One gentleman showed up to his lesson with a heavily modified Lamborghini. He wasn't looking for an instructor so much as a hype man -- all he wanted me to do was tell him that he was perfect in every way. I'll try to be polite and say only that he was doing more things wrong than right. Nothing bad happened, but it was a constant reminder that I was merely along for a 170 mph ride. At that speed, if anything bad happens, it's going to be quick and catastrophic. When you're seeing someone make the same mistakes as your other students, but at twice the speed, well ... no matter who you are, you're going to find God for a few moments.
Still, I want to reassure you that accidents are rare, and it's the advanced students who tend to suffer them. They're the ones pushing themselves. And that's good for you, because if you crash on the track, your insurance agent will probably react with the same disdain as when you tried to claim your Pogs as priceless family heirlooms. This is why my students happen to attend a "driver's safety course" instead of a "race school" -- a change in terminology can make all the difference to an insurance company. I still wouldn't look forward to having that conversation with them, though.
"I was racing here to come buy more insurance!"
Still, if you can avoid an accident, you might find your insurance rates improving off the track ...
You Can Use Race Techniques In Daily Life
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While you'd think the guy zooming by you in a school zone spends his weekends racing, I've found that people who go to the track stop taking risks on the streets. I did some irresponsible street racing in my youth, but that wouldn't be fun anymore. You're too aware that it's not a question of if you'll hurt someone, but when. The track is safe and controlled, and it just feels better. So if you have a friend who takes your life into their hands every time you get into their car, take them to the track for your own sake.
Grandma can finally do her sick donuts in a safe place, and not the mall parking lot.
And even if you couldn't possibly care less about racing, you can learn techniques that will make you a safer street driver. No one truly understands what their car is capable of until they take it on the track. And that's bad news if you wind up in a situation on the streets where you have to test those limits.
For example, given the choice between taking a corner at more than 0.5g (that is, having more than half your weight pushed to the side) or slamming into a tree, most drivers will take the tree with the assumption that trying to turn that hard would send the car spinning out of control and into some even worse fate. On the track, you learn otherwise. I've lost count of the number of students I've taken into corners, asked for more steering, and after being told it was impossible, casually reached over and turned for them. With practice, you'll find yourself capable of making turns you never dreamed of. God forbid you ever need it, but if a kid runs in front of your car or giant robots start rampaging through the streets, you'll be prepared.
"Yeah yeah, whatever, assholes. I got a pizza to pick up."
Or let's say you swerve to avoid a collision and find yourself starting to spin out. You're taught to counter-steer, and that's accurate, but what you're not taught is to also add a little more gas. It's the same as the lesson earlier about going around turns: That acceleration shifts weight to the back of your car and straightens you out. But you have to recognize that you're in a spin quickly -- once your car has gone horizontal, you have to brake and ride it out. If that sounds complicated, it is ... unless you've done it a few times. That's the point.
So the best thing you can do to prevent accidents is learn to keep your head about you when the unexpected happens. People don't react the right away to skids and swerves because they don't have a lot of experience doing either, so they panic. Go out on a track and make those mistakes in a controlled environment. Learn what it feels like when your car gets a bit out of control. Learn what it takes to get it under control again. It's the most fun you'll have learning how to not die.
Jack instructs for Edge Addicts and is the co-founder of Petrol Lounge, a premium car storage and concierge service for people whose collections have outgrown their garage. Mark has a story collection and a website.
For more insider perspectives, check out 4 Horrifying Things I Learned Drunk At Work As A Stunt Man and 5 Reasons Doing Movie Stunts Is Harder Than You Think.
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