A drifter in Destin: High school senior prepares for first pro race season (PHOTOS)
Alec Hohnadell was racing competitively before most kids his age could ride a bike. His love for speed and competition will soon pay off when the 18-year-old high school senior begins his first professional Formula Drift race season.
That's not to say Hohnadell hasn't cashed his fair share of winner's checks. In 2013, he earned a podium finish at every Streetwise Drift Pro-Am event, won the season's overall points championship and earned his professional Formula Drift license.
In 2014, he will compete with the best drift racers in the world.
He may have never found drift racing if he hadn't spent a lot of time in and out of doctor's offices over the last couple of years, though. A former watercross and personal watercraft racer, Hohnadell spent more time than most in the waters around Destin throughout his youth. After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, the chemicals in the water became a problem.
In 2011, he began suffering from sickness and didn't know what was happening.
"He was loaded up with petrochemicals. They measure blood toxicity on a 0 to 100 percent scale. They said he was over 98 percent," Alec's father, Gale Hohnadell, told The Log.
After visits to more than 30 doctors around the nation and even overseas, Hohnadell began a treatment plan to detoxify his blood that included daily IV infusions, six shots a day and sauna treatments. Even the toxins in the air during storms around the Gulf Coast were making him sick, so he and his mother, Kim, moved to Orlando for six months while he underwent treatment.
"His body could not take one more breath of the toxins," Kim Hohnadell said.
During the visits with doctors, Hohnadell also discovered he had been born with a Chiari malformation, a spinal deformity that can block the flow of cerebrospinal fluid to and from the brain. After surgery to prevent the malformation from progressing, doctors said they could not approve of him continuing to compete in watercross or motocross, which entail constant jarring and pressure on the spine.
So Hohnadell had to find a way to compete and feed his hunger for speed without the strain on his back. That's when he found videos of drift racing online.
"As soon as I saw it, it caught my eye. It looked really fun and kind of dangerous," Alec told The Log.
His parents sent him to Willow Springs Raceway in California, where he took a crash course in driving with pro Formula Drift drivers Taka Aono and Justin Pawlak. When he got home, he started searching for his first drift car. He chose a Nissan 240sx s14 and sent it to Enjuku Racing in Clermont for all the necessary customization. Enjuku was so impressed with the young racer, they offered him a sponsorship.
He soon joined Streetwise Drift, Formula Drift's pro-am series. But just 20 days before his first event, his car was totaled in an accident on the interstate. Enjuku Racing refused to let their promising young racer miss out on any opportunities. In just 18 days, they had another Nissan 240sx fully built and ready to go.
In the car he's christened the "Purple Monster," Hohnadell took the drift racing world by storm. He finished second in his first event, on his way to an overall points championship and official invite to join the professional ranks in 2014.
The 2014 Formula Drift season begins April 12 in Long Beach, Calif. The season consists of seven events. For a list of events, visit the official Formula Drift website at formulad.com. To learn more about Hohnadell, visit his website at 11racing.com.