Keeping It On The Track
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"Two of my friends were in the car with me and the one in the front seat turned to me with his eyes huge and he was like, 'holy crap that was awesome!'  I didn't even have to think about it at that point.  I just kind of did it."

Tire Rack Street Survival Program

by Ziva Allen

Street Survival1440x“It was quite a while ago but I still remember it like it was yesterday,” says Derek Smith, a young man who took the BMW Car Club of America Foundation’s Street Survival program back in 2006.  This program offers a hands-on learning experience with the intention of bringing a set of skills to new drivers over and above what they might otherwise learn in their high school driver’s education course.  One of the unique elements of this course is that the drivers learn in their own cars so they not only have the opportunity to learn advanced skills but they learn how to manipulate their particular car in doing so.

The Tire Rack is the Street Survival’s corporate title sponsor and Michelin North America is its exclusive tire sponsor.  The schools are facilitated by chapters of the BMW Car Club of America, the BMW Car Club of Canada, the Sports Car Club of America, Porsche Club of America, the Corvette Museum, the Audi Club of North America and other car clubs where a trained volunteer instructor base can be utilized.  Currently, the program is in ongoing discussions with additional car clubs such as the Mustang club and others.  

 

Four Stages of Competence

Through this course Derek has moved through, what is known in psychology as “the four stages of competence” learning model.  And if you think about it, as we progress as drivers through the novice, intermediate and advanced or solo levels at track day events, we are all actually moving through these same four stages.  The first level is “unconscious incompetence” where the driver is at their most basic level of learning and is learning new techniques for the very first time but is not aware of or may even deny the importance of the new skills they are being introduced to.  The second level is “conscious incompetence.”  This is probably one of the most important stages a driver can be in because this is when the driver becomes aware that there are valuable new skills to be learned and is open to learn them.  The third level is called “conscious competence.”  This is when the driver has come to a complete understanding of the new skill and even how to perform the new skill but needs to practice the new skill in order to master it.  And the fourth level is called “unconscious competence.”  The driver has mastered the skill!  The driver has had so much practice that it has become "second nature" and it can be performed easily.  Once you’ve reached this level as a street driver, you are safer and, as a track driver, you are better suited to become an instructor and teach others.  (Oh - and you’re probably going faster too!)

 

Skid Control

Did this class have an impact on Derek?  “Oh definitely,” says Derek who credits the class with possibly saving his life, a dog’s life, a mailbox, and his dad’s car.  “About a week after I took the class, I had used something that I had learned.  It was actually in the same car.  I took the class in my dad’s 1992 BMW 5 series wagon,” says Derek.  One of the skills taught in the program is skid control.  This skid pad teaching technique is borrowed from many a racing school.  A water truck is brought in or sprinklers are used and, using a skid pad and a soapy washing detergent, the drivers, with a coach in the car with them, are instructed to pick up speed and cause a skid.  Says Derek, “The instructor tells you, ‘now alright go here.  When you get to this point just mash the accelerator’ and then you just spin around.  And if you can’t manage to do it on your own, then the instructor will just yank up on the handbrake and get it going for you.”  The students are then taught how to maneuver out of the skid.  “About a week later,” continues Derek, “I was driving back home, going about 40 miles an hour.  I was right around the corner from my house and a dog ran out in front of me.  It was right after it had rained so I swerved to the left to miss it.  Thank god there wasn’t any oncoming traffic but I swerved to the left and then I had to correct myself and I started sliding down the road.  Then I was going back toward the right and I would have hit a mailbox if I didn’t correct back.  Then I went back the other way and was sliding again.  But I managed to correct myself, shook a little bit and then continued on down the road.”  Two of my friends were in the car with me and the one in the front seat turned to me with his eyes huge and he was like, ‘holy crap that was awesome!’  I didn’t even have to think about it at that point.  I just kind of did it.”  And this is a perfect example of having reached the stage of unconscious competence.

 

What to Expect

Typically, the course takes place in a large parking lot, such as a football stadium or large mall.  The cost is $75 and each class averages about 25.Street Survival2440x  The course is a one time, full day program.  In the morning the students’ cars are inspected to make sure they are not leaking any fluids and to ensure that the tires are in good condition.  Following is a safety briefing.  In addition to hands-on technical skills, the challenges of distractions to the driver, be it the radio/iPods or cell phones for talking or texting are covered.  Having too many teens in the car is also discussed.  “When I’m in the car,” says Derek, “I put the phone away.  If someone calls me repeatedly, I’ll pull off into a parking lot or something.  It can wait.  What did people do before cell phones when there was no way of getting in touch?  I guess beepers but…it can wait.  Nothing is that important.”  (His parents must be proud…and relieved!)

The day is a full one and many skills are taught.  Derek described one of the exercises like this:  “You would accelerate as fast as you could.  I’m guessing that we probably got up to 30/35 miles an hour and then there’s a cone sitting there and you have to try to stop as close as you can to it and then you figure out if your car has ABS or not and if you don’t, they tell you to kind of pump the brake pedal to simulate like you have ABS and then you go through that a few times and then after two or three times they rig it so you have to turn and then slam on the brakes while you’re turning so you could see how braking distances increase while you’re turning.  And then after a few times running through that exercise, they set up an autocross type course.  You start out with a slalom through 10 cones and then go around a 180 degree turn.  You then have to dodge something as if it were in the middle of the road and you then do a 180 degree turn back to the right.  However, with no warning, they’ll randomly put a cone either towards the apex at the corner, like on the outside so you don’t know it’s there.  You just assume, ‘hey this is the way I went the last time,’ but you’re caught by surprise and now you have to correct yourself.  I think on the last time around maybe, they’ll just throw a teddy bear or something out in front of you and so you have to try to miss it.” 

 

Results

“After I took the course,” says Derek, “I would go to one of the side streets when no one’s around and take out my old BMW and see how long it would take to stop at various speeds and whatnot.  So there was one time when I was on I-95 and there was a traffic jam and I was slamming on the brakes.  Luckily I was able to recognize, ‘hey!  I might not be able to stop in time.’  So I was able to go off onto the shoulder and stop there instead of rear-ending the guy in front and then a guy hitting me in the back.”  Another example of unconscious competence.  Derek says he has learned that, “Knowing the limits of your car is invaluable.”

Derek resides in south Florida and that particular area hasn’t seen a Street Survival program in about two years.  “We are trying to get a Street Survival going just because we haven’t had one in the past couple of years but finding a venue and the cost to do it is tough.  So if there’s anyone who happens to be reading this article that has a place in mind they can donate, it would be appreciated.”  It has to be a large, level area with no parking stoppers.  Basically, anyplace that can hold an autocross event, can hold a Street Survival class.  If anyone has an available area for this wonderful and life-saving program, please contact us at [email protected] or Street Survival directly at [email protected].

So with all of these fantastic skills learned, I asked Derek if he’s ever considered participating in motorsports.  Dumb question!  Derek said that up until recently his car of choice was a 7 Series BMW.  “And I really really wanted to take it to an autocross or an HPDE,” says Derek.  “I got to do a couple of hot laps at Sebring in it before but I never really got to do anything else with the cost and the tires and the expense of the event itself.  But I’m still in college.  Whenever I get a stable career and everything I’ll definitely be doing autocross or HPDE as much as I can!”

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