Tom Dourgarian and Curtis Clevenger, a McNary High School grad, are sponsoring Portland International Raceway’s first ever Drift Crown Series. Both are hoping for a sucessful run that gives drivers a long-term home for safe, legal drifting competition. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Curtis Clevenger and Tom Dourgarian have been driving sideways – more commonly known as drifting – for a long as they’ve been able to drive.

In Dougarian’s case, the passion for cars and racing and, later, drifting has taken him to the other side of the country.

“I’ve gone to the extent of driving all the way out to the border of North Carolina and Tennessee to drive on a famous road called the Dragon’s Tail on U.S. 129, it’s like a rollercoaster of a road,” said the McKay High School graduate.

The road boasts 318 curves in 11 miles.

Clevenger is no less enthusiastic about the sport, but maybe slightly more unlucky.

“I lost my license two weeks after getting it and it’s been downhill ever since,” said Clevenger, a McNary grad.

Drifting refers to a driving technique where the driver intentionally oversteers, causing loss of traction in the rear wheels. The drift occurs as the car’s rear end swings to the side, which means drivers are often looking out driver and passenger windows as they steer. It requires a car with rear-wheel drive and typically some moderate conversions as well as some deft footwork like heel-and-toe downshift and clutch kicking.

The two formed a bond over their love of cars 15 years ago, but it’s as business partners in Levelride Concepts that they’re seeking to draw attention to the sport of drifting, and hope to take it from the illegal passion of their youth to the safer confines of Portland International Raceway.

Clevenger and Dourgarian will be participating as drivers and sponsors of the first-ever 2012 Drift Crown Series at PIR, which kicks off March 17 and 18 and continues once a month through August.

The goal is to convince PIR officials that drifters can be safe, responsible and respectful of the venue, which Dourgarian and Clevenger hope will pave the way for continuing the program in the years to come.

As they approach their mid-thirties, both Clevenger and Dourgarian look back on their younger days with a bit of disbelief and admonishment.

“If you’re out drifting on a city street or rural road you’re putting yourself in danger and your putting other people in danger. The person coming around the corner could be someone you’re related to,” Dourgarian said. “This is an opening to take it off of the streets.”

In addition to being drivers, Dourgarian drives a Nissan Skyline and Clevenger drives a version of the Nissan 240sx, they are also sponsors of driver James Wiklund through Levelride Concepts, which produces custom stainless steel parts like brakes and shift knobs.

Clevenger, a metal machinist, makes each piece by hand, so each one is unique. They started the business last year after attending an auto show.

“I started looking around at the parts and what they were charging and realized I could make a lot of them as long as we could afford the metal,” Clevenger said. “I freehand everything so it’s more of an art.”

On a whim, Dourgarian had a friend set up a website for the business and they had their first order the next day.

“We’ve shipped stuff to Canada and across the U.S. Oddly enough, we’re big in the Philippines,” Clevenger said.

The duo’s rapidly rising profile has led to other unexpected opportunities. Last weekend, they traveled to Portland where the NBC crew filming Grimm in Portland shot their first promo video.

The driving and drifting is still their first love, however.

“You can’t just jump into any rear-wheel drive car and just start drifting, you have to feel the car and almost in a way have to talk to the car,” Dorgarian said. “But when it’s done right, it’s like you’re in a rollercoaster you can drive.”

For more information about the Drift Crown series, visit www.driftcrown.com. Admission to the Drift Crown Series events will be free. For more information about Levelride Concepts, visit, www.levelrideconcepts.com.