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Drifting into the Grand Prix

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Redondo Beach local Carl Rydquist competing in the Formula DRIFT series. Photo by Larry Chen

Redondo Beach local Carl Rydquist competing in the Formula DRIFT series. Photo by Larry Chen

Whether he’s idling at the Grand Prix start line or doing 100 mph down twisting canyon roads, Carl Rydquist has slipped into the zone.

“The feeling is what it’s all about,” the Redondo Beach racecar driver, who moonlights as a stunt driver for big-brand commercials, said of being behind the wheel. “Everything zones out and it gets almost silent. You can hear your pulse.”

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In pursuit of that feeling, he spends hundreds of hours driving at the racetrack, meeting with sponsors, re-building his custom Nissan 350Z, and honing his brand, on top of a full-time job as an engineer for Mercedes Benz.

The payoff – travel, trophies, and some really fast cars.

Rydquist, 36, is from Gothenburg, Sweden. At a young age he was fascinated by remote-controlled cars and go karts, but chose in his adolescence to focus on soccer and the guitar.

Still he drove, and in 2001, he trumped 1,100 other drivers in a Eurosport go kart challenge, earning an invitation to try out for a professional Apex Racing team. A year later he won the GT class in a Porsche, setting the stage for a career marked by successive wins.

Before long he had figured out a formula that worked for him.

“I knew that with the right car and the right team behind me I’d be on the podium,” he said, underselling the dedication and time he invested in the sport to advance his ratings. “All the effort and practice got me to… 24 Hours of Nurburgring Nordscheife, a legendary racetrack I’ve driven five times in Porsche racecars. That, to me, is unreal.”

Then, just over four years ago, Rydquist flew to San Diego to visit some friends and ended up meeting his now-wife Jennifer. The couple moved to L.A., where Jennifer was a law student.

“We were living in Hollywood and driving down to San Diego one day and decided to check out the beach so we stopped in Redondo Beach and loved the lifestyle. We looked at some apartments and signed a lease that same day,” he said.

Relocating was like starting his racing career all over again. His primary sponsor had no pull in the American market, and Rydquist had no team.

Discouraged, he went to a familiar place: the racetrack.

Carl Rydquist. Photo courtesy of Carl Rydquist

Carl Rydquist. Photo courtesy of Carl Rydquist

He landed a gig instructing Porsche drivers on weekends, and ended up meeting an actress with Hollywood connections who had experience running precision-driving teams. She offered to be his agent.

With her help, Rydquist became a Screen Actors Guild stunt driver and started driving for the cameras, flying down roads flanked by steep cliffs or maintaining an exact distance from the lens for miles on end.

“The driving ranges from timid and precise to fast and sliding the car out,” he said. “I’ve been up to Colorado a few times and they put this $50,000 camera on untouched snow a few feet in front of me and I had to be two feet from the lens. That’s high pressure because if you blow it, they miss the shot and you put a two-ton SUV into a big snowdrift.”

Filming hones his precision-driving skills because on set, every minute counts.

“Everyone is paid by the day and they’ve only got permits and light for a certain time, so you can’t screw it up. Every minute is expensive,” he said.

Stunt driving wasn’t the only thing he discovered upon moving to California. Shortly after arriving, Rydquist saw a Formula DRIFT Pro/Am race at the Long Beach street course.

“My first impression was, ‘Holy crap, this is different. This is spectacular and intriguing and something entirely different,’” he remembers.

He was sold, and eventually joined the professional Formula DRIFT circuit.

“Drifting is different than speed racing, which I’ve been doing for a decade, so it’s harder for me to go in and consistently be a winner before I build that experience,” Rydquist said. “Both are fun but totally different. It’s like skiing – going out in perfect snow and through the trees and the thrill of that, compared to really fast downhill skiing.

“Drifting is kind of scary because I won’t instantly be on the podium but I’ve come to terms with it. I’ve got to be willing to lose, to win.”

Rydquist is gearing up for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, which kicks off April 12, jogging to find mental clarity, working out to keep fit, and playing floorball – a kind of hockey popular in Europe – with a team of Swedish guys in order to quicken his reaction time.

His level of anticipation is high.

“The whole point is that feeling. When you’re sitting in the racecar and you have a helmet on and you’re strapped in with a six-point harness and the engine is rumbling… It’s very raw. You’re waiting for the green and you shoot into the drift, and it’s like coming into a bullfighting arena. It just raises the hair on your arms.”

Carl Rydquist is rebuilding his Nissan 350Z Turbo, a 500 horsepower machine with a 3.5 liter V6 engine and a Garrett GTX Turbocharger, in time for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Photo by David Karey

Carl Rydquist is rebuilding his Nissan 350Z Turbo, a 500 horsepower machine with a 3.5 liter V6 engine and a Garrett GTX Turbocharger, in time for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Photo by David Karey

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