Two weeks ago, I didn’t know who Chris Forsberg was. I woke up that day thinking I was facing just another typical Tuesday, with a set visit to one of the many industrial parts of LA that web series location scouts seem to adore.
Before I know it though, I’m sitting shotgun in Chris’ super-customized 350z Roadster drift racing car heading straight into the north wall of the Toyota Motor Speedway at a cosy 85 MPH. All I can taste is rubber. Suddenly my typical Tuesday just turned into Chris Forsberg’s typical Tuesday—cranking out smoke cloud donuts around cones and skirting death with a controlled chaos that I can only describe as a cross between NASCAR and surfing.
The web series I’m here for is The Bro Show, Break.com’s newly launched reality series that throws its two chummy hosts, Jeff Sloniker and Curtis Rainsberry, through a slew of challenges and pranks. They are shooting episode three, the first sponsored episode of the series which Break decided to greenlight without a sponsor for the first two.
Coca-Cola’s NOS Energy Drink has come on as the scrappy web show’s new backer, and hence the reason we’re out in Irwindale, California with a private shoot featuring NOS-sponsored Formula Drift Champion Chris Forsberg. NOS’ brand manager Arjun Chowdri is on set with us, showing off a remarkably deep knowledge of this emerging mainstream sport of drift racing.
“As a brand rooted in car culture and dedicated to the sport of drifting in particular, we’re constantly in search of new partners, events, programs and mediums to help introduce the sport to a larger audience,” Tutul Rahman, the other NOS brand manager, told me when asked about why he decided to sponsor an upstart web series. “Web series have the freedom to push the envelope with brave content which our target demographic appreciates, so we’ve got high expectations for this partnership with Break properties, and it’s something we’ll continue to consider moving forward.”
NOS as a brand, Chowdri adds, is helping to build the sport of drifting from one-time underground (and often illegal) branch of the racing world into a major player. The sport just inked a TV deal with the cable network Versus, and attendance at live racing events are steadily increasing, he says, pointing out a recent Long Beach race that had over 10,000 in attendance.
Technically, the sport isn’t even racing, at least in the speed sense. Drivers are instead squared off head-to-head and judged on a number of categories like precision, line and style. The “drifting”—which honestly feels like surfing— comes when the driver intentionally oversteers, causing loss of traction in the rear wheels through turns. Somehow the driver stays in control and exits the turn at high speed.
There’s an obvious parallel here between the scrappy but growing sport of formula drift racing, which lacks the mega millions in TV deals and sponsors of its NASCAR cousin, and that of web TV. NOS likes the underdog. And it’s part of a strategy that has made it the fastest growing energy drink in the past year. Backing an unproven web series, even on a high-trafficked male-driven online network like Break, is risky. But so is betting on a sport that still has ties to controversial street racing and as of yet, no major network deals. So not only is the brand tying its wagon to the sport, but also in some ways to the emerging medium of web series—which is right where it wants to be to reach the increasing number of young consumers who are choosing laptops and smartphones over TV sets.
Meanwhile, as the shoot wraps up, I spot the severed head of a dummy on the rubber soaked asphalt. It’s part of a prank pulled in the video, and one I won’t spoil (watch the full video above). Forsberg makes for a capable conspirator on the prank, convincingly scaring the pants off of Rainsberry, with a mellow cool that top athletes all seem to share.
As for me, the high-powered adrenaline rush of almost slamming into the concrete wall of the race track stands as a thrill better than any ride at Six Flags. Chowdri was right when he quipped off hand that “the best way to get [drifting], is to get into that car and it’s like, ‘Oh God!'” On that point, he was dead right.
Photos from The Bro Show shoot: