Why I Enjoy Teaching at Teen Car Control Clinics
“Yes!” the girl fist-pumped, after taking me on an exciting ride through a narrow and challenging autocross course. Her car wasn’t designed for performance driving, but you couldn’t tell from the way she throttle-steered it around the corners. Lots of gas, lots of tire squeal, but no cones down. At that moment, she wasn’t just someone who used a car: she was a driver.
I race cars in a competitive series. With all respect to the many talented autocrossers out there, I don’t generally look for thrills in a parking lot with cones. But the GGC BMW CCA’s Teen Car Control Clinic is an exception. It’s a wonderful feeling when you see young drivers get it—learn how to make their cars do what they want them to. They learn how to avoid unexpected obstacles at the last minute. They learn how to take full advantage of their brakes. They experience how texting and other distractions hurt their driving. And, in the process, they have a blast.
Having fun is the last thing they’re expecting, by the way. Most of our students approach registration in the morning looking like my dog when we take her to the vet. They’re expecting to be lectured about all the things young drivers do wrong by a bunch of kill-joy safety Nazis. Now in fairness, there is some lecture, and we do take safety extremely seriously. But our goal is primarily to give young drivers the skills to avoid problems in their cars, and the confidence to use those skills. And, as most GGC BMW CCA members already know, spirited driving in a safe environment is a huge amount of fun.
The Teen Car Control Clinic is something the Golden Gate Chapter can be very proud of. The national Street Survival program for teens was built in large part on our chapter’s car control clinics. Mark Magee, in collaboration with other chapter members, has made further improvements: for example, cycling students through seven distinct exercises. Also, instructors now work with the same students throughout the day, which gives us a chance to build rapport and watch their step-by-step development.
If there’s a new driver in your life, I hope we get a chance to have fun with them and teach them important skills. A BMW is not required. We had students in Civics, Minis, VWs, Saturns…all the cars teens drive in the real world. As an instructor, I want my students driving the car they’re going to use on the street, not some performance-modified car like for-profit teen driving programs use.
At the end of the school, one of the leaders usually quips that the volunteer instructors do it for the sandwich. Well, the sandwiches are certainly nice, but what keeps me coming back are the smiles on these young drivers’ faces, and their feelings of accomplishment. And it makes me feel good knowing that I’m sharing the road with a few dozen more young drivers who actually know how to drive.
David Kay is a long-time GGC BMW CCA track and car control instructor. He races Spec Racer Ford GEN3 with the Sports Car Club of America and runs a boutique knowledge management consultancy.