Garrett Denton made his Midwest Drift Union debut in 2015, making a 12-plus hour trek from Rhode Island to do so. His time in the series that year was short lived, but it marked a crucial starting point in MDU that would eventually lead to a Pro 2 license.
After taking a brief hiatus from the series in 2016, he returned with a revamped program in 2017, qualifying first at round one at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, despite only having a couple days of testing under his belt.
Round two at M1 Concourse saw a setback as mechanical gremlins saw him forfeit a semi-final match after repairs couldn't be made within the five-minute timeout rule. He was back in full swing at round three at Lake Erie Speedway in Pennsylvania, where he once again earned the top qualifier spot, ultimately scoring a second place finish.
Though he didn't make it on the podium at the final round, Denton's high qualifying score and consistent high placement secured his Pro 2 license for 2018.
Denton's inaugural Pro 2 season didn't start off as he'd hoped, failing to qualify at Road Atlanta (notably sporting a color scheme reminiscent of his S13 three years prior). However, he'd be back in competition after qualifying 10th at St. Louis, where fellow MDU-turned-Pro 2-driver Alec Robbins would get the win between the two in top sixteen.
He would round out 2018 on some high notes, qualifying fourth at Texas and making it to the finals. Though he was ultimately defeated by Travis Reeder, a second place finish was nothing to be ashamed of, and Denton completed his first year of Pro 2 with the top qualifier honors at Irwindale, though he'd be knocked out in top sixteen.
So far in 2019, Denton qualified third at Orlando, bowing out in top sixteen to Geoff Donati. He would find himself on the podium once again, this time at Atlanta, for a third place finish. As of this posting, Denton sits with a 21-point deficit in third place behind series leader Trenton Beechum.
At the following round on the all-new course in St. Louis, Denton put together a 13-th place qualifying run that led to a fourth place overall finish.
I interviewed Denton over the FD ATL weekend about his time with MDU and how it prepared him for Pro 2, as well as his experiences in the series so far.
NQ: What has MDU done to help prepare you for where you are now?
GD: MDU was a full four round series. With it being four rounds, it prepared us partially as far as preparing for the logistics and traveling. We had a round in Michigan, Ohio, Missouri and Pennsylvania, so we were spread out.
NQ: When you started Pro 2 last year, what were some of the surprises you encountered?
GD: Cost is a huge factor. The level of cars. We don't have the resources to have a shop build all of our stuff. We do it all in a two-car garage with just me and a couple buddies from college. It's hard to keep up with the unlimited budget builds, and just making sure we don't have problems with the car. It seems that every round we come out for the first practice session and as soon as we go into session two, we get a random issues out of nowhere. We try to stay on top of things, but it seems it's always something small that comes up and bites us.
NQ: What is something you learned after your first year of Pro 2 that made you better prepared for the second?
GD: Just being prepared. Last year there were a couple times we showed up with the car not nut-and-bolted or the oil needed changes, stuff like that. All those things are things you need to do as soon as the round you're at is over, so that way when you get to the next round all you're worried about is cleaning the car off and making sure everything is good to go. That way you can focus on driving, instead of worrying about “oh, did we tighten this?” or “did we change that?” That's the biggest thing we learned from last year. There were issues with the cooling last year, and there were lessons learned and all those problems got fixed.
NQ: You're competing against a lot of drivers you originally battled in MDU. Does the mentality fro Pro-Am to Pro 2 change when you're going up against your friends?
GD: It's a little different because all the cars are a lot more comparable now. In pro-am, things maybe weren't so comparable that maybe gave one person an advantage over another, but now we all have the experience of being here for more than one season. Everyone here from MDU shreds, so you have to be on top of your game. It's no “oh this is a pushover battle” - there are no pushover battles in Pro 2.
NQ: If you could give Pro Am you (or drivers about to compete in Pro Am) some advice now that you're in Pro 2, what would it be? Where would you put the most focus?
GD: Focus on all of it. All around it has to come together to work right. You have to get your marketing right, which is something I'm still working on. I'm not the best social media guy, but your marketing program has to be right. You have to be understanding of the travel and logistics and have a good crew that you trust. In pro-am you can do it with a couple guys, but in Pro 2 you need a full crew of everybody knowing that they need to do. We have checklists printed out that when someone does their job they initial it. You have to be on top of everything way more than at a pro-am level. You need to prepare to grip your car up a lot. The whole style, hot-boi thing...you can try, but this isn't where you do it. You have to run the meaty tires and lift the car up a little bit. It's more about suspension geometry than about making the car look cool. Make sure you come in with a competitive car. Don't win your single round pro-am series and think you're ready to get into this, because you're not. Travel, go to different tracks and drive against different drivers. If you're in MDU, go to the U.S. Drift or down south. Lonestar doesn't travel too much but they have good competition to prepare you for the level you need to be ready at for Pro 2. There's dudes from all over the country (and outside) here, so you have to be ready to drive and run doors with people that you've never driven before and don't know their driving styles. It's just getting used to everything and getting very comfortable with your car. Don't build a new car to come into Pro 2, build something that you're familiar with. We went from an S13 to an S14, but it's still a very similar chassis, so it was an easy transition, compared to going from an S13 to an FR-S.