Tires, tracks and torque—an Airman’s life goals

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- His feet work the gas and clutch like a drummer while his hands make short corrective cuts with the wheel, reining in the chaos, as he slides through a sharp, hair-pin turn.

Tires on a slammed silver car shriek while an avid drifter jerks sideways on a track in Gonohe, Japan. As he nears the next turn, he yanks a metal hand brake, locking the rear brakes—causing the wheels to lose traction, sending his car into a power slide, as white smoke billows from his tires.

“The feeling of having that much control while having none at all is crazy,” said the tall drifter hailing from Manistee, Michigan. “There’s a lot that could go wrong, but it’s so much fun. There’s nothing like it.”

Unlike NASCAR or drag racing, drifting is not a race. It's more like skateboarding, a sport judged on style rather than speed. To achieve a drift, the driver pushes a light, rear wheel-drive car beyond the limit of traction.

“Being good at drifting is really subjective; everybody has a different definition of what ‘good’ is,” explained Senior Airman Jarrod Vickers, a 35th Fighter Wing public affairs broadcast journalist. “Some people can just slide around a track and that’s good enough for them, then there’s some people who really just want to dive into the different techniques and methods of drifting.”

He added that he never knew if he would personally get the opportunity to drift, but is happy to slide around the track with the talented drifters in Misawa.

“Since being in Japan, I’ve really gotten into drifting,” Vickers said with a child-like smirk on his face. “Coming here I knew I had to get into it because now I have tracks nearby, there are cars everywhere you can buy and drift, so it was kind of a no brainer.”

After buying his first drift car in 2006, his life revolved around cars and drifting, often daydreaming about it and watching drifting videos in his spare time with his now wife, Jessica, not really getting into it until he found himself in Misawa.

“Jarrod opened my world to the Japanese car scene and drifting when we first started dating,” Jessica said. “I wasn't impressed at first because it didn't scream ‘muscle,’ but I slowly began to love it. We would sit and watch drift videos for hours and go drive his car. From that point on, my life was changed. I can't imagine not having an interest in cars like I do now.”

Once a mere daydream, Jarrod and Jess never imagined they would get the chance to live, let alone drift, in Japan. He joined the Air Force in 2012 as an opportunity to travel and see new things. Little did he know, the Air Force would take him exactly where he’s always wanted to go.

“Being in Japan is a dream,” Vickers said through a cheeky grin. “I’ve wanted to visit since I was 15. When I found out I was getting stationed in Misawa, I was so happy I almost cried. Now I’ve checked this off my bucket list and I’m just so stoked to be here.”

As he grew older and switched gears to the military lifestyle, his hobby flourished when he moved to his first duty station in Wichita, Kansas. By surrounding himself with people who shared his same passion, he built a community in an unfamiliar place all while learning a new skill and craft.

“In the states, I was part of a few different car groups,” Vickers said. “You meet a lot of people through cars and make a lot of really good friends. Now that I’m in Japan, I like to pay it forward to the friends I have in the states by finding them cheaper and more unique parts than they can get in the states.”

He continued explaining how cars are a creative outlet because there’s thousands of different ways you can do something to fix it, upgrade it and different ways to make them unique—much like his job as a senior airman in the U.S. Air Force.

“I think the creativity you can put into cars transfers over to broadcast journalism pretty well,” he said. “With both things, you’re creating a product. When I’m working on a video it’s the same kind of thought process of ‘what do I want to do, how do I want to do it,’ getting a creative and self-expressive result.”

Bonding time runs deep in the Vickers’ household as him, Jess and their 18-month old son, Beauregarde, all enjoy spending nights and weekends together at the track drifting or in their living room watching drifting videos, as they’ve done for the past six years.

“We’re really close because of it and I think that's important in a relationship,” Jess chimed in. “You need to have a common interest to sustain a healthy marriage. I see us being 70 years old and still turning wrenches on cars—or at least I hope we are.”

Getting this opportunity has been life changing, Jarrod went on to say. He shares this high-octane lifestyle and flamboyant Japanese car culture with family and friends.

“I never really had the chance to experience this kind of stuff growing up,” Vickers gushed. “So I want to make sure that through this opportunity I grow and develop with the Air Force, and try and do as much as possible and share these experiences with Jess, Beau and any friends or family who want to come out and show them what the car community is all about.”

Vickers may rein in controlled chaos as he drifts, but his passion for family and cars will never be anything but steady.