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Johnson never really intended to be a pro drift racer. Drifting started out as a hobby for him back when he was in junior high. When he was around 12 years old, his dad went to an auto auction and bought an '89 Jeep Cherokee that had been rolled over, as a project to work on at home. Chris learned how to drive with that car on the back field behind their Kent, Washington, home. He also figured out how to intentionally slide the car, how to jump it, how to throw it around corners and how to “go much faster than it should have gone.”
Today, Chris is 29 years old, and competes in drift races professionally, part of a Formula Drift team that consists of he and his father. Living back in Kent, Chris has been competing for several years now.
By day, the Universal Technical Institute (UTI) graduate works as a sales executive at 425 Motorsports in Bellevue, Washington. He sells automotive racing equipment, just like the kind he uses when he races, to teams and clients from around the world.
“To buy a product from me is a little bit more meaningful,” says Chris. “I turned what my hobby was into my profession.”
When Chris was 16 years old, he attended his first Formula Drift event at the Evergreen Speedway near Seattle. He compares the event to a Monster Jam truck show, one so awe-inspiring, it seemed impossible to break into.
“These cars are doing crazy feats,” Chris says. “It's ridiculous and fun and entertaining, but you don't think, 'I could do that.'”
He attended another drift event after graduating UTI, this time the NissanFest back at the same track. There were local drivers participating in exhibitions, and with the experience he had sliding his Jeep around, this time Chris did think, “I could do that.”
Chris had a Nissan 300ZX he had used to complete a high school project with. He made some modifications to the car and started competing in entry-level drift events, ending up in the top 10 for Grassroots competitions.
“Drifting is one of the few sports I've done and just picked up, and it just feels natural to me,” Chris says. “The level of car control to do this is very challenging for some people, but for me, it clicked.”
He built a new car to compete in the Pro-Am competitions. This one had a roll cage and more power, and it led him to get his Formula Drift PRO 2 license. In 2016 and 2017, Chris competed in races in Atlanta; Chandler, Arizona; Fort Worth, Texas; and Orlando, Florida.
Chris took the 2018 year off from competing to rebuild his car, a 1995 Nissan 240SX. He's also focusing on creating more media to attract potential sponsors, since his pro drift career is currently mostly self-funded. His next Pro-Am competition is in April 2019, then he'll be off to Holley LSFest West in Las Vegas.
Before Chris got into drifting, he worked as an automotive technician. He knew as a high school student he wanted to attend UTI, and he double-phased his classes to graduate with both automotive technician training, as well as diesel technician training, from UTI Avondale.
“I wanted to be a valuable technician, because I was looking at going into a dealership,” Chris says. “I also wanted to not have any fear of working on something. I wanted to understand both auto and diesel really well. I didn't want any feelings holding me back, and the knowledge would have been too valuable to pass up.”
Chris went on to complete the Manufacturer-Specific Advanced Training program for Ford Accelerated Credential Training at UTI, too, since there was a Ford dealer close to where he planned on living back in Washington, and he says, “I knew it was an excellent program.” Indeed, he went on to work at that Ford dealership in Kent and became a main line technician within three months of working there. After working for four years in the dealership, Chris moved on to working at 425 Motorsports, where he works the 3,000-square foot showroom, selling everything from race seats and helmets, to performance parts and body kits.
Besides working with those who come into the shop, Chris also manages wholesale accounts, including one for Enjuku Racing. The team at 425 Motorsports is small, and Chris enjoys all the hands-on work he gets to do with clients he has from around the world. He recently sold a set of seat brackets to a client in France.
Chris says he looks forward to competing again, and he and his dad hope to build his dad a car one day so they can drive together. Chris says his technician background and current day job help him be a better drift racer, and vice-versa.
“The background knowledge of knowing how to work on cars really allowed me to build a more competitive car than I would have paid for,” Chris says. “If I feel a steering issue, or the tire pressure isn't quite right, a lot of that comes from what I learned in school.”
For current UTI students, Chris advises to pay close attention to the knowledge instructors impart. Even though you might not be tested on certain things you hear in the classroom, those tidbits of information could be the most valuable for your future.
“There is so much of what instructors tell you that might not be on a test but that really applies in the real world,” Chris says. “There was so much I got from teachers that wasn't part of the curriculum but that has helped me so much in my career.”
Chris says that if you want to drift race like him, you should pursue your dreams. Don't assume that the dealer life or working in a repair shop is the only way to go with a UTI education.
“I'm an excellent example that you can do a lot,” Chris says. “I was always interested in fun performance race cars. That's not a course, but in every single class, you can take something out of that class and apply it to what you want to do.”
For those who are interested in racing, Chris says to research your favorite drivers and look at how they got on the paths they took. If you want to learn more about Chris, you can find him on Facebook and Instagram. Get info on UTI here.
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1) UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.
2) For important information about the educational debt, earnings and completion rates of students who attended this program, and to review the applicable Gainful Employment disclosure, visit www.uti.edu/disclosures.
6) UTI graduates' achievements may vary. Individual circumstances and wages depend on personal credentials and economic factors. Work experience, industry certifications, the location of the employer and their compensation programs affect wages. UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.
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12) Based on data compiled from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections (2016-2026), www.bls.gov, viewed October 24, 2017. The projected number of annual job openings, by job classification is: Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics, 75,900; Bus and Truck Mechanics and Diesel Engine Specialists, 28,300; Automotive Body and Related Repairers, 17,200. Job openings include openings due to growth and net replacements.
15) Manufacturer-paid advanced training programs are conducted by UTI’s Custom Training Group on behalf of manufacturers who determine acceptance criteria and conditions. These programs are not part of UTI’s accreditation.