MDU To Pro 2 (To Pro) - Dirk Stratton

Posted by Nick Quigley on

Dirk Stratton made his Midwest Drift Union debut at the 2014 Streets of Detroit event, piloting a flat-green S13 sporting the now-familiar Stratton Chevrolet insignia on the door.

Stratton would return for the full 2015 season, making the top sixteen at round one and bowing out to Jonathan Nerren.

Round two would mark the debut of the C6 Corvette, the first to ever compete in MDU. The Drift Vette was an instant hit with fans, and its first appearance on the Streets of Detroit couldn't have been more appropriate.

His semi-final battle against Shane Whalley's GTO, with two big American V8s door-to-door on the streets of Motor City, was one of the most memorable moments not only of the event but in the entire history of MDU.

Stratton once again made it to the semi-finals at round three, at the time still a joint venture with Street Life Tour. Though he'd lose his bout against Riley Sexsmith, the Drift Vette continued to impress.

Despite not being on the podium at any of the rounds Stratton's consistent high qualifying scores and placement secured his Pro 2 license and being crowned the series champion.

Instead of jumping straight into Pro 2, Stratton returned to MDU for round one in 2016 at Gateway. It would mark the first time Stratton had a crash with the C6, spinning out behind Alec Robbins in their battle and hitting the tire wall after the initiation point of the sweeper.

The 'Vette was back in action at round two at Lucas Oil Raceway Park at the top qualifier, making it to the quarterfinals before falling to original MDU champion Mike Feiock and his RX-8. Stratton did not finish the season.

The Drift Vette would make its Pro 2 debut at round one in Orlando for the 2017 season, laying down a scorching run to secure the fifth spot. Stratton would ultimately finish in seventh, making a very solid opening performance.

Round two in Atlanta would yield a similar result, with Stratton dialing the car up a notch to secure the second qualifying spot and inching up the ladder to finish in fifth.

By this point, Stratton had been on a roll and Seattle only proved that further. This time he found himself as the number one qualifier and finished in third. Unfortunately, mechanical gremlins at the final round in Texas would spell the end of Stratton's season, with the Drift Vette being the only car to not qualify. 

Stratton moved up the ranks to Pro for the 2018 season, kicking off with the 14th qualifier spot in Long Beach and drawing FD veteran Vaughn Gittin Jr in top 32. Despite his loss there, Stratton would bump himself up to the 13th qualifier spot in Orlando, defeating Matt Coffman in top 32 before being knocked out by Piotr Weicek in the main event.

He would continue to make the top 32 for the remainder of the season, though only advancing to the top sixteen in the final round at Irwindale against Jeff Jones.

So far in 2019, Stratton qualified 25th at Long Beach and 26th at Orlando, both times drawing Chris Forsberg and neither time making it into top sixteen.

Round three at Road Atlanta went a little better, with Stratton qualifying 20th and drawing Dylan Hughes in top 32, getting the win and moving on to face 2017 and 2018 Formula DRIFT champion, James Deane, who would go on to finish third.

Stratton qualified 24th in New Jersey, bowing out to Ryan Tuerck in top 32, who would go on to win the event. A 20th place qualifying position would pit Stratton against Odi Bakchis in top 32 at Monroe, but that would be as far as the Drift Vette made it.

Round six at St. Louis would see Stratton once again land in the high twenties in qualifying with 22nd, but would not make it past Daijiro Yoshihara in top 32.

I caught up with the former MDU champion to get a look into how things have been going since he started Formula DRIFT.

NQ: What was the biggest difference going from Pro 2 to Pro 1?

DS: The biggest difference between Pro 2 and Pro 1 is learning how prepared to be, and even if you think you're prepared, you're never prepared enough for what's going to happen. There's always with any type of race car the chance that something will go wrong, and just being prepared and having your team there to be able to work through those things. Showing up ill-prepared is going to be the biggest thing that will push you down. Coming through a series like MDU that had a four round series and a very FD-like setup as far as run-of-show, rules and everything else definitely helps as far as coming into Pro 2. The other thing is, every step you take, the drivers are more experienced and the cars are faster every time. When we came into Pro 2, our car was already pretty quick and on the faster end of a pro-am car, so coming into Pro 2 wasn't that big of a deal. The jump from Pro 2 to Pro 1 is pretty big in that the cars are all extremely gripped up with big tires and big power. When we came into Pro our first year, the car was good, drove well and was mechanically sound, but just wasn't as fast as the other cars. I had to drive at 100% at all time in order to run the course and keep up. I had nothing in reserve to be able to surge in follow, so that's the big thing this year in stepping up with a supercharger and gaining more power and going to the 285 Achilles, so we have more grip, power and are able to keep up a lot better this year. Also, listening to anybody that has advice to give you. Maybe everyone's advice isn't good, but at least listen to what they're saying and maybe take something from it and pay attention to your peers and the other people that are doing it. Even though you may not be on a budget like Vaughn or other guys that have been doing this for 16+ years, you can still look at what they're doing and say hey, I can aspire to that. He's got all these spare parts and maybe that's something you need to look at. That's the biggest thing I can say is being prepared. A problem with a lot of the drivers in Pro 2 and even in Pro 1 like myself is that we get so wrapped up in a car build and making it to these events that we never get to drive outside of FD. And that's a problem in that when we get here we don't really have any seat time. If you don't have the means or availability to drive something else or your car at other events, just wait. Don't jump in to soon. If you're ready, you're ready.

NQ: What do you wish you could go back and tell Pro-Am-era you?

DS: Definitely try more suspension settings. We never really messed with anything, so coming in to this caliber of driving we really had to learn all at once on what to adjust it and how to adjust it to make changes in the way the car drives. The other thing is that I never drove on a sticky tire in pro-am, I always drove on cheap tires and that was one of the biggest changes to the car that made a difference in how it drove. Even if you're not using them in pro-am, just try out a tire similar to what you're going to be moving to so you can at least get your car setup somewhat prepared. Don't overthink it. If you're not having fun, there's no reason to do it in my opinion, so make sure you enjoy being around the people you have around you and be able to just drive for the enjoyment of it. The first competition I ever went to was MDU Streets of Detroit and I showed up because I just wanted to try it out and see how I would do against other drivers. I qualified fairly well, probably mid-pack. I was super pumped and went up for top sixteen competition with no extra help, tires, nothing...just here I am, ready to go. It's been a long road in a short amount of time. After that first event we saw everybody else had extra tires and wheels and everything else that they would need, and we really learned from that just by doing it. Have the seat time, have a reliable car and have the chance to go try it out without the expectation of winning, and you'll learn just by being a part of it.

NQ: Being a one-event shootout this year, where should drivers put their focus?

DS: For a one event style, it's complicated in that it's cool that you can go to one event and earn a Pro 2 license and it's great for logistics. People can come from all over the country and come to this event. The biggest thing to me would be consistency and reliability. If the car will run all day and the driver can do the same lap repetitively, and not exactly a gangster, number one qualifier lap, but just a consistent lap all day and the car stays together, that's going to be who has the advantage for sure. It comes back on being prepared, but way more crucial because you have a one weekend event. If you have a problem with your car and learn it the hard way while driving, you have time to fix it and go to the next event. It has its ups and downs, and I could see where it would be stressful for a driver to have to put that much focus on one event.