Since 2004, Vaughn Gittin Jr. has been deeply involved with the sport of drifting, becoming one of the sport’s household names and popular even beyond it thanks to his work with Ford. Now, he looks to step back from competitive drifting and focus back on the industry and sport he loves and his recent passion of off-roading. In this exclusive interview, we find out why Gittin has chosen this moment to step away, why he’s doing it, and if he expects to ever come back.
Why Step Away Now?
“I know it’s kind of a crazy time to step away,” Vaughn said over the phone with us, “because drifting is in its heyday, I think. The almost 20 years of the sport have really built up to these moments and I think it’s bigger than it ever has been and is still on an upward trajectory.”
When Vaughn started, drifting was seen as a millennial fad. Something that would just go away in a year or so. Instead, it has grown to a world recognized sport and Vaughn himself has earned two championship titles in Formula Drift—the premier drifting sanctioning body that has also been around since 2004—and also won manufacturer titles for Nitto Tires and Ford, was the first American driver to win a D1 Grand Prix round, and won the World Drift Series in 2011.
“I’ve been going hard for a long time and doing 30 or 40 events a year for many years and it’s just getting to where I’m running out of time to think,” Vaughn said when we asked about how he handled being a team owner and driver along with his other business ventures. “I’ve got a ton of opportunities that I’ve chased down while chasing this dream. Some of those opportunities are really begging for a little bit more focus. Now, it’s on those opportunities. This is not retiring, I’m still going to be doing plenty of driving. I’m just not going to be competing in Formula Drift.”
The Need for Time Off
One person only has so much time to spend on their passions without burning themselves out. For Vaughn, this didn’t happen but he still needed the time he was losing. “The bottom line is something had to give with a finite schedule. When I’m in on something, I’m in,” he said, “With a competition schedule of eight weeks a year chasing a championship, it’s just something that takes a lot of effort, energy and commitment to run at the level that we do today versus when I started.”
His efforts also go outside of Formula Drift and competition, “Like racing Ultra4, the automotive festival events, working on our special vehicle builds, developing out new technologies, and things like that. I’m very interested in them.”
His life is also more than just motorsports, as he married his wife, Abby, whom he met through his drifting career, in 2012. “I’m married, got a kid, and have another kid on the way,” Vaughn said, “I want to be a good parent while also fulfilling my dreams and my goals. I’ve achieved a lot in Formula Drift and enjoyed every bit of it.” However, he said, “For me, right now, competitive drifting was the one thing I was like, ‘hey, I can pull back out of this for a couple years and stay fresh.’ Once I’ve got some of these other things on track and achieve some of these other goals, I’ll come back in and get back and go for it.
“I think for me, stepping back and having a bit more time to think and assess is also going to enable me to look at things a bit differently and kind of change my approach to some of those places. Really, just for my timeline, it’s just what makes sense.”
What’s Vaughn’s Plan for 2022?
Now that competition drifting is off his plate, what comes after the end of 2021? “First and foremost,” he said, “fun having is my focus. I wake up every day to find the fun and, for me, that varies. Whether I’m behind the wheel or creating content or putting some great business ideas into action.” This also means limiting how many automotive and lifestyle events he can do per year. “I’ve effectively drawn the line at a max of 25 events a year right now. I’m gonna run for another championship in Ultra4 and I want to do some fun, enthusiast, off-road adventure type events.” Yes, Vaughn Gittin Jr is also the 2021 Ultra4 4400 class champion with Fun-Haver teammate, Loren Healy, finishing fourth in the class, as well.
It may seem like he’s trying to get away from the pavement, but that isn’t the case. “As far as the on-road side,” Vaughn said, “I plan on doing a bunch of automotive festivals and enthusiast type of events where I can be out driving our creations, giving people ride-along experiences and creating fun content. It’s just continuing to do what I do: have fun, inspire people, and be a part of the automotive community and do my part in it.” Though, not everything must be driving related. “I love the automotive space and, beyond those events and project vehicles, my Fun-Haver brand is really starting to take off,” said Vaughn. “We’ve got a lot of products in development and experiences planned and things like that.”
Then there is Vaughn’s vehicle brand, RTR Vehicles, that he started in 2010 as an OEM plus brand with Ford. It’s best known for the Mustang RTR but is growing to include other blue oval vehicles. “RTR Vehicles is just on another planet right now,” he said, “The business is structured to where I’m able to kind of be in and out of it. I’ve got a great team there, but we’re kind of at the point where a little bit more of my attention would be very helpful for everything. I’m also going to try to get a little bit more time on the home front and in the office while I can continue to be doing all the things that I love and what everybody knows me most for.”
What’s About the RTR Motorsports Drift Team?
When he began drifting professionally, Vaughn started as a part of the Falken Tires drift team but used his own, home-built Nissan 240SX before switching to a 2005 Ford Mustang for that season. In 2017 he started RTR Motorsports with Chelsea DeNofa as his second driver and worked as an owner-driver since. “While I’m going to pull back from competition,” he said, “we’re still gonna have a full effort. Chelsea DeNofa will be our driver and I’ll have some other news coming up in the next few weeks about the team, its alignment, and the way it’s going to be run and things like that. I’ll still be very involved on the back end. We’ve got a very smooth running, competitive machine right now.
“We’ve got amazing Mustang RTRs, an amazing group of competitive team members, and Chelsea is just a phenomenal driver with a ton of passion for the sport. The past five years of being teammates. He’s made it very clear to me that he will be able to represent and hold it down in my absence. I’m really excited to be there to support that,” said Vaughn.
He won’t be going completely away from Formula Drift, however, as Vaughn said, “I’ll definitely be in a couple rounds next year, and certainly be tuned in. I have to get some time back but I still want to be out supporting the sport, the scene, and the culture. We’ll be doing that through our effort at Formula Drift and then all the other fun, non-competitive events that I will be attending. “
How Long is He Stepping Away from Competitive Drifting?
Vaughn told us that he doesn’t have an exact timeframe on his return to competitive drifting, as he said, “I’m just playing by ear. In my head, it’s just a couple years but I don’t want to put a date on it, right now. I’m going to continue to stay fresh, in shape, and keep my skills up so that, when I do want to come back, I’ll be able to pick up right where we left off.”
When he does eventually come back, Vaughn will be the same man but with more to offer in the sport. “I want to have a goal of coming back with something very special,” he said to us, “I like progression and challenges and that’s what I’m doing. That’s one of the reasons why I got into Ultra4, it’s one of the most challenging sports in the world. I think drifting is as well and I just enjoy it.”
For those worried that his sponsors or partners will drop him, Vaughn has let us know they aren’t going anywhere. “I’m really grateful that my partners are very supportive of me and really just believe in anything that I want to do,” he said. “They know that I will be successful and beneficial to the collective and so I’m gonna run with it.”
What Will Vaughn’s Focus Be for 2022?
For Vaughn, one of the things he’s done is help other drivers reach their goals. He said, “One thing for me that I really enjoyed is supporting the growth of people and I really enjoyed that with Chelsea and I’ve really enjoyed you know, supporting Loren Healy in Ultra4, and I want to continue helping them by lending my brain space to them so they can continue to progress in their goals.”
He’s also grown to love the future of electric vehicles. Vaughn was part of the team at Ford that built the amazing Mustang Mach E 1400. “We built that electric Mustang Mach E and I’m looking forward to having a bit more time to continue development in that space,” he said, “I think that electric vehicles are very exciting and the potential for it as the technology continues to evolve is just unbelievable. And so I’m looking forward to spending a little bit more time with those types of projects.”
Don’t Call It A Retirement
However, the off-road bug has certainly bitten him and beyond running in competitive events there, too. Vaughn said, “I’m also looking forward to a couple more longer term excursion type trips. I’ve never really had time for it and my wife loves off-roading and has shown that she’s a really good driver. My son is also starting to really enjoy being into that stuff. I really just want to get a bit of life back to do that.”
Retirement just isn’t in Vaughn. “My business is my passion. So, I’m never going to be the retire-and-sit-on-the-couch kind of guy. Formula Drift has just been such a big focus for me for so long that, without it, I might be able to have a halfway normal schedule. At least for a little while, as I know I’m going to fill it up eventually. I mean, I already started this year and said, ‘I’m only doing 20 events’ and now I’m already like ‘yeah, you know 25 could work. ‘”
That’s not to say competitive drifting has become boring to him or even that Vaughn’s disillusioned from it. He said, “Again, I really want to express that I fully believe in Formula Drift and I’ll still have a significant investment in it and I’m just taking a break. I’ve been doing it for nearly 20 years. I mean, I’ve never done anything consistently in my life for that long. It’s just one of those things that it’s like, ‘hey, let’s see what it’s like for a little bit without it’ and I’m pretty confident that I’m going to miss it. When I come back, I’m going to have a fire under me like it’s new again. If I don’t, well, that’ll be another discussion.”
Drifting Made Him King
Drifting was made popular by Vaughn just as much as he was made popular through it. Because of that, it will always have a place in his heart. “Just making this announcement and seeing all the support and love for me and what we’ve accomplished definitely got me a little bit emotional,” he said, “It’s a sport I love because it’s given me so many opportunities, allowed me to meet so many people, and learn about myself. It’s where I met all my best friends. I even met my wife through it, so drifting is a very special thing to me.”
The time he does want to spend in competitive drifting is more than just owning a team, too. As Vaughn said, “I want to spend some time with Formula Drift and do some stuff to possibly help them, help the sport evolve a bit, and just continue spending a little bit of time on helping the trajectory of this really amazing sport.”
We also reached out to Formula Drift just after this interview to talk about Vaughn stepping away from competitive drifting. Ryan Sage, President and Co-Founder of Formula Drift, said, “Vaughn came from humble beginnings to become one of, if not the most recognizable faces in drifting on the planet. His contributions to the sport are immeasurable and I am very excited to see what he does next. I am also equally excited to see what he’ll do when he comes back to competitive drifting.”
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