you say that you're the hotshoe in your driving school class? You're continually
passing more powerful cars and you never have to give a point by because there's
never anything but clear track or rapidly disappearing headlights behind you?
Can you visualize the racing line in your sleep? Have you refined trail braking
and heel-and-toeing to a dance of purity and beauty? Has it all come so
naturally that there have only been minor missteps followed by precise
corrections? Have you never really scared yourself?
if you will, coming hot into your favorite turn at your home track. The turn
that you own; the one you have oh-so-dialed. As you are entering the corner,
something holds your attention for just a moment. It could be an errant fly, it
could be a naked Heidi Klum doing yoga on the tire wall, it could be absolutely nothing, but before you realize
it, you find yourself deep into the corner with far too much speed. The brakes
are pushed beyond their limits, you've missed the apex and you are suddenly
heading unequivocally, inexorably into the weeds. You are chest deep into your
first off track experience.
you say? Not you? Couldn't happen? Well, little skipper, if you are pushing it
as hard as you say, it is going to happen. Think of all the professional drivers
that you've seen go agricultural for no apparent reason. Do you think that you
are a better driver than they are despite their years of careful preparation and
training? Don't bust a rotator cuff patting yourself on the back because the
truth is the big boys do this kind of stuff seven days a week and they still
make mistakes. But, like any other
automotive experience, if you plan and prepare carefully, you can not only keep
your dignity and car intact but you can actually impress your instructor and
spectators alike. There are just a few key items to remember and functions to
perform when you do finally lose it.
not panic. There is nothing that disturbs an instructor more than having to
reach over, turn the key off and remove it from the ignition while your foot is
still glued to the gas pedal as you are hanging upside down from the seat belts
a good 75 yards from the track. Also, blubbering like a baby is generally
frowned upon too. Speaking of crying out loud, don't let go of the wheel and
cover your eyes. It's just not good form.
you realize that there is no recovery from your situation and you are committed
to going off, focus on where you want to go, not the obstruction that you want
to avoid. Many times, even though you are heading off the track, you do have a
choice on your course of exit. Focus on the area that has the most run off and,
in all likelihood, you will steer toward that spot. Fixate on the abutment just
before the safe zone and you will definitely auger right into it. It's exactly
the same as what occurs on the track.
to drive off the track rather than slide. As you leave the track straighten the
wheel and the car. If you are sliding on dry pavement and you are suddenly
transferred to slick surface you will loop it faster than you can think, much
less react. So as you are leaving the tarmac, turn the wheels straight and just
drive it off the track. This will ensure that you remain in control.
both feet in. Clutch in. Brake in. ABS is a wonderful thing and, if you let it,
it will stop you amazingly quick even in loose gravel.
Let the car do what it does best. The clutch is very important and can
save you a lot of damage to your engine, especially if you spin. You can
actually turn the engine backwards if you leave the clutch out and spin the car.
Since things like oil pumps have reverse threads they can spin themselves
right off. Not a happy thing at all.
to a complete stop. Completely. Stopped. Not moving. Halted. As in not trying to
drive back on the track. I cannot emphasize this point strongly enough. If you
go off and try to drive back on without stopping you are putting yourself and
your fellow track drivers in far more peril than you realize. Trying to return
the trace without stopping will only serve to impress your instructor that you
are far more talentless than he was led to believe.
you have done steps 1 through 4 correctly, you will have come to a halt some
paces off the track and your car will be intact. Barring tire barriers, walls,
bridge abutments, the odd naked jogger etc.
Now is a good time to take stock of your situation. Count your fingers
and toes. Check to see if there are any warning lights on the dash that you
should attend to. Turn the radio off. The
reason for this is not only to make sure that your car is ok, but also to wait
for the wave of adrenaline to pass. You may have noticed that time seemed to
slow dramatically down when you lost it. The same chemical that created that
feeling will leave you weak-kneed and trembling after it passes.
So wait a moment or two. Think about what happened.
Take a moment to let the feeling pass. Don't drive the car until it does.
to your instructor. He had a front
row seat and is in a position to tell you what to do. Don't worry, he/she has seen this before, done this before
and will do it again. Listen and learn, follow the instructions.
the corner workers. They will tell you when to re-enter the track. Do not
proceed without their and your instructors signals to return.
This is critical. There may be someone thundering down the track at you that
you are not aware of and driving out in front of them will be disastrous. So
wait for the signal.
it easy. Don't push it. You aren't racing. Remember that you are still wired and
operating under the influence of adrenaline. It's too easy to make a mistake
now so just drive it to your next destination.
into the pits. Talk to the steward, he'll probably want to have a word with you.
Check out the car to make sure that it's okay. Pull the tumbleweeds from the
radiator. Relax for a moment. Heave
a huge sigh of relief. Take this moment to count your fingers and toes. While
youíre at it, you might just want to give the seat a quick scrape too. Return
to the track only when you feel ready.
See? That wasn't so bad. Hopefully all you did is
scare yourself and provide a powerful lesson on how to pick the corners where
you want to push it. Remember, this isnít racing, itís just driving and
unless you are willing to sacrifice your car, you had best keep it below 10/10ths
especially on the corners that have donít have much runoff. Besides, thereís
always your instructor to think of and, you may find this difficult to believe,
the last thing he wants to do is have you go cartwheeling off into the scrub
brush. Heís got kids too.