track, with each taking a turn leading and following. The winner is chosen based on style and performance, and if you’ve ever seen such competition in person, you’d think “who would have the guts to do that?” Well, let’s get started with a man who does have what it takes, not only to compete, but to win it all.

It all started with a want to become an air pilot for Essa.His main inspiration was a man named Chuck Yeager, the man who broke the speed of sound. “I wanted to be in something fast. I’ve always wanted to do something with extreme speed.” In looking for such a rush, Essa turned to the air force. But they could not guarantee that Essa would ever fly a plane. When that didn’t work out, Essa later got into cars soon after he had purchased his first car, a Volkswagen Bug from his neighbor for $400. That is where his passion for motorsports would begin.

“I started doing autocross, which is a track set up on a local parking lot with some cones and your timed. It was cheap, around 25-50 dollars a night which I could afford and at the time I had a Datsun 240z.”Essa would perform very well in these autocross nights, and began looking for legit track days once or twice a year to compete in. Then in 2002, he stumbled upon Formula Drift. Essa went to his first event in Irwindale, California and saw a group of Japanese drivers do an exhibition on the track. Once he saw it, Essa said he knew that’s what he wanted to do. Although it took a great amount of time, work and money to get him ready for the competition, Mike Essa was finally ready to hit the big stage. After getting his pro license at the Red Bull world nationals, which is needed to perform in the highest tier in Formula Drift, he began drifting in 2009 with his Rx7 with 350 horsepower, which he had for years before. And you might be thinking that it’s costly to perform in a sport like this, and if you are you’re right. It is very expensive and while there are companies that do offer sponsorships, that was not a great option for Mike. Aside from a few parts from here and there, Mike was on his own to begin his career in Formula Drift. But that did not stop him from doing what he loved and becoming a highly respected and formidable opponent. After his start, Essa would go on to be a Formula Drift favorite and a very experienced driver.

Although Essa says there is not really anyone he looks up to in Formula Drift, he has stated that he has much respect for all of the drivers and their efforts, in terms of competition. “I’ve never seen anyone as a hero, but I know when I want something I am going to work hard at it and learn more so that I can do better than they can.”
Part of becoming a good driver in Formula Drift, Essa knows that it’s all about the mental aspect of it as well as how hard you’re willing to push and how much trust you put in the car. “It’s hard mentally. You are pushing yourself in a car at insane speeds and with drifting you’re throwing the car at a wall. You also have to have confidence in the car. Without confidence in your car, you really can’t have confidence on the track.” Along with confidence in the car, another part of being a good driver in Formula Drift is understanding what the most difficult part about driving is, which Essa believes to be impressing the judges. “What makes it so hard is that it’s judged, and what they are looking for is something new and exciting each year.” Well, exciting the judges is not a problem for Essa, which may be why he got his hands on the 2013 Formula Drift title, 5 years after entering the league.

“It was my fifth year, and we had built a lot of different cars. No car would last us more than two years in a row. So that year(2013), we tried something new. After some testing, I had felt comfortable in the car right away. It was a challenge, every event, but it wouldn’t be the competition it is if it wasn’t. It was extremely difficult going against these very talented drivers and our team being very small with little money or sponsors. Compared to other teams who had big budgets and large teams, I had little money to work with and my crew was made up of me and two other crew members and together we would work on the car getting it ready for each day at the track. Sometimes I would get a spotter from the people at the event but it was really just us three. But for some reason everything just clicked together and worked out.” That year Mike Essa was driving E46 M3(BMW) which helped him win the title and burn out the competition.

Extremely humble, extremely talented and extremely dedicated, Mike Essa is one of the great drivers that compete in Formula Drift. And in his opinion, one who is very interested in the sport has to be self motivated to make that step to get there. “You can’t have others push you to do it. It has to be something you see and say that’s what I want to do.” It’s clear that Essa was one of those individuals, and it’s what created him to be the phenomenal driver he is today. And if you’d like to see what Mike Essa is all about, just catch him at the next Formula drift event, if you can.

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The Story of A Champion