Wednesday, November 7, 2012

[Interview] MadMike Whiddett

One would have thought – considering the amount of action on-track in Jordan recently – that there’d be little time to roam the paddock and check out the lifestyle. Think again.

Whilst chatting with the Muath Al-Essa and Ra’fat Haroun of this world, AmmaniV12 and CrankAndPiston's voice recorder also happened to stumble across Auckland’s own ‘Mad’ Mike Whiddett, former NZDRIFT and Formula D Asia Pacific World Drift Champion, current Red Bull Car Park Drift judge, and all-round internet sensation.


But where did the ‘Mad Mike’ name come from? What keeps him coming back to the drifting circuit? And how did he avoid spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair even despite the doctor’s assurances?

Turns out we packed quite a lot into our little chat…

AmmaniV12: Mike, you’re back again for the Red Bull Car Park drift event. Red Bull has clearly worked to make the Car Park Drift ‘big’. What do you think stands out about the event?

MadMike: “Well the last Red Bull Car Park drift event I went to was in Lebanon, where we had a good 33,000-odd spectators. And the atmosphere was just crazy! The track layout was both indoor and outdoor, so the action went into the stadium and there was fireworks and LED lights and strobes, plus the bands that were playing. The whole thing was just an awesome event, and what I like was that Red Bull really went all out for the fans.

“Now we’re here in Jordan, which has a completely different feel. I've just been told that the Dead Sea s the lowest point in the world, and it’s jut crazy! You come from the airport and you just go down into this big huge crater, and inside that you've got the event itself and Red Bull’s attempts to give the people a show.
I mean, what they've done to tie it all together is just frickin’ awesome!”

AmmaniV12: You've won numerous championships down the years, and this weekend someone will be crowned King of Drift. Tell us, from your own experience, a bit about the pressure these guys will face...

MadMike: “I kind of take the pressure off because I want to entertain rather than win. I mean, I still want to win and I go into each event focused on winning, but I’ve always looked at…my mentality has always been to either win the judges or win the crowd, and I always want to win the crowd. As a kid, I remember going to
watch motocross events, and watching those dudes doing the big tricks off the ramps. Since then I always wanted to be ‘that guy’ and give everyone their $20 worth, and send everyone home remembering Mad Mike. Obviously I try and live up to my name. It inspires me to be…well, mad!

AmmaniV12: Is that how the ‘Mad’ Mike Whiddett name came about then?

MadMike: “Well the name actually came about in 1999 when I used to do freestyle motocross. Someone threw the name out there when they saw the kind of tricks I was doing, and it’s just sort of stuck with me since then.”


AmmaniV12: Hard to believe, but you’ve only been drifting professionally since late 2006. What lessons have you learnt during that period that you feel are vital for all newcomers to the sport?

MadMike: “I guess having fun is the main thing. You’ve got to have fun to make it work, and to build good relationships with people. Drifting is all about sponsorship, and it’s about building good relationships, and just making sure you get out there and have fun, and your team has fun. I’m fortunate enough to have a team that loves to develop the car as much as I love to beat it down! I think it’s a full package, not just to have a great driver but to have a great team, great car, great sponsors and the support behind you is what’s going to make a good package

“They’ll want to get used to the travelling too! I’m fortunate enough to be the most traveled drifter in the world, so my passport is full of stamps! You can get electronic passports now, but I'd rather hang around for half an hour at passport control to get it stamped. Every stamp tells a story, y’know.”


AmmaniV12: One of your more famous driftcars in the ‘Madbul’ RX7. Why did you choose to compete in a Mazda RX7?

MadMike: “I’ve always been into rotaries. When I was nine years old, we had a holiday home we went to at Christmas. I remember when I was nine and these teenage dudes rolling through, and you could just hear (imitates noise) from this little Toyota Corolla they’d done a rotary conversion on. From the moment I heard that car, I just thought, ‘what the hell is that motor? I’ve got to have it!’

“I was running motocross at that stage and the rotary sounded very similar. By the age of thirteen, I’d already got my own car built. It was an old 1978 Mazda 323, which comes standard with a 1000cc piston engine. We did 12A rotary conversion and just went from there. The RX8, the very bad bull (!), is our 30 th
conversion. And I’ve got my Toyota Corolla dirt hacks. But with the drifting, it was much easier to get the body panels and parts for an RX7.”

AmmaniV12: Any particular plans in mind for the RX7…?

MadMike: “The RX7 is in generation five, so it’s really well-developed and there’s a really good balance between power, traction and weight. That is what makes a great drift car, the perfect balance between the three. We could make it more competitive by not spending any more money on the design, but it would take character away from what the Madbul is.

“It is, I think, the most well-known drift car in the world. It’s won Pro Drift Car of the Year three years out of four, and the only time it didn't win was when we had the RX8. It's a very competitive chassis. Wherever you go, you’ve got to make the car work for the judging procedure. I want to do a four-rotor turbo, which is
a good 1000hp, not so much a Championship winning car, but would probably be the next evolution.

“The Madbul is iconic. To be able to go overseas, and hear people go, ‘whoa, bloody hell, this kid has reproduced this motor that got banned from Le Mans into a drift car that just screams’! That just gives me motivation to keep on pushing.”


AmmaniV12: What was your favorite car to drift?

MadMike: “The only stock car I've drifted is the Chevrolet Camaro. Everything else has been come from Mazda, and the old school streetcars, which are a lot harder to drift. The RX7 is super violent, because it’s got a short wheel base and is quite wide. If I went to competition and wanted to win, I'd take the RX8. It’s got more power, more torque, it’s the same length but has a longer wheelbase. The transmission is a lot smoother. The RX7 is super violent, has a lot of power, but no torque, so it’s like a 125 motocross bike. It’s hard work, compared with the V8. That has so much power, you can just keep it in fourth gear and it’ll still perform!”

AmmaniV12: You started off in Motocross, looking for bigger and better thrills which led to numerous concussions and broken bones. What inspired you to keep coming back and to keep competing?

MadMike: “It was the adrenaline. Absolutely! To have 10,000 fans screaming your name is just amazing! Even when doing the FMX, a lot of riders would start off with the easier tricks and then work up to their hardest trick at the end of their run. I’d come out blazing, and my first one would be the biggest, hardest one I could do.

Straight away that would get the crowd up and jumping. I also rode a 125, which gave the bike a different note. When I hit the ramp, it sounded like I was going twice as fast as everyone on the 250s! So yeah, I wanted to keep coming back for the fans.

“But oh man, the injuries. The biggest one I had was when I snapped my femur right at the top, and had to have my leg reconstructed with titanium rods. Then shortly after that healed, I compressed four vertebrae in my back. I was doing a Steriliser, which is where you land sitting on the seat but with your legs still over
the handlebars. For that you need to get the down ramp angle perfect because the suspension takes all the impact. A big blast of wind blew me straight past the down ramp and I landed square on the ground from about 95 feet up.

“That was really serious actually. They told me I’d be paralyzed for life from my seventh vertebrae down. Eight hours later I could feel pins and needles in my feet. It turned out the swelling in my back had pinched a nerve, and that cut all the feeling. The doctors said that it was a one in a million chance.

“That didn’t stop me riding though! (laughs)


AmmaniV12: What was the main influence on your decision to switch from motocross to drifting?

Madmike: “Injury mainly. I was always brought up on a limited budget. Never met my father, and my mum’s never been super wealthy, but she does as much as she can. But when I was racing motocross it was really hard for her. I was really competitive, so I was always after new tyres, new clutch plates, etc. I had the passion but after a while, the racing just got too expensive.

“So in 1999, I did the first ever freestyle motocross demonstration in New Zealand. It’s a big day out and a huge festival we have every year, with rock bands and hip-hop just before New Year We put on quite a show there, and of course the ‘Mad Mike’ name came from that. I did that for three years, and those
three years broke pretty much every bone in my body! Then I saw these drifting competitions and thought, ‘damn, I can do this’. I’d been thrashing cars around the paddocks and bouncing them off fence posts since I was young! One thing led to another and the rest is history.”


AmmaniV12: What is it about you – ‘Mad’ Mike Whiddett – that keeps the big names and the big sponsors coming to you? What can you offer?

MadMike: “Well I guess it's the progression in the sport. I’m into drifting to grow the sport as much as grow myself and my partners. It’s more than just ‘Mad Mike’. Every year, I just put myself in my fans shoes: I always want to step up the bar and keep changing things, so every year we go a little bigger. We’ve been voted
Driftcar of the Year [with both the Madbul RX7 and Madbul RX8] by the fans a few times now, and that just inspires me to think outside the box and create not only competitive cars but stuff that looks cool!

“Drifting when it originated was never about the fastest car, it was about who looked the coolest on-track. With the amount of money we pour into our cars, we could make them a lot more competitive and have them look a lot worse and win everything! Drifting is 50% performance, 50% show. So yeah, I bring a  how!”

AmmaniV12: Let’s talk a bit about drifting in the region. The Red Bull Car Park Drift is a big event, but so too is Drift UAE, which at the moment is struggling. What do you think could bring interest back to drifting in the Middle East, and internationally?

“Well for starters we need easy venues for everyone to get to any type of person, whether you’re a teenager with a Toyota Corolla or…actually what are the cheap cars to get over here?

Depends what you mean by ‘cheap’. We’ve heard you can grab a Nissan GT- R or a Mitsubishi Evo for a dirham or two if you speak to the right people!

“Okay, good options there (laughs)! But yeah, we want to make it easy for the younger generation to get into, and that’s what’s going to keep the sport afloat. That’s what appeals about the Red Bull Car Park Drift. It doesn’t matter what age you are or what car you have. You can just come down and enter!


“I think trying to get more people off the streets onto the track where it’s a lot safer, the speeds are much higher and the adrenaline a lot better. I think with things like Formula Drift or Drift UAE, you can enter your full pro-spec Formula B car, or enter your Toyota Corolla and BMW 5 series, and anything could win! how could that not bring people into the sport?!”

AmmaniV12: Would you say that drifting is more of a regional pursuit? It’s certainly has greater impact on the motorsport scene in the Middle East than it does say in Europe…

“Well in Australia and New Zealand, we have the V8 Supercars. That’s the biggest motorsport event out there, and so they perceive drifting as boy racers: kids off the street, y’know. They don’t really rate the USA-spec drift series that have the manufacturers behind it: Ford, Chevy, Dodge, energy drink sponsorship
and tyres manufacturers and so on. So in the USA, it’s all super elite brands and multi-million dollar investments.

“In New Zealand, it’s still seen as a boy racer sport, so it’s hard in that respect to keep the sport evolving when all it takes is one kid to do a donut on a roundabout, and people are up in arms! That’s not proper drifting anyway. The cars we use can hit 200kph, run full safety equipment, plus we’ve got FIA spec helmets, suits and it’s a safe environment. I mean that’s what professional drifting is, and hopefully people all over the world can see that with events like this.”


AmmaniV12: Unsurprisingly, your interests include the usual hobbies we’d expect from extreme athletes (BMX biking and skateboarding spring to mind), but you’re also quite keen on graphic design and art. How does that mix with the ‘Mad’ side of your character?

“When I was at school, I knew I wanted to be a pro-motocross rider in the USA, and I wanted to make stuff look cool. I always liked making stickers, and every night after school, I’d go to our local signwriting place. I’d get all the offcuts and draw different shapes, numbers and graphics for my bike, and then lay them all out. I was doing that from a very early age.

“Straight out of school, I went round all the sign writing shops and asked them, ‘how do I become a sign writer?’ They said I needed an apprenticeship, so that’s what I went for. I was doing that for three years for about four dollars an hour: most of my buddies were getting paid more to work at McDonalds! But I was having fun. I was enjoying it.

“Once I finished my apprenticeship, I started my own business with my fiancĂ©e, called ‘Create Graphics’. Since then, I’ve done all my own designs, all my own graphics on the cars. One of the highlights of my year is when it comes designing a new look for the car. Everyone is like ‘right, what are we going to do this
year that look sick?!’. We always try to generate something bigger and better, something that looks more badass than it was the year before.”


Photography credits: Estabraq Kamal
In cooperation with CrankAndPiston.com

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

That's inspirational.

Great work AmmaniV12

Anonymous said...

who's your photographer ?? he is really good

CarFreak said...

It's written at the end my friend
pictures tagged with AmmaniV12 were taken by Estabraq Kamal, other pictures are under the courtesy of SpeedHunters.com

Post a Comment

Next Post Previous Post Home