This article is a guest post from Frank. Frank contacted me a few weeks ago and told me he had attended a defensive driving class at Bill Scott Racing (BSR). Having attended some training at BSR myself I was interested to hear his take. I was also extremely gratified that my writing nudged someone to get vehicle training! Frank was gracious enough to write this after-action review of his experience. Hopefully it encourages a few more of you to seek driving training. Enjoy!
BSR Accident Avoidance AAR
I originally decided to pursue some sort of vehicle training back when Justin wrote an article about some of the professional vehicle training he’d done previously with the Marines. He also published a couple articles regarding an idea he had of the “Bachelor of Tactical Sciences“. The thing that really convinced me was when he mentioned how much of our lives we spend driving and that it is probably the most dangerous part of our day, yet very few of us have ever pursued professional training outside of the required driver’s ed class most people take when they’re 16.
I am a recent college graduate that recently moved to the Washington DC area to pursue additional studies and a career in cybersecurity. When I learned that one of the premiere driving schools in the country, BSR located in West Virginia, was only an hour and a half drive from where I live, I knew I had to take a class with them. They do a ton of the driving training for the government and military – especially for those who will be deployed overseas or in other dangerous situations. Fortunately, they offer a 1-day class focused simply on Accident Avoidance for the common civilian.
Travel and Facility
To be honest, when registering for the class, I didn’t really know what to expect, but I figured I would learn something to takeaway from it. I drove up from Washington DC and the drive was nice. It was a Saturday so there wasn’t much traffic. One of the most beautiful parts of the drive was crossing the Potomac River going from Maryland to Virginia on Route 340 and the Sandy Hook Bridge (link to Google Streetview).
Once you cross the Potomac into Virginia, you cross the Shenandoah river into West Virginia which is another beautiful view. From there, you pass through Charles Town which is a quaint little downtown in the mountains. Once you pass through Charles Town, the road starts to get hilly and curvy and all you see is farm land.
Arriving to BSR you are greeted by a security gate, you go to the main office to check-in and show them your driver’s license (because you need to have your driver’s license to take a driving class). Once you leave the main office to check-in, they tell you to follow the blue line on the road which will lead you to the classroom. On the quick drive to the classroom, I heard the sound of muscle cars flying by on the adjacent racetrack. Right next to the BSR closed course track is the Summit Point Motorsports park which various car clubs rent out try out the full capabilities of their supercars. It was really cool to hear those cars flying by all day. It really set the atmosphere as if I already wasn’t excited enough.
Classroom and Track Time
When I got to the classroom, there were a couple other adults like me, but most of the other students seemed to be high-school aged students who were from the area. At that point, I was wondering what I had signed up for. I was hoping that this wasn’t just another introductory driver’s ed class. The instructor started the class by explaining the no-photo policy on the premises for the privacy of those taking class because they do a lot of contracting for special operators.
Then the instructor started to go through the Powerpoint explaining how the physics of weight transfer and tire traction work in vehicles. Basically, when you accelerate forward, the weight transfer goes backwards and there is less traction on the front tires. Similarly, when braking, the weight goes to the front of the vehicle. However, with turning, the weight transfer goes to the opposite of the side of the vehicle is turning into. That is why you feel the counter-force pushing you away from the turn when you take a tight turn. Understanding all of those vehicle handling dynamics is essential to understanding how the vehicle will react in various situations. And especially in an emergency situation where you are under stress (or panic) it is important to know how to correctly and safely react (which might be different than your panic instinct reaction).
He gave demonstrations of the drills we were going to do on the road. The initial in-class instruction probably lasted 20 minutes or so because the instructor wanted us to get as much time on the road as possible. Once we exited the classroom, we entered the vehicles and were free to choose our in-vehicle instructor.
The day was split in two halves and for each half we worked on several drills. For each drill, the instructor would demonstrate and explain it in the driver’s seat, then each of us in the vehicle would practice the drill at least 3 times. One of the drills for the first section was accelerating as fast as possible (probably around 70-75 mph) on a straightaway then doing an emergency stop trying not to skid, both with anti-lock brakes (ABS) on and off.
We also did drills through the serpentine, how to drive quickly on tight turns, how to keep control of the vehicle (don’t do more than one input at a time such as braking, steering, accelerating, etc.), off-road recovery, and how to maintain control in a skid. At the end of the day, we did a final one-on-one drive test where we went through the closed-course track with multiple obstacles in the way to practice and reinforce all of the drills we had learned throughout the day.
Facility, Equipment, and Staff
The vehicles were retired Crown Victoria police cars with a V8 engine and rear-wheel drive. There were 3 students per car. The vehicles had a switch to manually turn ABS on and off in order to better understand how ABS works and how to drive in a situation without ABS. Almost all modern vehicles manufactured after 2004 have ABS by law, but it is still important to know how to drive safely in a vehicle without it. Interestingly, you can actually stop in a shorter distance without ABS if you know what you’re doing. Although ABS may increase stopping distance, it prevents the vehicle from skidding and you have greater stability. This seems to be the trade-off with these kinds of technologies. You have to trade more control for better stability.
The track was closed course and professionally maintained. It included multiple straightaways and several curves and hills. The skid pad was a big doughnut of asphalt which they added a special coating to (similar to the kind that some people put in their garages which ends up making it really slippery when it’s wet) and they put water on it as well. The instructor said that it was similar to driving on ice. And being from the northern Midwest, where I grew up driving with harsh winters, I definitely agree.
My instructor was very professional and fun. I was very impressed with his enthusiasm and teaching abilities. Even when one of the students in our vehicle had a hard time grasping the concepts of some of the drills, he was very patient and attentive to that individual student’s needs. His background was actually in professional racing. So now I can say that a NASCAR driver officially said I was a good driver. Probably my favorite thing that my instructor did was give us a demonstration of a J-turn like the kind you see in the movies.
Probably the biggest takeaway I had was to remember not to make more inputs than absolutely necessary to your vehicle when driving. Don’t accelerate too much while turning, don’t change your turn radius while braking, and absolutely do not over-correct or overcompensate when swerving out of the way or braking in an emergency. Over-correcting is an easy way to flip your car depending on the situation.
I think everyone who drives regularly should take the time to take this class, especially parents who regularly drive children. If nothing else, it is a very fun way to spend a Saturday!