As the R33 sedan comes screaming past sideways, rear wheels spinning, front wheels pointing one way, car moving to the right as it effortlessly slides through the course cones and heads off to the slow down area, I know I’m in for a treat this afternoon.
Shortly after while I’m getting my gear together, the R33 pulls up beside me and before I could even get a word in, from out of the helmet comes the words “Holy shit, its just come to me! Everything is just flowing!”. Those words are not from who most would expect to see under the helmet. A florist by day and a drifter after hours, 29-year-old Kelli Grey is one of the regular drivers at the two West Australian drift series, practicing at one, competing at the other.
Kelli has come leaps and bounds in the last few months since I first noticed her when photographing the start/finish line of the D1WA Round 1 practice event and while trying to get some driver photos inside their cars. I noticed one particular driver’s car was bouncing around and hands kept popping out of the window. I looked over and there was Kelli throwing her arms around, dancing, dabbing and who knows what else inside that car. She was waiting behind another car that was taking forever to move forward and she started beating the steering wheel shouting “Come on! Come on! Let’s go! Let’s go!”.
This behavior is quite unusual, not in a bad way, at the start/finish line of a drift event as usually the drivers are in their focus mode. Thinking of the run ahead, clipping points, gear changes, handle pulls and more.
So fast forward a few months and she has booked me for a private photo session and as I’m watching her excitement from nailing the run, I figure it is time to get inside the helmet with Kelli and find out about what brought her to drifting.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST “GET INTO” MOTORSPORT?
I guess it started at a young age, liking motorsport and messing around with cars. I grew up in a country town a little north of Perth, Western Australia where we had 7 acres.
My Parents had brought me a paddock basher, a Datsun 720 pickup ute to be exact, it was an old bunky 4×4 ute. My Dad and I carved out a rally track in the front paddock, and off I went pretty much. Every time I crashed it, Dad would say, bring it up to the shed, and let’s fix it and get you back out there.
Next thing I know, My old man is like “Wanna know how to clutch kick through a corner” or “Here’s how you do a roll back burnout!” That was it, I was hooked, sideways here, sideways there, crash into this, crash into that.
WHAT ABOUT COMPETITIVE MOTORSPORT?
On my P Plates I used to drive my first R33 Skyline coupe down to Barbagallo Raceway to watch the WA Drift events. I was completely mesmerized and joked around about becoming a competitive drifter. After the events we would often go out to old truck stops and just mess around with other would be drifters throwing around our cars hoping for the best.
A few years later I built a lovely R33 Skyline Impul R33R sedan with adjustable everything pushing out 400hp and I was getting super confident with my driving.
A bunch of us would head out to an industrial area late at night and we would just practice and practice and practice drifting corners and trialing big handbrake entries until I got good enough to link an entire block. Nobody “taught” me, I just felt it out as such, essentially if it felt good and my mates cheered me on, I guess I was doing well!
A couple of my mates at the time had started going to WA Drift practice Saturdays, and suggested I join them. Nervous as hell, I got my licenses and borrowed a friends R33 Sedan and off to “Noob pad” I went. It took me 2 attempts to get off the Noob pad as Kevin Toh (Noob pad teacher at the time) was very strict about us being able to maintain a consistent drift before we left onto the main track of Barbagallo. Thank you to Kevin for ensuring I was ready before sending me out!
SO HOW DID YOU GO?
I swapped my friends R33 for mine and headed out to the main track. Looking back at myself now, my driving would had been super cringe worthy, like just sending it with no car control, oh my god how I didn’t die was beyond me. I got a lot of 1 on 1 help from some amazing people down at WA Drift, including Western Australia’s leading driver at the time, Adam Trewhella, which stuck to me to this very day. I ended up stopping the drifting and being in the car scene for 5 or so years. I got married to my long-time friend and car buddy Kyle and focused on other things.
WHAT BROUGHT YOU BACK TO DRIFTING?
I struggled a lot during that time with depression & anxiety to a point I couldn’t leave the house without having an anxiety attack and at the start of 2019 I had a breakdown.
Between the Doctor, my husband, my parents and myself we had all agreed that I needed a hobby that would keep me concentrating on pushing myself further and getting my confidence back instead of crawling under a rock and freaking out. We all decided Motorsport was the answer.
I said to Kyle, I want to go back to drifting as I still had a lot of friends who were still competing, and they had been pushing me to get back into it. With the help of them, and a couple of workshops, the new R33 Sedan was purchased.
IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU HAVE AN AWESOME SUPPORT TEAM BEHIND YOU, DO YOU THINK YOU WOULD HAVE GOTTEN BACK INTO MOTORSPORT WITHOUT THE PUSH OR HEADED INTO ANOTHER HOBBY?
My support team is 10/10. Without them, I wouldn’t be here. If I didn’t get the constant push from them, I don’t think I would had gotten behind the wheel of another fast car to be honest and would had kept bombing around in my Patrol!
I even had Andrew Cahill messaging me for 6 months straight asking me if I had brought another drift car yet!
TELL ME ABOUT THE NEW CAR AND YOUR FIRST TIME BACK ON TRACK
We brought the new Sedan in February 2019. And set to work straight away.
We put a bigger hot side on, Locked the diff, and fixed a few issues and sent it off to Danny at Garage 101 for a tune, where it made a Healthy and reliable 360hp.
I did a D1WA Stadium in Collie and came back to Perth to continue with further drift practices getting better and better each time I drove.
A friend and business owner, Isaac Twyford, Owner of Yetti Fabrication & Design, who had done a bit of fabrication on the car previously had been attending most of these events watching myself progress came to Kyle and I to discuss being a major sponsor for the Sedan and myself. I literally ugly cried, I had never in my whole life been offered such a thing, and to think that person thought enough of me to want to help me progress and be major part of our lives was just insane.
I am not a religious person, but that day I felt blessed. Yetti (Isaac) has been the most caring and helpful person I have ever met, and truthfully without him and his lovely partner Candace, I would had let my demons get the better of me a few times and not had gone to events. They literally held my hand the entire way, making sure I was mentally strong enough and the car was in tip top shape. I wouldn’t had made it this far without them!
I’M PRETTY SURE I KNOW THIS ANSWER, BUT WHO WOULD YOU SAY IS YOUR BIGGEST FAN?
My husband! He’s the best cheerleader and the biggest help of all. He’s been helping to cart my ass around WA with my Skyline, making sure we’re all fed and watered, picking up parts, dropping parts off, forever pushing me to be bigger and better. He has also started getting super involved in drifting himself, to a point we are now looking for a second car!
I told him I would get up on his door on his first outing though just so he got it over and done with haha!
WHAT ABOUT THE FUTURE?
I have nearly done a full year of drifting now including competition rounds, and I don’t see myself slowing down anytime soon. The car has gone from good to great in a short period of time, and my driving has progressed along with it. I love the drift community here in WA. It is so encouraging and helpful.
I am definitely looking forward to the 2020 Drift season. My end goal is to be the Best Female drifter in Western Australia, and to be a role model for anyone looking at getting into the sport, male or female.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BEST DRIFTING MOMENT?
My best moment in drifting was linking the entire main track in the dry. Sounds pathetic, but I had only done it in the wet, so less commitment. And for a new driver, holy crap that makes your heart beat quick! When I came back into the pits my entire crew literally ran at my car and dragged me out of it and were dancing around and cheering like crazy people!
I ugly cried at that moment too!
I CAN’T ASK ABOUT YOUR BEST DRIFTING MOMENT, WITHOUT ASKING ABOUT YOUR BIGGEST OOPS? I KNOW YOU LOVE GOING TO THE BEACH IN TURN 1 AT BARBAGALLO!
My worst moment drifting was back in my original R33 Sedan and I came off the back of V8 race at some crazy speed and slide down the grass but the car hopped on two wheels and I thought I was going over, that was scary!
I also frequent the Cat corner “Beach” I seem to think there’s a deck chair and beers waiting for me… bamboozled again!
AWESOME. THANKS KELLI!
Kelli Grey will next be competing in the D1WA Round 3 on Saturday September 28th 2019 at 5PM AWST.