The Spring Mountain Driving School is like a more intense version of your daily drive.
It sounds silly to think that learning how to drive very fast around a race track would teach you anything about your tame commute — but you’d be surprised. I know that I certainly was earlier this year, when I took a new Corvette C8 through its on-track paces in an effort to learn how to drive.
It’s a pretty common thought, since sports cars and race tracks are so far removed from most of our daily lives. But as I learned at Spring Mountain, track driving is like a more intense version of the kind of driving you do every day. After all, the basic motions are still the same; you’re just going faster, which means you’ll need to have mastered the basics in order to advance to the next level.
We’ve written before about how everyone should go to a driving school, even if you’re not intending to become a race car driver. And to drive that point home, I want to run you through what I learned.
Worry About the Little Things First
Before we even thought about heading to the race track, the instructors put us through our paces. We rotated through a variety of different activities that taught us about braking, where to look, and how to control a car properly. These seem like pretty basic concepts that we all should have learned back in driver’s ed, but you’d be surprised by how much you forget when you’re not testing your limits! Master the basics first. Then you can think about pushing yourself on the track.
Slow and Precise Is Better Than Fast and Sloppy
Our instructors at Spring Mountain reiterated time and again that we never actually had to drive fast. After all, we’re at a driving school, not a racing school. They encouraged us to only go as fast as we felt comfortable with, and they were gentle in pushing us to test our limits. If we truly felt uncomfortable, they told us that was fine; just back it down and try again. The whole point is to learn how to drive as well as possible, and if you’re going too fast to register what’s happening, then you’re not learning anything.
Driving fast or driving on a race track can be intimidating, but there are likely moments in your daily life where you’ve gotten anxious, too. Maybe you drove a little too fast through the rain or slipped on ice. Maybe you didn’t realize someone else was merging into the same lane as you and you almost made contact. Whatever the case, a pounding heart isn’t going to help your driving, and taking laps at Spring Mountain taught me how to keep my heart rate in check while I tackled situations that made me feel uncomfortable. And that’s helped on the highway, too.
Related: I Learned to Drive in Snow at Bridgestone Winter Driving School with Toyota — And So Can You
You Can Brake, Then Steer
There’s a good chance that, even if you’ve taken a great driver’s ed class, you probably don’t know what to do in an emergency. So, one of the first exercises we did at Spring Mountain was a braking exercise. First, we sped up to 35 mph and slammed on the brakes. Then, once we were used to that, we repeated the exercise, except we were instructed to go either left or right at the last second. The whole goal is to show that, in an emergency, you should always brake first, then steer. Braking after steering will really throw off the balance of your car and can likely send you into a spin.
You Should Be Using Your Side Windows More
You know your windshield is important, of course, but you’re probably not using your side windows as frequently as you should be. In one exercise at Spring Mountain, instructors totally covered our windshield, asking us to make turns only using the side windows. It was uncomfortable, but it really brought home the point that I wasn’t using those windows!
In a similar vein, you should be paying attention to everything. It’s easy to get complacent behind the wheel and let your mind wander and your eyes glaze over. But you should be paying more attention — not just to the cars in front of or behind you, but to the weather, the scenery (not to admire it, but to scan it for information), the road far ahead, and more. The goal is to gain as much info as you can about the environment so you’re prepared for everything.
To give an example, imagine that you’re driving on the highway at 70 mph and notice that, just ahead, there’s a big lineup of cars coming to a stop in your lane. You’ve seen it, so you start slowing down to prepare for it. But let’s pretend the car in front of you didn’t see it. That driver keeps cruising along at speed until suddenly they need to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident. That’s not good on the car, and it’s not good for the driver or passengers.
I Want a Corvette
It sounds silly, but one of my biggest takeaways is that the Corvette C8 is a truly gorgeous machine that anyone could love. You don’t have to be an automotive enthusiast to drive one; the Corvette will do plenty to help you feel that you’re one of the best drivers in the world.
Full disclosure: Chevrolet invited me to attend the Ron Fellows Corvette Performance Driving School at Spring Mountain; all opinions are my own.