I was invited out to Texas Motor Speedway by the Texas Driving Experience for their Teen Skills Class.
The Teen Skills Driving Class is not driver’s education in the traditional sense. It is for teens who already have a driver’s license and are ready to challenge their knowledge with practical hands-on experience.
Parents can enroll their kids in either a one or two day class. I didn’t know what to expect and just set aside a full morning for this. I regret not spending the full day to complete the class.
We started out with introductions in a classroom. The teachers were all professional drivers and very interested in the kids.
Each person introduced himself and told what they drive. I was the only one that admitted to driving a minivan. I was also the only one over 18 years of age.
There were about 15 kids in the class and about 1/2 of them were local to the Dallas area. I was surprised at how many of the teens had traveled to attend the Texas Driving Experience.
We stayed in the classroom for about 15 minutes and then it was out to the track for REAL driving lessons.
The first place we went was a portion of the large parking lot in the middle of the Texas Motor Speedway track. Cones were set up for us there in different course configurations. There was a NASCAR team practicing on the TMS track that morning which added a lot of noise and excitement.
They separated the class into cars – each car of teenagers had a driving instructor. The Texas Driving Experience Instructor would drive the intended course once and then turn it over to one of the teens to take a turn. There was never any down time because even if you weren’t the one driving you were in the car experiencing what was going on and learning from what was happening.
I was in a car of girls. At first, they were timid and holding back. This did not last long because the instructors really encouraged full participation and within a half an hour they were flooring the gas pedal and slamming on the brakes as instructed. It was a visible difference of confidence through practice.
The floor it and then slam on the brake exercise was our second course. We were to fully accelerate for 100 yards or so until we reached a specific pair of cones and then brake suddenly so we could get the feel of what would happen. We practiced this 5 or 6 times until we were able to then guide the car in a turn while braking through the cone course. After we accomplished this task with an ABS equipped Audi, we were given a car that didn’t have ABS and repeated the scenario. I have known about the differences between ABS and non-ABS (and remembered that I was supposed to pump the brakes when driving the non-ABS), but I have never felt the difference.
One of the things I learned was to position my hands on the steering wheel at 9 and 3. The Audis that we were driving had places to rest my thumbs and comfortably grip the wheel when holding it this way. When I got home I found my minivan’s steering wheel was very similar and it is much easier to control the vehicle from this position.
They also stressed that you maintain the 9 and 3 hold as long as comfortable and then switch to a hand over hand turn of the wheel which was much different from the willy-nilly system of underhand wheel grabbing alternating with palm rotation I had previously used.
We then headed out to the wet track.
Yep. The parking lot was completely wet and we were shown how easy it was to accelerate rapidly and then turn 90 degrees which may or may not result in a donut…
I will have to admit that I have been a very cautious driver over the years and never once have I ever intentionally done parking lot donuts. I felt a little panic at the thought of it, but not wanting to let down the minivan-driving moms of America in the eyes of the American youth, I got in the car with three teenage girls and our instructor.
There was a lot of screaming (from the teenage girls and the 40 year old minivan driving mom) as each of us took multiple turns speeding through the parking lot and turning abruptly resulting in fishtailing and swerving and yes…donuts.
I haven’t had that much fun in YEARS.
Our instructor was quite possibly the most patient and unflappable person I have ever met. When one of the girls took the corner by slamming on the gas instead of the brake as instructed he just smiled and told her that she should do it again.
And that is the beauty of this program…you do it again. You take a high speed turn and lose control of the car (in a safe setting) and you feel how the car reacts to how you reacted and then you do it again.
Each time is more controlled and a less scary.
I now know what it feels like to be in control of a turn that feels completely out of my control, yet I know what to do and which way to steer and when to step on the gas.
It is pretty cool…and a little powerful!
I learned SO MUCH in just the 4 hours I participated in the Teen Skills class and I have been driving for 25 years. I can’t even imagine what an asset these skills are to a beginning driver. I have found myself more aware at the wheel and confident in my abilities.
Here is some of the video I shot during the morning:
I don’t have teenagers yet, but I can guarantee that they will be in this class.
I think it is that good.