It’s a special moment seeing your project car come to life on the track, but it’s not every day you get to see your auto instructor crash it. For a dozen Rolling Meadows High School auto technology students, their drift car project is continuously a work in progress; getting better and better after each race.
In the winter of 2017, automotive technology instructor Joel Dufkis brought a beat up Mazda Miata to his classroom in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, with the goal of teaching his students how to build a racecar, while getting some drifting chops himself.
“I decided we needed some kind of project or something to do with the kids to try and do different things besides just repairing stuff,” says Dufkis.
“There’s an event called Driftchitown where they hold drift events at the Great Lakes Dragaway in Union Grove, Wisconsin. I saw that they are having events there so I figured we could take this Miata and build it into a drift car, take it up there and showcase the students’ skills and show them how to build a racecar.”
From Miata to ‘Mazdarati’
Using a play on words to jokingly compare their budget Mazda Miata to the sporting prowess of a Maserati, the students dubbed their project the “Mazdarati.”
Taking a Miata and turning it into the drifting Mazdarati took some trial and error.
“So when we got the car ready for the first time, we cut the springs to give it a little bit of a lower center of gravity, and we did a little bit of body work just to make it look better,” says Nicholas Wiltse, a senior at Rolling Meadows High School.
“We pretty much repainted the whole driver’s side and back trunk area of the car,” adds fellow senior Tony Puglia.
Beyond cosmetics, safety was also a concern. Dufkis and his students completely designed, bent and welded a custom roll bar for the Miata. The students also cut out the floor and welded in new mounts for a Kirkey Racking Seat.
After these changes were complete, Dufkis and his students took the Mazdarati to Driftchitown in April for their first drifting event. As the official Mazdarati driver, Dufkis drifted the car right into a concrete wall, chopping of the entire front end in the crash.
Cutting the springs proved to be problematic, causing a snap-oversteer situation that meant trouble combined with the car’s open differentials.
Getting Back on Track
Following the crash, the students pulled out the engine and drivetrain, cut out from the strut towers forward and created a tubular front end. On a tight budget to get parts, Dufkis found Miata body parts on Craigslist, but also came back with some used coilovers from the Craigslist seller’s own project Miata.
Dufkis also reached out to various companies to help sponsor the car through discounts that could get his students the parts they needed. Delinquent Industries hooked them up with steering knuckles to help the wheels turn more for optimum drifting. Other sponsors included Bend-Tech, Bauer Limited, Gates, and Titan Wheel Accessories.
The students also put a new radiator in, installed an eBay header and depowered the power steering rack to create a manual rack (since the power steering pump was a little smashed up from the crash).
For a cooler running Miata, they also modified a Hawley Performance coolant relocation kit.
The next race in August went a lot better, and was crash free, but getting on the track always presented opportunities to make the Mazdarati even better.
“In the August event we found out that the inside of the tires were rubbing on the lower control arms. So we had to grind those down a little bit give it a little bit more clearance for when the wheels were at full lock,” says Nicholas Wiltse.
Prepping for a race in October, the students had a running list of modifications to complete including installing extended lower ball joints to give the car more camber, allowing the tires to sit flatter on the ground in turns. In the winter they are looking at installing a turbo kit and possibly a rear mount radiator.
“We’re basically going to build pretty much everything we can from scratch,” says Dufkis.
For the students, the continuous work offers something beyond everday learning.
“It’s not just doing oil changes and brakes, it’s more modifying the car and seeing what works and what doesn’t work, and, what’s better for drifting,” says Tony Puglia. “And a lot of us can’t afford a car to make a project car and so this is also fun.”
“I liked working as a team,” adds senior Jarrett Donato, referring to his favorite part of the project so far. “And then finally getting it up and running…I like how we all had stuff to do to make things better and finally seeing something that we did work on the track.”