If you’re not familiar with the Tire Rack Street Survival curriculum, you need to go back in time, pop on a slap bracelet, down a Surge, and ask your parents to sign you up. Authored by BMW CCA Foundation, it’s likely (and we don’t offer any exaggeration here) saved the lives of hundreds of teens since the screeching tires and soapy skid pads first hit the biggest lot available back in 2002. Any autocrosser or road racer could tell you that there’s no replacement for embracement. Taking the car to its limits is the only way to truly learn what the car is capable of. And most importantly for the new teenage driver, what harm the car is truly capable of when you don’t take Uncle Ben’s advice seriously.
The 9-hour course is split even chunks of classroom and course time. The Milwaukee Region SCCA program has the privilege of getting their classroom portion administered by a real-life physics teacher who (as far as we’re aware) engages the students well, with the help of a lot of video accompaniment. On course, they’ve had the privilege of the upper echelon of local car club amateur racers and volunteers, and ‘yours, truly’ to toss them feet first into the thresholds of braking and handling by way of slaloms, skid pads, split-decision exercises, and ABS-function tests.
Please grab a cup of tea, wash your hands as is customary in these trying times, and enjoy these memories I recovered during my latest hypnotic regression session with my therapist.
The Spinny Thing with the Horn On It
Having been one, I can tell you that teenagers are effectively mindless, eating, shitting, SnapChatting robots that contribute no more to society than a crumpled Taco Bell bag with a half-eaten chicken quesadilla in it. So it’s no stretch to say that you take your life into your own hands when you willingly share the road with 16 year-old’s that could only make a bowl of cereal for themselves if they were told that the prize in the bottom of the box was a Juul pen.
One recent summer, as I stood aloof on the banked asphalt corner that looped around the off-road access of the hill that the fire department used for rough terrain training at the Milwaukee Area Training Center facility in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, I heard a-tumbling of wheels and sheet metal. In my blindspot, a compact sedan had roughed the very terrain the fire trucks did, but only after carving its own path, by sideswiping the concrete base of a streetlamp and climbing the side of the hill like a frightened mountain goat. Only once it planted itself on top of the approximately 15 foot high hill, did I see it jerk to a stop and sit calmly until I and others fell over each other to see if the occupants were O.K. Once everyone was declared “only embarrassed”, we got the story. Along the edge of the hill ran the slalom portion of the course. The instructor, wisely, told the student to keep positive control of the wheel by always keeping a grip on the wheel. With a new driver, letting the wheel spin freely back to a neutral position can be dangerous. The assumption that the wheel will track back to straight and not wildly steer the car into the unknown can be more hazardous to their health than being deadass for real about how lit the Tide Pod Challenge is.
Lesson Learned: Keep control of the car by keeping your hands on the wheel. Seems obvious, but is only slightly more complicated than it sounds.
Left, Right, Center
Early in my career as a volunteer instructor, I hopped in the car with one of the few prospective begrudged commuters that truly seemed to “get it.” He suffered my convoluted explanations on following distances and keeping your hands on the god-damned wheel, and genuinely seemed to engage with the subject matter critically by asking questions that showed he understood. But the one thing he did the best, was follow directions.
As you come around the bend and enter one of the two or three areas designated for hard maneuvering, you come into a sea of cones. While not unlike the wall of rubber-streaked orange that would greet you in a balmy weekend morning parking lot autocross, it was different in a large way. You had a choice of going left, or get this, right. After a short run-up to get the car to a modest speed, the instructor would yell “LEFT!” or “RIGHT!” at the last possible moment to simulate the necessity for split-decision making. The cones would diverge and then reconverge on the other side where the driver would then come to a full stop. After a few successful, and honestly quite fun, trollops through this section of the course, my student and his father’s Audi TT-S made another routine go at it. For true authenticity in the exercise, I hid the decision made in the final moments from even myself. Almost too well. As the car geared up into second, and picked up speed, I waited only a millisecond to long to reveal the punchline. The student, unphased, plowed right through the middle section of cones that made up the inner border of the exercise’s boundaries and inevitably popped out the other side, demolishing the cones on that end as well. After some tug-of-war between me and the cone caught underneath the car, we shrugged off the event, but only after a quick fist bump for following directions.
Lesson Learned: If you only have two choices, and the third choice is to be cool, then be cool. Don’t let extenuating circumstances pressure you into not weighing all of the options. You might hurt other people when you could’ve just hurt your ego.
Street Survival is an incredible program, administrated by incredible people who at the least volunteer their day to empart the knowledge they’ve learned as racecar drivers, but just as importantly, as every-day drivers. If you happen to be from the Chicago or Milwaukee area, watch out for programs to pop up from the Milwaukee Region SCCA or Chicago Region SCCA. Special care goes into the Milwaukee program because the sister’s that started the program, Kay and Jane, do so at the need to counter the loss of their sister years ago to a senseless car accident so they do it out of true compassion for the safety of students that wheel their way through the classroom.
Catch Kay and Jane hocking the good word of Street Survival on TMJ4 here, and be blinded by the author’s authoratative brilliance here as he doles out that solid gold following distance advice to the next generation of Nissan Altima driver’s we damn well know need it.
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