Shift

Jay Leno learns how to drift, an under-the-radar sport where drivers can make tons of money

On Wednesday's episode of CNBC's "Jay Leno's Garage," Christopher Forsberg, 2016 World Champion of Formula Drift racing, teaches Leno and guest star Tim Allen about drifting, the relatively new but fast-growing sport in which racers intentionally over-steer and lose the traction of their tires while skillfully maintaining control of their vehicles.

As Forsberg drifts past Leno in his Nissan 370, the host clutches Allen and the two men shriek gleefully. When the spectacle is over, Forsberg emerges in a cloud of smoke from the burnt rubber.

"I think I've got tuberculosis just standing here," says Allen.

When it's Leno's turn behind the wheel, he's a bit more cautious. He plows into cones, his drifts more like donuts. "We're going to go home," Allen jokes. "You just pack up when you're done, Jay."

Forsberg has been around since the sport's inception and is now one of the "iron-men" of the industry. In 2009, he became the first driver to win the title of Formula Drift Champion as well as the Triple Crown, and he broke another record in 2014 with a five-year podium streak, meaning that he never finished outside the top four.

His success has won him lucrative endorsements from companies like Nissan, NOS Energy Drink, and Hankook Tires.

Christopher Forsberg Drifting
Christopher Forsberg
Christopher Forsberg Drifting

Forsberg's journey started in the late 90s, he tells CNBC, when a friend living in Japan sent him a video of drivers sliding their cars through the streets. Intrigued, Forsberg decided to try it out himself. In the small town of Doylestown, Penn., he taught himself how to drift race.

But the practice was both illegal and unsafe. Police cracked down by ticketing offenders and suspending licenses.

He and his friends sought out a place where they could compete safely. "We went to Raceway Park in New Jersey," he says, "and these guys basically proposed running drift events because we were tired of getting in trouble."

There, in 2002, they competed in the first Club Loose drifting event, what is now the longest running drifting event in the United States.

Because the sport is so young, it's not quite the revenue-generating powerhouse that Formula One auto racing has become. In 2015 the top ten competing Formula One teams collectively made more than $1.5 billion in revenue, reported Forbes, mostly from sponsorship.

In the case of Formula Drifting, the bulk of a team's revenue is used to cover their annual expenses. "[The budgets] range from $70,000 all the way up to $500,000," says Forsberg. Teams with more endorsements can afford to invest more into their season.

Forsberg thought about competing in a more profitable sport like NASCAR, but he was deterred by the number of levels you have to climb to reach the Spring Cup.

"My heart has always been in drifting," he says, which is now "the fastest-growing motor sport in the world." And he thinks its fast-paced, action-packed qualities get the credit for that increasing popularity.

Behind the wheel in Wednesday's episode of "Jay Leno's Garage," Forsberg weaves between the cones with ease.

"Look at that!" Allen exclaims repeatedly, alight with the same joy increasing numbers of spectators feel watching this new sport.

CNBC's "Jay Leno's Garage" airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET.