By Holly R.
Driver education and skill has a lot of room for improvement in this country. How many times in a day do we complain that driver’s licenses are as easy to get as pulling a prize out of a box of Cap’n Crunch Berries after watching some clown pull a Bozo move on the road? Even if we do consider ourselves above average drivers. How often do we practice ultra-safe driving skills and know how to react if a dangerous situation catches us while we sing-a-long happily to our favorite song on the radio? Or we get caught on a road slicker than Leisure Suit Larry picking up women at O’Leary’s Bar and the rear-end unexpectedly breaks loose and comes around. Do you know how to stay calm, instinctively countersteer and brake smoothly or do you snap into hyper-panic mode, scream like Fay Wray, and then drive your feet through the floor attempting to stop the car as you envision your life flashing in front of you?
Unless you spend a lot of time at the local raceway or kart track, your everyday driving skills could use some improvement. By the way, playing Gran Turismo 3 is a poor substitute for real seat time behind the steering wheel. Fortunately, Mary-Ellen and I had the opportunity to attend the driving school taught by Sia and Jeff at the Driving Safety Foundation (http://www.dsf-usa.com). Jeff was our instructor for the afternoon and introduced us to the Skid Monster.
The Skid Monster: I was a little intimidated by the name: SKID MONSTER. The pictures made it look less intimidating, but also a little weird. I tried to glean a description of it from the website, but the best way to understand the Skid Monster is to just take the class (or read this review!).
The Skid Monster is attached to a normal front-wheel drive car and a replaces the rear wheels. Picture a normal car with a really odd set of back wheels. Those back wheels are teeny, but they are completely independent of the front wheels, so you can be turning the steering wheel to the right, and while the front wheels are complying, the rear wheels can still be pointed to the left! The Skid Monster recreates, in a safe environment, the “monster breaking out of it’s cage”. The monster is actually your car, skidding – and there are 3 types of skids: loss of front wheel traction, loss of rear wheel traction, and loss of traction to ALL wheels. Taking this class teaches the proper way to correct these skids, the right things to do, and the wrong.
The class: There were 4 of us in the car with Jeff. Although the car seemed a little crowded at times, the extra padding of bodies in the back seat helped really whenever the car spun out! It also really helped to learn from the others’ mistakes as we made them, and I felt as though we all learned more in this format.
We were setup on a gravel parking lot, which is parking overflow for the Shoreline Amphitheater. There were lots of cones setup and at first glance, the whole scene didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Cones here, cones there, cones, cones everywhere!
First lesson: How to set yourself up in the car before you even start driving. Plant yourself firmly into the back of the seat. Fasten your seatbelt, adjusting the shoulder harness height if your car is so equipped. Check the mirrors and adjust as necessary. Make sure the windows are rolled up. Adjust the steering wheel and then grip the wheel with both hands, making sure not to wrap your thumbs under the wheel (you don’t want your thumbs ripped off, do you?). Put the car into gear, look both ways, then start rolling!
Second lesson: How to corner. We started off at an ordinary cone corner. Stop. Check both directions. Pick your target area (a target in the direction you wish to travel, but beyond your actual “destination”), look both ways again, look at the target and proceed around the corner. Seemed easy enough. Only next time, maybe we wouldn’t stop. We’d slowly drive through the corner, looking both ways and then looking at your target while making the turn. Then, we’d speed up and go faster through the corner and whoosh! The car might spin out. Or not. Depending on how the driver reacts. Spinning out in the drivers seat was entertaining. But spinning out in the rear seat was CRAZY. One student got sick and had to get out of the car (hint: it was neither Mary-Ellen or myself – who both have cast-iron stomachs!). After we all got good at racing around the course taking our standard corners, it was onto the next lesson.
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