Feature: No Limits for motorhead entrepreneur

Jonny Barden of Drift Limits. Picture by Luc Lacey
Jonny Barden of Drift Limits. Picture by Luc Lacey

A two-time university dropout has gone on to establish a successful business cashing in on the growing market for letting off some steam by putting your foot down.

At just 25 years old Jonny Barden, of Bovingdon Airfield­based driving experience firm Drift Limits, has now got 18 cars including a coach, an Ariel Atom 300 which proved a hit with Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson, a Ferrari F430 and an Aston Martin Vantage V8, along with a team of experts working for him.

Jonny Barden of Drift Limits. Picture by Luc Lacey

Jonny Barden of Drift Limits. Picture by Luc Lacey

But when Jonny dropped out of his architecture course during his first year at Manchester University, he may have been seen as somewhat flighty by onlookers.

Following a gap year to travel around South America, the former St Albans School student embarked on a motor sport technology course at Oxford Brooks but, once again, failed to stick it out.

“Whilst I was doing that I was pursuing Drift Limits so I dropped out so that I could fully pursue it,” said Jonny, who lives in Hemel Hempstead.

“It has been three or four years in the making. I started right at the bottom with one MX5. At the time I was literally paying people to come. The big milestone was getting onto buyagift. They’re the biggest in terms of red letter days. That provided constant sales and that was the backbone of growing our business.”

Drift Limits at Bovingdon Airfield. Pictures by Luc Lacey

Drift Limits at Bovingdon Airfield. Pictures by Luc Lacey

The first vehicle to hit the track – an MX5 ­ cost Jonny just £1,000 – a whole world away from the £100k he plans on splashing out on a Lamborghini Gallardo GT3.

Jonny, who dabbled in racing himself, is also a fully qualified ARDS (Association of Racing Driver’s Schools) instructor.

“Originally I had this dream of becoming a racing driver as many young boys do and that was really what I wanted to do,” he said.

As part of his business research he signed up to a series of driving experience days to check out the competition and describes what he found on offer as ‘restrained’.

Jonny, whose first car was a Ford Fiesta – he now drives a van so can easily transport car parts and other things needed for the business ­ said: “I wanted to develop a business where you can learn something and drive the cars hard.

“We found a niche ­ motor sport tuition in cars that are the pinnacle of motor sport and instructors who are there to really encourage and push the driver to the limits to really learn something about their driving.

“We can cater for everyone, for people that race, for people that do track days and the average Joe who wants to buy it as a gift.

“It’s not uncommon that we get people that say they have got a really powerful car and it’s rear wheel drive and they don’t feel able to control it.

“It is the same with icy conditions.

“In other countries these things are more developed like in Sweden where you will do skid control.

“It basically means you are going to be a safer driver, full stop. People will walk away and they will have learnt lots.”

The village location, with two racing tracks, is also the first venue in the UK for drifting driving experiences.

Prices at Drift Limits start at £59 for a two­-hour drifting taster session.

Now Jonny plans to open a garage with a business partner that will be attached to Drift Limits and he hopes to soon develop a stunt school.

Jonny said: “I think it is important in life to follow what you want to do. There is no point pursuing what your heart is not in. For me this is a dream, it is exactly what I want to do.

“I have always had wacky ideas. I used to be in to skate boarding and then I started making and selling skate ramps.

“If you are really dedicated to something and if you work extremely hard you can always get there. It just depends how much work you want to put in.”

Visit driftlimits.co.uk for more about Jonny’s business.