By on July 31, 2018

There are two things that all men think they’re good at: sex and driving. While I won’t make any comment on the former, I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that most of you are really bad at driving. Sure, if you consider going back and forth to the grocery store and back without too much trouble, or putting the accelerator pedal to the floor and making very loud noises “driving,” then you’re probably okay. But any sort of combination of braking, turning, hitting apexes, tracking out, transferring weight, heel-toe shifting… yeah, you’re not good at that.

But before you get all mad at me and rush to the comments to make remarks about my mother — relax. Nobody is naturally great at performance driving. It’s a learned skill, just like anything in life. And while many of us might be hesitant to take a daily driver that’s currently on its 14th of 60 payments to the track, there is likely a place near you where you can learn some of the basics of enthusiastic piloting in a safe and friendly environment. Chances are that your local Sports Car Club of America region has an Autocross School with hotshoes who are ready to sit in your passenger seat to help you improve.

My local region, the Central Kentucky Region, hosted just such a school a few weeks ago, and I enthusiastically offered to be one of the coaches.

Although my thoughts on autocross are widely known, well, pretty much everywhere, I still find a great deal of value in learning car control technique at lower speeds. Also, there’s no shame in the fact that wheel-to-wheel racing isn’t for everybody, and even if you get there someday, a few years of autocross to prepare you for it is (mostly) a good thing.

I haven’t autocrossed with any regularity since about 2012 — my Boss 302 wasn’t classed appropriately when I bought it, and my Fiesta ST was fun for daily driving, but I didn’t feel like investing significant money into preparation to compete in the H Street class, which is the slowest class in autocross. Despite what people might tell you, autocross isn’t that cheap if you want to compete for national titles. Once you factor in shocks, wheels, tires, sway bars, and travel, you’re looking at a five-figure number. But there are lots of ways to enjoy autocross that don’t include driving all the way across the country for six minutes of seat time, and local SCCA autocross is likely the best.

We had 40 students sign up for the school, and each student was assigned a morning instructor and an afternoon instructor, giving them the opportunity to get two sets of eyes on their driving. Most of the instructors were local drivers who have had some amount of success on the national level, and the students were assigned to instructors who had specific experience in their type of car (FWD/RWD,/AWD, high/low horsepower). Since my work in the autowriting biz has allowed me to get seat time in all sorts of cars, I was given the duty of being the “catch all” instructor. My students for the day were in the following cars:

  • 2015 Subaru WRX STI (a year of experience)
  • 2003 Nissan 350Z (a few events)
  • 2000 Mazda Miata (first day of autocross)
  • 2017 Shelby GT350 (a few events)
  • 2017 Toyota 86 (two or three events)
  • 2004 Porsche Boxster S (several years of experience)

The format was simple: each student would get three runs behind the wheel with me in the passenger seat, and then we’d switch for two runs — I would drive their car at maybe 8/10s and demonstrate the skills that I had identified as being lacking in them during their runs. Then we’d switch back for a couple of runs, and then, finally, I would get out of the car and watch them from the outside. The course was specifically designed for a school, with typical elements such as a slalom, a decreasing radius turn, and a lane change, and was very short in length — between 17-22 seconds long, depending on the car and the driver.

My methodology for teaching is simple: each student possesses the ability to be a good driver — maybe not great, but definitely good. The trick is to get them to pull it out of themselves and to balance between being directive and supportive as a coach. I get into the car, introduce myself briefly, and then I ask them what they want to accomplish by the end of our time working together. Most of them give the same answer — “I need to be smoother,” mostly because they’ve read an article somewhere that “smooth is fast.” Meh. Most of the great autocrossers I’ve known have been close to violent with their inputs. But smooth will make you 85 percent fast, which is a big improvement over where most of them started their day.

I let them drive without saying a word for the first run, and then I ask all of them the same three questions:

  1. What worked?
  2. Where did you get stuck?
  3. What would you like to improve on your next run ?

The order is important, because students tend to focus on the negative — it’s necessary to make them focus on the things they did that worked first. Even if they spun the car or went off course, it’s likely that they did something well, and we want to recognize and encourage them for that. The wording is important, too. Rather than saying “what did you do well?” we want to focus on outcomes and keep the language neutral. Sometimes they struggle with this stage, and they want to rush to the part where they get to hear your feedback. Not yet. Make them talk first.

The neutral language continues with “where did you get stuck?” Not “what did you mess up?” Again, this removes judgment and allows them to focus on outcomes. Students often understand what happened (a spin, a plowed corner) but they rarely understand why. I allow them to work through this in their heads for a moment before finally asking “What would you like to improve on your next run?” The kneejerk response is to say something like “not spin,” but it’s important for them to know what behaviors to change that will prevent that spin or plow.

After emptying out all of their self-analysis, then (and only then) do I provide feedback. I validate their observations, saying that I agree with many of them, and then I ask for permission to give feedback. After I receive it, I provide honest and specific details about what they can improve — again, without judgment. I don’t say things like “your hands are terrible.” Rather, I say, “we can improve your hand position.”

All of the students I had during the day had some combination of the following issues:

  • low eyes
  • poor hand positions
  • stabbing inputs on the throttle and brakes
  • driving one element at a time
  • lack of aggression/too much aggression

It’s important to focus on one skill at a time, at least initially. The course was set up so that each section posed a specific challenge, so I made sure to remind students of the elements before we approached the line, and asked them to repeat back to me the specific behavior they would be doing in those elements before I allowed them to enter the course. This helped to ensure that they were consciously and intentionally performing the skills that they intended to work on, rather than a random, haphazard chain events.

For most students, this actually slowed their time a bit from their first run to their second, which is completely understandable. They were practicing a new skill or technique, and it felt uncomfortable or unnatural. The third runs improved slightly, but were maybe still a bit slower than their initial baseline run.

It wasn’t until they watched me drive their cars that most of them said, “Aha, now I get it.” With the exception of my Subaru student, I knocked anywhere from a second and a half to three seconds off of their runs, and that was with only driving at 8/10 speed. Most of them realized that in their efforts to be “smooth,” that they were being slow with their steering, brake, and throttle inputs. They also realized that a certain amount of looseness, or oversteer, was sometimes desirable. Lastly, for most of them, I was able to demonstrate that entering a turn a bit too slowly was much better than entering too quickly.

Once they got back in the car, nearly all of them improved vastly — I only had one student who didn’t improve by at least two seconds from his first run to his last. Watching from the outside of the car for the last couple of runs allowed me to get a better picture of things like corner entry, mid-corner speed, and weight transfer.

Of course, not only did each one of my students drastically improve over the course of the day, but I had a great deal of fun watching them do it. All of them were incredibly grateful for the help, and they all made sure to thank me personally before leaving. But it also helped me work on some skills that I had forgotten about with my own driving — there’s nothing like teaching a skill to somebody else to help you improve your own skills.

There’s a lot of reasons for a local region to offer a school like this. Keeping new autocrossers from becoming frustrated with their lack of advancement helps ensure that they’ll return a second and third and twelfth time in the future, which, in turn, ensures the survival of the club long term. But there’s also some altruism behind it. Seeing people who are new to the activity experience that same sort of joy that I once had when I began autocrossing helped me remember how much fun it really can be to spend the day out with friends at the local parking lot. Not one of the dozen of instructors was compensated for their time, or for enduring the sweltering 100+ degree heat. And none of them asked to be or expected to be.

If you have the chance to attend a local autocross school, I recommend it. For less than $100 and a Saturday’s worth of time, you’ll walk away a much more competent driver. And if you have the chance to instruct at a local autocross school, I’d recommend it, as well. Not only will you be helping others, but you’ll refine your own skills that much more.

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53 Comments on “Bark’s Bites: Here’s Why You Should Take an Autocross Drivers’ School (and Why You Should Teach One)...”

  • avatar

    Really neat, smart article.

    combination of braking, turning (friction circle is another term for this)
    hitting apexes, tracking out,
    transferring weight,
    heel-toe shifting

    Most drivers haven’t even heard of these things. When you *have* heard of them and you actually *understand* them, it’s painfully obvious which other drivers *don’t,* which is almost everyone, everywhere.

    “Rather, I say, “we can improve your hand position.”” This sounds like you’ve embraced your inner facilitator and you use that as your main style of instructing. Good on ya!

    (Random thought: It’s too bad you didn’t have a “beater car” with utterly worn out shocks for everybody to make a few laps, then go back to their own cars. That is a great way to learn smooth driving.)

  • avatar

    I’ve been to Watkins Glen with my BMW’s a few times…first with a 97 318ti, then a 2001 235ci and finally my 2007 Z4 3.0si….You are right in that you learn so much from driving with your instructor…The main thing I took home was consistency and smoothness. If you try to drive fast you drive sloppy. If you drive smooth you will naturally drive faster. It’s a revelation…I still cannot properly heel and toe….argh

    • 0 avatar
      Tele Vision

      My girlfriend in high school showed me how to heel-and-toe. Her Dad showed his son and daughter the technique. He was a great old dude and she’s still, 30 years later, a fantastic driver.

  • avatar

    Went to my first auto-x about 6 weeks ago. Lots of fun. I was in the afternoon class (SM, due to the car – ’05 Legacy GT wagon with lots of mods). Nowhere near competitive, but someone gave me a few hints, and I improved some in laps 2 and 3. Met someone in a Miata who ran in the “fun” class on cheap tires, but had done it a bunch, and I beat his best time slightly, so felt good about that.

    Alas, the “6 minutes of seat time” is true. 4 laps, around 65-70 seconds each. For $50 (money’s not that big a factor), 1+ hour drive each way, 2 hours of waiting, an hour of helping, etc. 5-6 hours investment for 6 minutes of driving. I would REALLY love to know if there’s a way to improve that ratio – I’m nowhere near competitive for SM, I’m not about to buy a car just for auto-x, etc. If I could get 10-15 laps in, that would be much more satisfying. As it is, I barely remembered what helped in lap 3 and did worse in lap 4, and was done..

  • avatar

    This might be a tall order, but since you brought it up in the article: I love the posts about track and autocross days, but it would be nice to include how much money and time was spent on an outing like this. I’ve done autocross and track days, but I think many people shy away because they think these events are unapproachable due to their costs. Some of them are, some of them aren’t.

  • avatar

    I find this very interesting, Mark, thanks for sharing. When I get a car better suited to such, I would love to take a course. I think improving our driving skills is something we can all benefit from.

    (My car is old and wasn’t built for anything like this, and I plan to keep it long term, so slamming it into a wall or causing excessive wear-and-tear isn’t something I’m interested in.)

  • avatar

    Autocross is something all auto enthusiasts should try. I autocrossed in the early 1980’s with an RX7. At that time they grouped us by engine size. I was up against MGB’s, TR7’s and the likes. Well, that just wasn’t a fair fight even with my smaller 12A engine. That rotary rocket was just a hoot!

  • avatar

    “But before you get all mad at me and rush to the comments to make remarks about my mother”

    that’s “Sean Connery”‘s job anyway.

  • avatar

    during the first season of autocross in my Fiesta ST, I just added 3psi to the standard Bridgestone Potenza RE050A summer tires and drove it. It was classed in G Street back then but I did alright and made some GTI owners nervous ;) also I attended ST Octane Academy — a Ford Racing school that is complementary when you buy a Fiesta ST or Focus ST. the next season the Fiesta ST was moved to H Street. I installed Falken Azenis RT615K tires on the OE wheels and won H Street in our council of sports car clubs autocross series and was 2nd in our region SCCA Solo series. then when SCCA Solo rules allowed for +/- 1″ wheel diameter in Street I got a set of 16″ Enkei RPF1 wheels that weigh 13.7 lbs vs. the OE 17″ wheels that weigh 22.5 lbs each. there are more autocross ready 200 treadwear tires available in 16″ sizes for the FiST so I went back and forth between BFG Rival-S and Bridgestone RE-71R tires and that is about it for prepping a Fiesta ST other than dropping in a K&N/green/mountune air filter and getting an FSWERKS cat-back exhaust that weighs 28 lbs vs. the 33 lbs OE exhaust.

  • avatar

    Autocross experience and skid control should be required to get a driver’s license, plus an insurance discount.

    All it takes entering a turn a little too “hot”, maybe for conditions, vehicle or skills. Or a bad driver starting to pull-out and you’ve suddenly got a slalom course to get through. Or just to fix your own mistakes.

    Mostly, since what can save you (and or your family) is counterintuitive. Even then, if you know exactly what to do, are you relaxed enough in those situations (behind the wheel) to not panic? Overcorrect?
    Traction nannies can only do “so much” for you.
    Probably it should require a refresher course at every renewal.

    But SpeedZone “Slick Track” has hard slick tires on a highly polished surface. It’s like twice the traction of ice, but you’re forced to induce oversteer and drift around every turn. No other fast way around it, and great fun for the whole family.

    Skid control isn’t hard and it’s similar to learning to ride bike or skateboard, to the point you don’t even think about it. But it certainly doesn’t come naturally.

    So to expect you’ll never need to know more than the everyday granny driving around the corner to church stuff is foolish.

    • 0 avatar
      Hamilton Guy

      This. I have autocrossed for 4 years and almost every driver has a story about how his or her autocross skills saved their bacon on the streets. My personal story is that I was driving my Miata along a 2 lane road with a centre left turn lane, speed about 40mph. A sprinter van pulled out of a yard about 20 feet in front of me. I automatically slalomed into the centre lane and around him. A few hundred yards down the road a T junction with lights. I stop and look in my rearview mirror. He is not stopping. Fortunately no traffic in or near the intersection, so launch it like I would at start of a run and get the hell out of his way.

      • 0 avatar
        Funky D

        I got one. Unexpectedly wet road on a tight left-hand corner. I didn’t think I was going particularly fast, but it was sufficient for the rear-end to slide on the GMC Safari I was driving. As the rear came out, I reflexively turned the wheel to full right lock and let off the gas, after a couple seconds the Safari started righting itself and I just as reflexively straightened out the wheel as it did. Somehow I managed not to overcorrect and continued on my way. I’m convinced the guy coming the other way about 100 yards out was sure I was going to spin out.

    • 0 avatar

      Much of this can be avoided by

      – driving less aggressively
      – continually scanning road/traffic conditions
      – making generally better decisions on the road

      None of this requires track time.

      I think track driving (including Auto-X) is fun and I wouldn’t say it’s counterproductive or bad, but track driving and street driving are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Discipline, self control and patience are far more important street driving skills than weight transfer and managing your traction allotment.

      • 0 avatar

        “- continually scanning…” That’s a big one. It was pounded into me as a kid to scan the periphery and regularly check my rear view. Two of my pet peeves are people driving with hoodies on, your periphery is blocked, and people who only clear a tiny spot on their windshield after it snows. My biggest sin is that I play really loud music when I drive, I see emergency vehicles before I hear them, but I’m on the lookout anyway.

        • 0 avatar

          Some people don’t ever consciously look in their rearview mirrors. They notice when somebody gets reeeeally close behind them because it’s obvious enough that they spot it in their peripheral vision. These are usually the ones ambling along in the left lane and driving whatever speed they feel like- usually not particularly fast because it depends on their cognitive ability to handle maintaining their lane while doing other cognitive things that tend to overload them, such as looking up ahead, seeing a hill, and understanding that they will need to use more gas pedal because GRAVITY.

          They’re usually convinced that they are “safe” drivers.

          The other lack of scanning fun one is four way stops- watch for this behavior because now that I’m pointing it out it’ll be really obvious. They roll up to the stop sign with their eyes dead ahead. Once stopped, they look around and assess what the other cars are doing and think for a moment. The funniest one is when they are turning right, there is only one other car at the intersection, and that other car is to their right. Watch what they do because a lot of people will sit there for an extended moment before they decide what to do. Never will they think to assess the other traffic *as* they are approaching the intersection and *before* they come to a stop. It’s people like this that ruin roundabouts.

          Anyway, these kinds of drivers are usually the ones who say the phrase “… came out of nowhere” after a traffic accident. Nope, thousands of pounds of metal don’t come out of nowhere, it’s that your situational awareness is reeeeally really small.

        • 0 avatar
          Funky D

          That is indeed a big one. I’ve taught both of my kids to have situational awareness behind the wheel, and that was in the months BEFORE either one got their learner’s permit. When riding with them, it is a relief to see them reacting to things early enough.

  • avatar

    I have mixed feelings about this. As awful as American drivers are, the gap isn’t in driving skill or driving dynamics. Being a safe, accident-free driver on the road is very easy. Modern car and tire dynamics have eliminated a ton of the single car accident risk. I am way more “track skilled” and knowledgeable than my wife, but I’m the one who’s had all the accidents.

    If men really want to become better drivers we need to become better at managing our emotions. If you’ve ever got a speeding ticket (or drove in a way that could easily get you one), or been clearly at fault in an accident, no amount of auto-X or track time is going to help you. Stuff like this works the serve the ego rather than teach us how to control it and the aggression and the like that come with it.

    I don’t think it’s bad to work on one’s track driving skills… I do and I will continue to. But I think the notion that cutting down your lap times will make you a better street driver is bogus. I guess the question here is what makes a “good driver”, because it varies widely by the context we are discussing. Good street driving is generally bad track driving and vice versa, so training in one discipline to get better at the other doesn’t make much sense to me.

    • 0 avatar

      Track vs. Street. How many times have you heard crashed drivers (they don’t have to be computer dorks) say, “…hey, the crash couldn’t have been avoided…” Factoring in their average, to below average driving skill, yes that’s true.

      But once set in motion, most accidents can be avoided by one driver or the other having above average skills. Partly since no one is keeping track of “skill” thwarted accidents that would’ve otherwise been an everyday statistic.

      After 35 years of driving, I’ve seen miraculous “saves” and accidents avoided, some done myself that had little to do with divine interventions.

      So what’s it hurt to learn something you hopefully never need? Like learning to shoot a gun. You might say “…but I don’t own a gun!” But you do drive a car, don’t you?

      Especially if it’s a sports car with super abilities, why not learn to “use it” use it?

      I mean how often do you hear of the Jeff Gordons, Mario Andrettis of the world getting into a traffic accident? Believe me you would hear about it.

      You could be the world’s most professional, conscientious, alert driver, but what about the next guy?

      You’re crazy if you think you’ll never get into a situation where your normal skills aren’t overwhelmed when life suddenly turns into a “race track”, ipso facto. Statistics say otherwise.

      The Nannies won’t always be there for you.

      • 0 avatar

        Weather is the great equalizer. Track skills don’t matter on black ice, in dense fog, or in blizzard chain reaction wrecks. I’d bet a high percentage of accidents are weather related. I do agree that track skills can help in good road conditions. We’ve all seen people sawing away at their steering wheels right before a crash when a simple adjustment would have sufficed.

        • 0 avatar

          I’m going to co-sign on one of your points, Sub-600–

          People that take advanced training in the arts save no more money painting their own living rooms than people who take advanced training in driving.

          People that take advanced training in driving.. are earning as worthless, but as appreciable in (super rare) certain circumstances, a skill as anyone that studies art.

          Both have little real-world benefit that isn’t personal.

        • 0 avatar

          “Track skills don’t matter on black ice, in dense fog, or in blizzard chain reaction wrecks.”

          My dad owned a small trucking business and attended multiple funerals due to fellow truckers being killed in accidents of which most were related to bad weather. He came to the conclusion that unless you really need to be out there, stay home.

          I echo that sentiment.

          Why would one venture out in a blizzard?

          Dense fog, one should adjust accordingly.

          Black ice – advanced driving skills do help in any altered traction condition.

          I’d love to try autocross school or any form of racing or driver education. It contributes to being a better driver.

      • 0 avatar

        Much of what you say is true for single vehicle accidents, but most accidents are between multiple vehicles. With that in mind, avoiding accidents comes down a lot less to at the limit skills and more just using your head. Following too close, not looking ahead far enough, not checking blind spots, boneheaded turns and lane changes, running red lights etc. Not doing all those things would go far further in avoiding accidents than eeking another tenth off your Auto-X time.

        The idea that more at the limit skills = safer street driving is just a way to placate one’s ego and justify driving fast. Again, don’t get me confused- I love racing, I love high speed driving, I love working on my track skills. But the suggestion that being a fast track driver will make you much better on the street is nuts. If anything it makes you more dangerous by goading you into going faster and being more aggressive.

        Being a safe driver on the street is largely mental and emotional. Making smart choices and controlling yourself. You don’t need to do autocross to learn that.

    • 0 avatar

      @sportyaccordy –
      You raise some valid points. Aggression alone or worse, combined with overconfidence.
      People are notoriously bad at assessing risk. It has been proven that driving/racing education especially in less experienced or less mature drivers make them overconfident and more likely to get into trouble.

      • 0 avatar

        I mean, look at the difference in insurance rates for men vs women. Even if we stay PC and say men and women on average are equally skilled, men are worse drivers on the street in terms of safety solely due to the choices we make. We’re more prone to aggressive driving, road rage and generally poor decision making behind the wheel, which stuff like Auto-X and track driving help justify.

        Driving safe is very simple and doesn’t require much skill. But it’s not easy for many people.

      • 0 avatar

        “…less mature drivers make themselves overconfident…”

        Them ain’t us. But it’s like anything else. A fool that graduates from college is just fool with a degree.

        The superior knowledge/experience is just something to keep in your back pocket.

        What I’ve learned from racing has saved me (and my commercial truck) on the road, and what I’ve learned from trucking has save me at the track.

        You don’t know when you’ll need it, but why take the chance and not have it? Of course it better to have it and not need, than…

        With most that crash, they probably knew how to avoid it, but it’s insanely difficult to pull yourself out of panic. From out of nowhere, you’re not expecting it and obviously not an everyday occurrence.

        With one I just barely fought off panic and avoided disaster. With another I went into a slo-mo hypnotic trance watching my foot stomp on the brakes, arms cranking the wheel, putting my Datsun pickup into a sideways drift, sliding toward the errant driver, let off the brakes at the last possible second, got on the gas, shot to the right side, missing the car, cranking the wheel the other way, whipped it, drifted the other way, then straightened it out, back in the lane I was originally traveling in as if nothing, doing maybe 25.

        I checked my rearview and the errant driver just had a stupid look on her face, not knowing what just happened or could have happened, left in a cloud of my tire smoke.

        I didn’t have *time* to be scared, but was shaking from adrenaline, stopped at the next light. Some kids in a car pulled up next to me and were cheering, pumping their fists! “Hey that was awesome!”

        I thought, hey that was stupid…
        But I agree you can use your “powers” for good, or evil.

        • 0 avatar

          Yes, this is what it really comes down to. It’s not really about safety; it’s about making killer saves that make the kids cheer. Sounds a lot like you weren’t paying attention, got caught out, and had to “rely on your skills” to get you out of a situation looking ahead + maintaining a decent distance would have saved you from without the hassle.

          The last “close call” I had on the street was being at the front of a light turning green and almost getting hit by someone who ran the red light across. I could spin it heroically and say my cat like reflexes and cat training enabled me to react quickly and threshold brake just in time to avoid disaster, or I can review what happened to see what I can do better next time (give the light a second to change).

          “Skilled drivers” tell themselves lies to spin bad street driving into heroics. Most crashes are avoidable without “whipping and drifting it”.

          • 0 avatar

            I like to get the best of both worlds. I spot the bad driver up ahead using my exceptional judgment, I anticipate them doing the most illogical, worst possible thing, and then if they do then I get ’em back with a scary near miss using my exceptional hands and feet to whip it and drift it. That’ll teach ’em! Mwuahahahahahha!!!

            (That maniacal laugh should be read in the voice of Hank Scorpio… and no, he is no relation to the Merkur Scorpio.)

          • 0 avatar

            I never claim to be a perfect driver, but the cheers are just a side bonus, not my intention. Don’t be stupid.

            The minute you start patting yourself on the back, that’s when you f-up. Go right ahead.

            Yes some of the times I’ve saved mine and bad driver’s own bacon, I was actually fully paying attention, point blank range, it would’ve been totally their fault. Except I won’t let myself off the hook so easy.

            I’ve driven a million plus miles, still racking them up, so there’s plenty of opportunities to fail, with historical close calls almost never at my own doing.

            But I still absolutely recommend knowing your sh!t, inside out, regardless of what you’re doing, work, play, hobby, hunting, other, especially if it can take you’re life, that of others, or simply have you lose a finger.

            It happens all the damn time and it can happen anyone. One minute you’re driving along, and the next you car is rolling over. You’ve seen it, we’ve all seen it. It starts with tire mark off the shoulder, a slight skid marks on the pavement, rotating counter clockwise, major skids clockwise, then glass trim and junk on the side of the road, with flowers, candles and three or four crosses.

            I’m NOT OK with that. A couple minutes of drivers training could’ve avoided that exact scenario.

          • 0 avatar

            The problem is you can only drive so defensively or you actually become a hazard. It’s not like you can stop on a green to make sure the cars going perpendicular don’t run the red. Someone that runs it a full speed goes from out of sight to the center of the intersection in a split second.

            Also, adverse conditions are when driving skills are most important. During normal street driving, you are nowhere near the cars limits. Once traction degrades because of weather, you might end up near or exceeding the car’s limits. This is where some advanced driving skills might come into use.

            If more people had some advanced drivi they might also help become a bit more aware of their vehicle’s ability. It might prevent drivers from hitting the brakes for no reason other than approaching a gradual freeway curve. Clarkson had it pretty much right when he said applying the brakes on the freeway should be illegal. The only time it’s justifiable to hit the brakes on the freeway is when the person in front of you does.

          • 0 avatar

            “If more people had some advanced drivi they might also help become a bit more aware of their vehicle’s ability. It might prevent drivers from hitting the brakes for no reason”

            YES! Thank you! (In all seriousness.)

            “… other than approaching a gradual freeway curve. Clarkson had it pretty much right when he said applying the brakes on the freeway should be illegal. The only time it’s justifiable to hit the brakes on the freeway is when the person in front of you does.”

            Argh! The random brake tappers drive me nuts ESPECIALLY when they’re the ones at the front of the line. You can’t look ahead, when it is clear for a mile in front of you, and just smoothly let off your gas pedal to slow down?!? Why is it so challenging to just pay attention to the road?

            It’s aggravating because I understand how disruptive it is when they are leading heavy traffic. C’mon people, I’m not expecting exacting standards of German efficiency and military precision, all I’m expecting is for you to just look one minute up the road. That’s all I’m asking. A minute is really not that far!

          • 0 avatar

            “The minute you start patting yourself on the back, that’s when you f-up.”

            Like you’ve been doing through this whole discussion thread? Lol.

            I agree folks should know their sh!t, including their own limitations and emotional shortcomings. A man’s ego is usually his worst enemy, and the old “track driving for street safety” ruse is a classic ego trap.

            Even the adverse conditions thing is a demonstration of this. Some people take the opportunity to roleplay as Finnish rally drivers. Smart people plan ahead and stay the hell off the road until conditions improve. Being a good driver isn’t having the reflexes and muscle memory to get yourself out of the bad situations you create… it’s thinking ahead and controlling yourself to not get into those situations in the first place. Like not dropping a tire onto dirt or whatever.

          • 0 avatar

            “…being a good driver isn’t….(blah, blah, blah)…to get yourself out of the bad situations you create…”

            Why does it always have to be *me*? Where do you drive that everyone behaves, pays attention and doesn’t crash into each other?

            Yeah if they always give you ample warning they’re about to do something stupid where you’re at, wonderful!

            I live in the real world. And cover a lot of ground. The people I drive with run stop signs, point blank in front of you, and run red lights, not just fresh red lights, text and drive and purdy much have their head up their A$$ while driving.

            My ego is always in check. What makes you think otherwise? Here on TTAC your ego is completely out of control, so why is it any different how you drive?

            I’ll bet you’re a screamer, love to give out the bird and gotta have last honk when honked at.

            I have to remind myself how bad I am at driving, as everyone should, so I don’t get complacent, since that’s when humans tend to F-up.

            I’m not a great driver, I never said I was. Better than you, yes. And obviously it hurts you to hear that.

          • 0 avatar

            It’s all about you because you are the only person on the road you have control over. Also, it’s all about you because you’ve made it all about you in this conversation- voluntarily offering tales of your on road “heroics” and perceived driving superiority over others in a bid to undermine the credibility of anyone who disagrees with you. Strong self endorsement.

            “The people I drive with run stop signs, point blank in front of you, and run red lights, not just fresh red lights, text and drive and purdy much have their head up their A$$ while driving.”

            OK, so you have the powers of observation and the ability to analyze data and observe patterns. Good. Those are much more useful skills for staying safe on the road than nearly anything you learn on the track. You don’t need to learn how to recover a spin to slow slightly/wait and look at intersections.

            The one track skill I will say does carry over is looking as far down the road as you can. When I’m on the highway I’m usually watching the brake lights of the furthest car I can see. On surface roads I’m looking for pedestrians and animals. Etc. I’m no quantum physicist but in my experience on a macro scale in the post Big Bang universe things never “appear out of nowhere”. But again you don’t need to go to the track to learn how to do that. I’m pretty sure being able to see is a prerequisite to driving.

  • avatar

    “… “I need to be smoother,” mostly because they’ve read an article somewhere that “smooth is fast.” Meh. Most of the great autocrossers I’ve known have been close to violent with their inputs.”

    I’d always assumed great drivers were smooth and used minimal foot/pedal movements. Then, I watched a video of Ayrton Senna’s feet as he piloted an F1 car; his feet looked like they belonged to a tap dancer with Parkinson’s.

  • avatar

    Senna was pretty good.

  • avatar
    White Shadow

    Being a good driver and being good at performance driving are two different things.

  • avatar

    I’ll admit that I’m much better at having sex than I am at driving. MUCH better.

    Most of my automotive “skill” deals with being able to DIY stuff and a spectrum disorder-level of knowledge and trivia.

  • avatar

    Good article Mark. One thing I wish you would add is what you think is the best beginner vehicle. Would you prefer a FWD econobox or something like a Miata. I’m guessing it’s not a ZR-1 or GT3.

    • 0 avatar

      I have a feeling the best beginner vehicle is whatever ya brung. No, seriously. Think about it from a different perspective. It should be about the driver, not about the car.

  • avatar

    I think if you want to promote something to boost enthusiast egos in the name of safer street driving, it’s getting a motorcycle license. No better way to become a better defensive driver than to have absolutely no protection from anyone else.

    I’m a middling autocross driver though, somewhere around bottom third in the sessions I’ve attended (part of that is from having the slowest car there, but part is absolutely in the driver). I should take further training eventually, as I’m consistent enough, but hit a wall in getting any quicker.

    • 0 avatar

      IDK, I did some pretty boneheaded things at the beginning of my motorcycle riding tenure. Without mastery of one’s mind and ego the vehicle is irrelevant. If you think you are better than you are, or you drive with an aggressive rather than defensive mindset, you’re probably going to get into trouble.

      And I promise you jumping up in your autocross finishes will not make you a better street driver lol.

      • 0 avatar

        First, never suggested that better autocross finishes would make be a better street driver, it’d just be nice for my ego.

        Second, I’ll admit I may have benefited from riding a weedy 30-year old 250 with limited tolerance for boneheaded maneuvers (I put it down my first time riding it, albeit at about 15mph, and walked away with a stiff shoulder for a few days). That said, both the MSF courses I took and the testing involved in Ontario’s graduated motorcycle licensing put a ton of emphasis on what counts as good defensive driving behaviour (IE – for the final road test, you could be docked marks if the chase car doesn’t see your head moving around enough, checking your mirrors). It is helpful to be consistently taught to look around, anticipate what other drivers will do, have an escape plan, and just understand where you sit within the road. Not much you can do about being young and excitable, but were I supreme overlord, it’d be about as hard to get a standard driver’s license as a motorcycle license (as opposed to just being able to fog a mirror as the standard is now).

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    Advanced driving courses, as mentioned above, should become mandatory – or at least result in a lower insurance premium as an incentive. Modern cars are so powerful when compared to the 1980’s cars I started driving at the end of that decade. My first car, a 1982 Pontiac Parisienne wagon ( love. had an ’88, too ) might have had 150HP and some amount of torque, presumably. In a two-ton car. My first Suburban had 190HP. I’ve recently seen what look to be children at the wheels of new Mustangs; a V2 sedan; a new m240i – all this past weekend in my wee town of 25,000. Sure, the electronica can help them if they run out of talent but, trust me on this one, they know how to turn the nannies off. My 14-year-old son knows how to disable the traction- and stability-control on my V1 to put it in Track Mode, and he doesn’t even have his Learner’s Permit yet.

    My Dad had to take some advanced driving courses back when oil executives were considered hostage targets ( as such all of our family cars had to have power locks and windows, which was pretty posh in the early eighties. those options seemed to come with a/c that my dad, even as a senior oil exec with a company car and a fuel card, refused to use as it was a profligate waste of fuel! ). I remember him saying that he had no idea what a car could and couldn’t do until he’d taken these courses. Avoidance; high speed maneuvering; even power slides and brake torquing. He told we kids all about it but wouldn’t demonstrate any of it for us. Probably because it was a waste of fuel and tires…

  • avatar

    How did the GT350 do? Pretty big and heavy car for auto-x I think with some iterations approaching 3800 pounds? I’ve seen some owners say they did well and say they put up pretty good times but its easy to soar like an eagle when your flying with turkeys.

    Did the owner try the different modes? Sport mode firms things up and alters throttle response so that its quicker while track mode supposedly firms things up quite a bit to where the only real give is in the tires but slows down throttle response and of course the nannies are the least intrusive (holding down the TCS button for 5 or 10 seconds eliminates TCS/ESC altogether).

  • avatar

    CKR! CKR! CKR!

    Spent lots of time out there in 2003-2005.

  • avatar

    What’s really necessary to improve safety is:
    1. paying attention (and not just to the rear bumper of the car in front of you);
    2. common sense;
    3. rudimentary grasp of the rules of the road.

    For example, if someone routinely decides to move right on a highway in the area of an on-ramp where cars are merging left, worrying about hitting the apex on a turn is Titanic-deck-chair-rearranging territory.

  • avatar

    I’m 75, have been autocrossing for nearly 35 years, and have been teaching police a performance driving for nearly 40 years. I currently teach teens basic emergency driving techniques through our Skills Driving company. We also instruct fleet drivers, SUVs, pickup trucks, and medium duty truck drivers. What all these have in common is the same exercises work for whatever level of driving we are instructing at the moment.

    Teens who have a permit, or have had their driver’s license for a short time benefit immensely from this instruction. Why? Because they have no point of reference, and have not developed bad habits that can’t be easily fixed. We use real world scenarios, including brake and turn exercises that teach the students the benefits of ABS brakes. How many adults have never felt the vibration or kickback from their brake pedal when making an emergency stop? Not many, because most drivers do not put themselves in a position to ever brake so hard the ABS activates. Some people, and many of these people have been involved in wrecks, tend to panic when and if they feel ABS kick in, and will release the brake rather than push harder. During the brake and turn exercise, I tell my students I have a hundred dollar bill in my pocket if they can break the brake pedal off…I still have my 100 dollar bill…

    We also teach emergency lane change techniques that allow you to maintain control of the vehicle in come to a complete stop once the maneuver is completed. Real world stuff that can save a life, or at least lessen the severity of an impending crash. Things like looking ahead is preached the entire day of driving, in every exercise we present.

    Wet skid pad driving. Ask a kid what understeer means and you will get a variety of answers. Heck, ask an adult, and half of them have no clue. Mention oversteer, and how to correct an oversteer situation and again, you get a variety of answers that pretty much skirt the edge of the issue. By the time we finish with kids and adults on wet skid pad, they have decent knowledge of how to avoid an accident or driving into a ditch due to techniques we teach.

    Controlling balance of vehicle under adverse conditions such as material falling off a truck or other objects in the roadway. We use the slalom exercise for that instruction, and good smooth arks create a better vehicle attitude/balance than choppy, errant, G spikes, reinforcing the “smooth is better” driving techniques. If a driver never feels a vehicle’s dynamic attitude or suspension hitting shock absorber bump-stops, their inputs to keep the car’s dynamics under control are limited. We want them to feel those dynamics, and your high school driving instructor is not equipped to help in that regard.

    Off road recovery is another important dynamic that is way understated, yet so simple to correct. Dropping one or two wheels off the pavement and yanking the wheel to return to the highway has gotten far to many people killed, both teenagers and adults. That maneuver as described will surely throw the car into the oncoming lane’s traffic…

    Rear end collision avoidance…Yeah, never drive too close to the vehicle in front of you. You can preach that til the cows come home, but once your teen and their friends get in the vehicle, all too often the distractions begin. With those distractions goes common sense and the driver tends to lose site of the fact they are responsible fro the safety of every person in that vehicle. We have an exercise that shows them the chilling effects of what can happen when students allow distractions to disrupt their safety zone from the car in front of them.

    That is a sampling of what we teach, and as stated earlier, it works for all age groups and vehicles people normally drive, either for family transportation, sports cars, and light duty trucks up to a couple of tons.

    Bark touched on a few exercises, but most of this stuff is also part of the Autocross and track driving exercises as well. It’s about understanding vehicle dynamics and what one can expect from a given input. Call it an autocross school, or advanced driving technique school, it works regardless of the nomenclature…

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