MythBusters Recap: Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman Test Drifting

by Alan Eggleston / February 15, 2015

MythBusters “San Francisco Drift” – what could Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman possibly be up to in this week’s episode?

Smoking tires, squealing turns, black rubber swerves laid across the pavement: These are the hallmarks of “drifting,” and drifting has been the fun of driving sequences in movies like The Fast and the Furious and the James Bond movies for years. (See more about The Fast and the Furious here.)

The implication has always been that drifting gets you around the curves and corners of a street faster. But is that true? That was the question that the MythBusters came to a NASA air testing facility to aggressively test in this season-finale episode.

First, Some Drifting Lessons from a Pro

Jamie and Adam are quick to admit that drifting is one skill they have never learned. So they bring in Formula Drift Racer Conrad Grunewald to teach them some skills.  (Learn more about Conrad Grunewald through his Facebook fan page.)

Drifting is about the coordination of speed, steering, hand braking, and gunning the car into the direction of the turn, all at the right time. It’s harder than it looks.

After an initial demonstration and drive through, Grunewald takes Jamie for a hands-on training session in Grunewald’s street racer on wide-open pavement. After multiple attempts and fails, Jamie finally gets the gist of it.

For Adam’s turn – well, it rains and Adam has to settle for learning in his ’91 coupe street car, considered ideal for street drifting. He, too, takes multiple attempts to finally get it right. But that doesn’t dampen Adam’s enthusiasm. “That’s one of the most fun things I’ve ever learned to do on this show!” he says.

After 12 hours of intense instruction, Jamie and Adam are ready to rest the myth: Is it really faster to take curves and corners by drifting than by regular driving?

Testing the Short Course – 90-degree Turn

To test the myth, Jamie and Adam set up a short course on the pavement using cones and barriers.

Course one features a 90-degree turn. Adam drives at 45 mph, making the turn using “straight” (regular) driving techniques. After a few attempts to become comfortable with the feel of the turns, Adam gets through without hitting any cones or barriers and makes it in 4 seconds.

Then Adam uses the drifting technique. Again, it takes a few attempts to become acclimated with the technique, but he finally nails it in 4 seconds.

Next, Jamie takes over the test. His times are the same, resulting in no difference between techniques.

Testing the Short course – 180-degree Turn

Time to go to the next step, testing a 180-degree turn. Since Jamie is having a hard time nailing the drift, Jamie uses the straight technique and Adam drives the drifting technique.

Jamie’s consistent benchmark at straight driving the 180-degree course comes out at 8 seconds. Adam’s consistent time at drift driving is 9 seconds. “It appears drifting is not faster,” observes Adam.  But he’s also very upbeat, adding, “Damn that feels good – I feel like an action hero!”

But these smaller tests are just the beginning: They set the basis for a much bigger test, a full blown street-racer style test of the myth pitting Jamie against Adam in an urban-drive environment featuring hard and soft roads, easy and difficult conditions, all that are fun to drive but experimentally valid.

Testing in the Urban Environment

Once again, Jamie will test the course using the straight technique and Adam will test the course using the drifting technique. Both will take the course as fast as possible, but they will attempt to make it through the course without hitting anything.

In two sessions, Jamie makes times of 2 minutes even and 1 minute 56 seconds.

To confirm the myth, Adam hopes to beat Jamie’s time by 5 to 10 seconds. But in several tries, Adam can’t get through the course without hitting anything. To be successful, Adam has to get through unscathed. Adam finally makes it through, at 1 minute 54 .30 seconds. Although his time is actually shorter, Adam hasn’t met his time standard for confirming the myth.

To really test the myth, Jamie and Adam decide the best way to call it is to have a pro drive it. So Conrad Grunewald once again takes the wheel. Driving flawlessly with beautiful, wide drifts, Grunewald completes the course in 2 minutes even. “I couldn’t have pushed it more,” says Grunewald.”

Adam concludes that his own time was better only because while he was drifting, Grunewald’s drifts were better and wider, which took more time.

MythBusters call: Busted

Drifting Into a Parking Spot

Another way that Hollywood shows using the drift is as a quick parallel-parking move. Someone speeds down a street, spots a tight open parking spot, and pulls a fast drift maneuver, turning the car 180 degrees and sliding the car perfectly into the parking spot – no sweat.

This technique requires eyeing the open spot, applying the hand break, and steering, thus power sliding into the spot.

Jamie tries it with cones marking out a space and makes it right in.

Then Adam tries it in a setup – between two actual parked cars. He gets very close to making the spot, but in the real world, taps or hits the other parked cars. It’s a fail.

For the fun of it, they raise the stakes and use a stretch limousine. But driving a limo is like driving a boat, making drifting far more difficult. After three abysmal attempts, it’s a fail.

Time to bring in the pro again: Conrad Grunewald in his professional street racer. Once again, the real cars are set up and in one attempt, the pro aces the drift park.

“I can’t do it, but it can be done,” Adam admits.

MythBusters call: Plausible.

The narrator, Robert Lee , concludes the episode this way: “Two cameras: $600; 18 tires: $3,600; one second-hand car: $3,000; spending all day drifting: priceless.” Confirmed.

Since this was the season finale, this episode is not repeated next Saturday (there is no MythBusters on Saturday) but does repeat Wednesday, February 25, at 9 pm Eastern time, and Thursday, February 26, at 12 am Eastern time. In the meantime, you can catch some of the action on their video page (find the MythBusters video page here).

If you are a newcomer to the series, here is what MythBusters tested earlier of this season: The Simpsons, Indian Jones, A-Team, Video Games and Transformers.

And for a short teaser on what MythBusters have been working on for next season, watch this Yahoo TV video.

Alan Eggleston A writer from the boomer generation, I was among the first Americans to grow up with television and even got my bachelors degree in broadcasting. My first professional job was working in a television station, working camera and then writing copy and promotions. A few years later I turned to writing for print and then adapted to the Internet. I love writing and I love good television and film - I hope it shows in my reviews.