One of the reasons we love the sport compact scene so much is it often draws a parallel with the American Dream. Few of us were born with silver spoons, rather, silver wrenches in our garages. Most of us started with a neglected hand-me-down econobox, no racing pedigree to draw from, and no deep pockets to fund our project cars. But if we pay attention, are willing to learn from our predecessors (and our mistakes), and work extremely hard, we can go pretty far. Meet Aaron Parker, who for all intents and purposes is doing just that. He started from humble beginnings and progressed to owning one of the baddest purpose-built RX-7 drift cars in this day and age.
Aaron grew up in California's Quartz Hill, 80 miles north of Los Angeles. He was roughly mid-pack amongst eight brothers and sisters, solely raised by his mother—a retired Navy vet and nurse. Needless to say, money didn't grow on trees. At one point in his adolescent life, Aaron's uncle paid him $20 for every A on his report card. "Let me tell you," he exclaims, "I worked my ass off and got as many A's as I could!" He learned how to save quickly and, after mowing lawns and selling candy, he bought his first BMX bike. His early appreciation for mechanics finally met a lust for speed, and the seeds were sown.
When Aaron could finally drive, it wasn't in anything fast or fancy—plus he had to share the vehicle with his siblings. Then one day, while cruising around Venice Beach with his sister, his life changed forever. "This third-gen RX-7 pulled out in front of us and I immediately fell in love with it. I had no idea what it was at the time, but I never forgot it," he remembers. When Aaron finally figured out exactly what the sexy sports coupe was, he wasted no time learning about Mazda's flagship and set the ultimate goal of owning one someday.
The journey to getting an RX-7 wasn't without its trials and tribulations. First, Aaron adopted a hand-me-down from an older sister. As he was already addicted to speed, things came to a head after he pushed the limits on a commute to work one morning. While powering through some tight canyon roads, he rolled the Civic, completely totaling the car. Luckily, he was able to walk away from the incident with no major injuries, but his string of bad luck didn't end there. It wasn't long after that he acquired a $3,500 reckless driving citation while popping a wheelie at 110 mph on a street bike. Between the accident and donating money to the state of California, he'd learned a valuable lesson: Take it to the track.
Aaron replaced the Civic with a new project car in the form of a turbocharged DC2 Integra. It wasn't his dream car, but it was still fun as hell to drive. As fate would have it, the Integra's life was rather short-lived, thanks to an oblivious driver who ran a red light and smashed into it. Unwittingly, Aaron found a way to come out on top. Insurance reimbursed the entire value of his DC2 and he bought it back then parted out what was left. This left him enough coin to get what he'd really been after: this RX-7.
Over the first few months, he simplified and upgraded things under the hood, by way of an engine rebuild and GT48 single-turbo conversion. Six months later, a catastrophic engine failure occurred, which prompted him to enlist the help of Abel Ibarra of FR Performance Engineering. Their relationship would become an enormous contributor to the development of the RX-7.
Abel's name is cemented in the NHRA Drag Racing Hall of Fame, and he's a known rotary guru. He took Aaron under his wing, and together the two reworked the FD from the ground up. Abel tackled the engine while Aaron focused on just about everything else. "For the first time," Aaron explains, "I realized building your own car is entirely within your ability as long as you're willing to learn and do things right." Abel taught Aaron his proven methods of rebuilding and maintaining a high-powered rotary, culminating in a partial peripheral/street-ported, built version of Mazda's Series-6 13B-REW engine. The end result is a rock-solid 500 whp and 415 lb-ft of torque when force-fed by a BorgWarner EFR 8374 turbo and tuned on E85.
By 2014, Aaron was learning the ropes of drifting, tandem competition, and what it takes to manage a viable drift program by competing at JustDrift events. Around the same time, New Zealand pro driver Mad Mike Whiddett began searching for a U.S.-based tech to helm his Formula DRIFT effort in the States. Word got around that Aaron, who was comfortably employed as a school teacher, was the guy to talk to. "That was that," Aaron states confidently. "I figured, I can always come back to teaching, but an opportunity like this won't come around again." Aaron was swimming in the world of professional drifting, gaining invaluable experience and building connections that would simultaneously elevate the level of his personal car.
Upgrades continued in between each round of Formula DRIFT. He worked with Dan Greenbank and Parts Shop MAX, as his RX-7 served as a testbed for the brand's full Limit Break kit and Pro coilovers. Working with Abel and Andy Wyatt of Adaptronic, he helped bring the Adaptronic ECU to market as a reliable tuning solution for rotary owners. And forging a relationship with Ryan Basseri of Rywire, Aaron was taught the black art of wiring and electronics, enough to develop the first FD engine and chassis harness to more efficiently integrate the Adaptronic ECU. A switch to BorgWarner's newer EFR 8474 turbo proved to be one of Aaron's favorite changes for its fatter powerband and more responsive nature. The addition of an HGT five-speed sequential gearbox was also gratifying, not to mention his equally cool rear-mounted dual external fuel pump and surge setup: Fuel components are positioned away from the hot engine bay and out of the difficult-to-access fuel tank.
The exterior received the brunt of the refresh, and it looks stunning. An authentic BN Sports BLS full aero kit is a risky and expensive proposition for a Pro Am drift car, yet Aaron puts it on the line every time he gets behind the wheel. And say what you will about its color and intricate SuperWow Factory livery—it's loud and just what you want on a drift car. The fact that Aaron had it painted by members of the Lost Angels Children's Project, a nonprofit organization that provides education in car restoration to at-risk and low-income kids, makes it that much sweeter.
After five years of Pro Am competition and the assorted drift bashes, Aaron's journey is far from over. He plans to take on TopDrift and Drift League again this year, along with the Vegas Drift Pro 2 Licensing Shootout at Pikes Peak International Raceway in August. The original 13B-REW engine he and Abel built back in 2012 still powers the car, and Aaron will continue to run it as long as he can.
As the latest chapter in Aaron's story gives way to another, we're proud to serve it up as an example to show you what's possible. From starting from nothing to getting into trouble speeding and wrecking a couple of project cars to becoming a teacher to being a lead mechanic on a professional drift team and continuing to refine the car of his dreams, you could say Aaron is living the American Dream—and so should you.
The Big Bad Wolf
In June 2016 issue, we broke the news of Aaron's FD while it was still dressed in its combination of Chargespeed, Shine Auto, D-Max, and Visage aero, plus rocking 18-inch Weds Bazreia wheels.