Grip is Overrated, Slide Into Stunt Driving School Instead

Seth Parks
by Seth Parks
grip is overrated slide into stunt driving school instead

Because precision 90 degree slides

At the Willow Springs International Raceway, about 90 minutes north of LA, stunt school owner and veteran stunt driver Rick Seaman describes a maneuver to a group of four students. We are seated around a folding table on the oval infield as he demonstrates using a 1:32 scale Dodge Viper. Nothing in Rick’s demeanor suggests boredom, despite this being at least the 1,000th time he has described this maneuver.

Soon, an instructor emerges from the far end of the track to demonstrate the move in a real car in real time. Sharpie — not sure if that’s his real name — makes the 90-degree slide look easy, several times. Students then strap into their assigned Caprice, each seemingly held together with a roll cage, stickers, and overspray. We line up. Rick calls each car to action one by one.

The mark, a slender and overworked 48-inch traffic cone positioned 20 feet in front of a masonry wall, is a on the other side of the infield. From the start position, you roll steadily onto the throttle — these are well-used, carbureted cars that bog down under immediate full throttle. As the RPMs climb, transition to hard acceleration. A few seconds later you reach about 45 miles per hour. The mark is in front of you just left of center. When common sense tells you it’s too late to initiate your slide, wait another half second then apply rapid, moderate braking. Your car’s center of gravity now shifts forward, giving you greater confidence that the rear wheels will soon provide the lock-up you require.

Now jump on the E-brake, hard and fast. The rear wheels lock up and your slide begins. Lift off the regular brake and resist the urge to bring the car sideways. Patiently ride the slide. It may feel like the mark is about to leap into your passenger seat, but keep riding it straight. You are 75 feet from the mark. Give the wheel a confident twist to the left, all the while focusing on your mark. The car continues traveling forward, the hood rotating to the left through 45 degrees, rear wheels still locked. As your car rotates counterclockwise, the mark that began at your 11 o’clock is now passing through your 2 o’clock. You are now less than two car lengths away, still carrying substantial energy as you travel forward at perhaps 20 miles per hour. Apply modest counter-steer to maintain your forward trajectory and arrest your rotation. Now apply firm braking to bring your ride to an authoritative side-to-side rocking stop perpendicular to your direction of travel. Lean across the passenger seat, reach through the open window and slap your mark.

Congratulations, you just executed a textbook 90-degree slide. Easier written than done, but with coaching, repetition, and a properly prepared car this maneuver is highly repeatable. And you will repeat it at the Rick Seaman Stunt School. Each skill is practiced five to ten times. This is the Level I class for first-timers, so most students, myself included, do not achieve the degree of mastery required to swap out the cone for a camera or actor, but you know with practice that such precision is achievable.

Why Stunt School?

We’ve all let the rear end hang out through an intersection, in the wet, or on a twisty road. Sometimes with intent, other times with something closer to recklessness. But unless you’ve done it repeatedly and controllably, you achieved little more than a feel of loss of traction. And depending on how your skid closed, you either lost control and ended somewhere other than in your lane, pointed in the right direction, or you proudly counter-steered and drove out of the skid.

Who wouldn’t want to learn how to do this in a safe, repeatable fashion? To skid turns add 180-degree slides, reverse 180s, and more, and you have a formula for a couple of days well spent. In fact, the volume of skills taught and repetitions required for each ensure that students spend most of their time behind the wheel. And Rick literally wrote the book on stunt driving. His stunt credits span six decades beginning before his time on 1977’s Grand Theft Auto. He drove in the car guy classic TV series Spencer for Hire, the Lethal Weapon tetralogy, and more. He knows what he’s doing and enjoys sharing his knowledge and stories from the set.

Rick watches every student maneuver and employs half a dozen driving instructors, all for classes ranging from three to six students. That’s right, at least one instructor per student. This is a school with a real curriculum, not a Dave & Buster’s. And these instructors each have the three Ps — Patience, Passion, and Precision. It’s a well orchestrated course that minimizes classroom time and relies primarily on students receiving instructional feedback by walkie-talkie between repetitions.

Bring your listening ears and leave timidity at home. As Rick says, the best stunt drivers require two things. First, a take charge attitude. And second, a measured degree of aggressive enthusiasm. This is a place where students are encouraged to go as fast as the equipment and venue will allow and still execute the maneuver. In fact, one technique peppered throughout the curriculum, termed Juice-E-Lift, is specifically designed to substantially increase maneuver entry speeds. This program teaches that speed portrays high energy and makes just about any stunt more dramatic and thus the driver more employable.

There are a variety of specially equipped not-yet-classic cars in the instructional fleet, including an Escort, Escort ZX2, and Tempo (Rick has a FWD type). There are also several fourth generation Mustangs. But the majority of Level I time is spent in a motley crew of late 70’s to early-80’s Chevy Caprice stunt cars. They are old, clunky, and ugly. But they’re also wonderfully serviceable devices that are well suited to instruction and can be flogged over and over again. Rick has consumed more than 20,000 tires in his 20 years of teaching, and that sounds about right. I destroyed one tire in two days and the Level II student I observed consumed at least two radials a day.

The Level I course is a progressive, one, two, or three-day experience priced at $1,200, $1,900, and $2,875 respectively. The one-day course has value, but you will not want to leave before day two begins. On day one the curriculum places students in cars within an hour of arrival and goes on to include skills such as slide turns, 90 degree slides, and 180 degree slides. Day Two layers in additional repetitions of the previous day’s skills, wet and dry, as well as high-speed reverse driving, an introduction to stunt car setup, and closes with reverse 180s. Day Three adds in more reps, multiple car interactions, and more.

I arrived at the Rick Seaman Stunt School with a feral enthusiasm normally reserved for special life events like watching your team play in the Super Bowl or the birth of a child. And the only point at which my passion was diminished was upon my discovery that I may not be the above-average driver I thought I was. Personal deficiencies aside, I left two days later every bit as excited and enthusiastic as the moment I arrived. And I left an improved driver as well. I cannot wait to get my next press car.

Epilogue – Slow your roll

Thank you to Rick Seaman for providing me with a 75-percent discount to attend and write about this course. It was an authentic, entertaining, humbling, skill-building exercise that should interest anyone who wants to improve their car control abilities as well as watch movie car chases in a whole new light; much less those who want to become actual stunt drivers. I recommend this course without reservation.

[Images: Rick Seaman Stunt School]

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2 of 8 comments
  • Scoutdude Scoutdude on Oct 22, 2016

    I got a little practice is the proper power slide yesterday in my new to me F250. It is the perfect donut machine with it's manual trans, Traction Lock rear differential, long bed and crew cab. I was in a parking lot that had a nice thick coat of wet leaves and coming around the corner I couldn't resist steering with my right foot instead of my hands.

  • Tandoor Tandoor on Oct 22, 2016

    This article makes me miss my old B-bodies. I was a bit of a hooligan back in the day, went through tires like nobody's business. Something like a Mustang I'd probably wrap around a tree.

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