Kentucky native Jonathan Hurst's first appearance in Midwest Drift Union competition was round one at Gateway in 2016. Though it was his only event of that season, he would return in 2017 with an appetite for a Pro 2 license.
When Hurst showed up to Gateway for round one a year later, the most obvious change was the color swap from green to orange.
What you couldn't see was the sheer amount of power the car was putting down...746 hp in base tune and 1,100 on high, making it the most powerful car to ever compete in the series.
Despite sending the car into the wall on the huge sweeper, Hurst secured a third-place finish and give him a solid start in the season points.
Hurst wouldn't make it as far at round two, bowing out in top eight to Noah Michaels and the new-at-the-time M1 Concourse in Pontiac, MI.
For round three, Hurst made it to the final four where he'd face off against Geoff Donati, who had been on fire the entire season. Despite being knocked out, Hurst was still climbing the points ladder.
Going into the fourth and final round, Hurst had to be very careful where he stepped on said ladder. The points gap was so close that it came down to whether he would defeat Donati in the semi-finals whether he would earn his license. The two had battled at almost every round of the season, with Hurst getting the short end of the stick. This time however, Hurst would get the win and secure his Pro 2 license.
If you're wondering what a car that's been driven to the edge for an entire season looks like, look no further than the final condition of Hurst's 350Z after four rounds.
Hurst's Pro 2 career didn't start as he'd hoped. Struggles with a new chassis resulted in a failure to qualify at round one in Atlanta. However, Hurst would rally back at St. Louis for a second-spot qualifier, ultimately finishing ninth. after bowing out to Crick Filippi in top sixteen. Hurst finished his inaugural Pro 2 year qualifying sixth at Irwindale and landing 10th overall on the season.
Round three in Texas would see Hurst qualify 12th, where he defeated his MDU rival Geoff Donati in top sixteen before falling to another MDU rival Garrett Denton in the great eight, ultimately coming home in seventh.
So far in 2019, Hurst secured a Pro 2-best finish of third at Orlando, marking his first time on the podium at that level.
Round two at Road Atlanta was ripe with unsatisfactory driving conditions, and Hurst didn't make the cut into competition.
It was unfortunately a similar story in St. Louis, with Hurst just missing the cut for top sixteen.
I caught up with Hurst at Atlanta to talk about his time in MDU what how things have been going since earning his Pro 2 license.
NQ: What did you learn your first year of Pro 2 that made you better prepared for the next?
JH: Having spare parts and having a better mindset of not being nervous. You've been to the venues and tracks, and just being around the area and making yourself familiar with the Formula DRIFT staff helps with things like making sure you know when and where there will be driver meetings, as they take that very seriously here. Preparation wise, we really didn't really have an issues, just had to drive better and learn everything because all the tracks were new except one. Running MDU prepared us as good as we could be prepared for Pro 2, with having four rounds and having to travel.
NQ: What's it like competing against many of your old MDU rivals at this level? Are you a bit more relaxed or still driving as hard as you can?
JH: Maybe in the top sixteen battle we might be a little conservative, but once you get past that it's 100% and we don't hold back. We only have four rounds, and in a top sixteen battle anything can happen. We try to do the best we can. You don't want to slouch on anyone you think might not be that good, and then as soon as you get in the competition, they turn it up and you fall back behind.
NQ: If you could go back and give Pro-Am you some advice, what would it be?
JH: Have better radio communication. We're in the second year and we'll run Wal-Mart radios and it's probably the biggest mistake we're making. And we're still making it. We definitely need to invest in good radios because communication between your spotter and crew chief is so important. In pro-am, we didn't have that. Some guys did, but we just relied on my driving to hope we did well and that's how we got through pro-am. Last year we relied on text messages or phone apps and it's not good. If you get into a spot where maybe someone zeroed behind you and you don't know that, and you go 100% when you really didn't have to, that's when the communication really comes into play.
NQ: When you competed in MDU, it was a traveling series. What would you say to the drivers who are hoping to get their license in a "one and done" format?
JH: The thing is seat time. On the budget we run, I don't have much seat time in my car. Last year in Pro 2 we ran two other events besides the four Pro 2 rounds and you don't really get much driving time in Pro 2 at all. Basically you need to show up to the track and think that you can almost lay down a qualifying run on your very first run on a brand new track. If you don't feel comfortable in your car and can't put it in the right place within at least two laps, you might as well forget it because if you miss first practice you're done. We broke at the beginning of first practice and we got one lap the whole day so we went to qualify on our second lap. Seat time is just the most important thing. With these one-event series, it's cool when you're going against a lot of good people, but you also have to remember it's not just about one event.
NQ: With just one event for MDU this year, what area would you tell drivers to put the most focus to get the best results?
JH: Engine reliability. Everybody always says you don't want too much power but the thing is, you have to have power at some point, so you might as well learn and be comfortable with power. I think everybody talked crap about us when we were in pro-am because we had 800 horsepower, but we also had reliable 800 horsepower and never touched the car one time. We never had to work on it. Things are going to happen, but reliability is going to get you a good starting point and that's just more seat time and driving, which is really what you need to put your focus on.