The Mini Stunt Driving School Will Have You Feeling Like a Smooth Criminal

Ever want to learn to drive like a stunt driver? Reverse 180s, J turns and donuts are just the start, but drivers also walk away from Mini Driving school with new defensive driving skills too.

A Girls Guide To Cars | The Mini Stunt Driving School Will Have You Feeling Like A Smooth Criminal - Stunt Driving Featured

I never knew ripping an e-brake out of the floor could feel so good.

If you’ve ever watched a high-speed, action-packed chase scene in a movie and thought, “Cool, I want to try that,” then you’ve got to get yourself to the Mini Stunt Driving School. Located in Thermal, Calif., Mini’s Stunt School is a high-adrenaline, heart-thumping experience that will give you just a little taste of what you see in those car commercials or Fast & Furious movies — minus the over-the-top drama of the latter.

As a pretty conservative mother of two who doesn’t regularly indulge in high thrills or reckless driving tactics, I wasn’t sure this experience was going to be my cup of tea. (My idea of crazy driving is to switch lanes without signaling.) Well, in just a few hours on a sunny California afternoon, my timid exterior broke wide open to reveal an inner road rebel I never knew existed. I’ll just cut to the chase: If you’re ever in the area, you’ve got to try this.

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Learning How To Do A J-Turn At The Mini Stunt Driving School. Photo: Allison Bell

Learning how to do a J-turn at the Mini Stunt Driving School. Photo: Allison Bell

First Up: J-Turns

With our instructor, Cole Viernes, in the first car, the rest of us rolled behind him in a nice straight line of John Cooper Works Minis to a designated area of the track where cones were set up for our first stunt: J-Turns. Communicating via radio, Viernes explained that the goal was to accelerate up to 25 mph, pull the emergency brake, yank the wheel to the left and head off in the opposite direction without disturbing the cones. After showing us how it was done, I was next in line to give it a whirl. (No pressure.)

I stepped on the gas, hit 25 mph, cranked the e-brake, turned the wheel, and — went straight into the cones. Crunch. Ugh. I hadn’t turned the wheel hard enough. The other drivers each took a turn and two of the five cars managed to turn the car without knocking the cones, though no one achieved a perfect 180. Viernes and our second instructor, Cameron Newman, coached each of us through our subsequent attempts and one by one, we each had a taste of success. After a few tries, I managed to whip my Mini around in the box without touching the cones. Aside from bringing children into the world, I think this might have been the proudest moment of my life.

Mini Stunt School Instructor Cole Viernes Gave Us A Quick Rundown Of The Program Before We Climbed Into Our John Cooper Works Minis. Photo: Allison Bell

Mini Stunt School instructor Cole Viernes gave us a quick rundown of the program before we climbed into our John Cooper Works Minis. Photo: Allison Bell

Next: Reverse 180s

I was glad we started with J-Turns because our second stunt proved to be much easier — and, in my opinion, even more fun. Learning how to do reverse 180-degree turns was pretty simple: accelerate in reverse to 25 mph, put the car in neutral, and whip the wheel to the left. I’m happy to say that I got this one on the first try! There was something very satisfying about mashing the accelerator while going backward. And not having to worry about those pesky cones took a huge load off my mind. If I had to pick my favorite part of the day, this would’ve been it.

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The Mini Stunt Driving School Will Let You Feel The Wind In Your Hair. Photo: Allison Bell

The Mini Stunt Driving School will let you feel the wind in your hair. Photo: Allison Bell

Finally: The Obstacle Course

After we’d had ample time to master the first two skills and take a couple water breaks, it was time to put our stunt knowledge to the test. We’d be braking, cornering and accelerating our way through a handling course that would put all of our stunts together. Though this portion would normally be timed, our instructors decided to go easy on us and focus on precision instead of timing. Every cone you hit was one point and some of the bigger ones were worth two.

Once again, I was the first one up. The reverse 180? Check. The J-Turn? Check! My confidence mounting, I weaved through a series of cones and curves before coming up on the final task, which was to bring the Mini to a 90-degree stop within a box of cones. “Rip that e-brake out of the floor!” Newman called out to me over the radio. I came up to the box, wrenched the e-brake and stopped — at about 45 degrees. Dang it. Luckily, we got to go through the course a handful of times, each time getting a little faster than the last. In the end, I managed a one-point run, which I was immensely happy about.

Other Skills You Might Learn

While my time on the track only allowed for a handful of stunts, the full MINI Stunt Driving School experience includes additional tricks that might come in handy if you’re ever involved in a high-speed chase. These include:

  • Forward 180 J-Turn
  • Wet Skid Pad
  • Panic Braking
  • And anything else you might be able to convince your instructor to teach you

A Word of Caution

Riding as a passenger is almost as thrilling as driving — but once you’ve had lunch, you might want to consider sitting a few rides out. Our instructors shared some cautionary tales about ill-fated stunt school lessons in which passengers (and drivers) had unintentionally “decorated the dashboard” after eating a full meal. When in doubt, sit it out!

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The Rear View Of One Of The John Cooper Works Minis We Drove At Stunt School. Photo: Allison Bell

The rear view of one of the John Cooper Works MINIs we drove at stunt school. Photo: Allison Bell

How Much Does Mini’s Stunt Driving School Cost?

The MINI Stunt Driving School is $750 per person and runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. When you consider the fact that you get to essentially beat up another car with impunity (and at maximum thrill levels), this amounts to a steal of a deal. Plus, it’s something cool to add to your resume — you know,  in case you ever do pursue that alternate career as a professional stunt driver someday.

Final Thoughts

I won’t lie, by the time we were done with Mini Stunt Driving School, I was feeling pretty proud of myself. It wasn’t that I had mastered the art of evasive maneuvers or had been the best in my group (I definitely was not). But I did something I never thought I’d do and thoroughly enjoyed myself in the process. Plus, I got the chance to chat with our professional stunt driver instructors, and believe me — these guys have some stories.

Overall, this was an unforgettable experience and one that I’d highly recommend to anyone who’s ever fantasized about performing some James Bond-like moves behind the wheel. The only downside? Driving normally will feel incredibly boring after this.

What You Need to Know About the Mini Stunt Driving School

  • Wear sunscreen and clothing layers
  • Cost: $750 per person for a full day of professional instruction
  • Available at the Thermal, Calif., location only
  • Classes begin at 6 a.m. from June 1 to Sept. 30
  • Have fun and don’t overthink things!

Disclosure: Mini invited me to spend the day on the track with their cars and professional instructors from the Mini Stunt Driving School Program. All opinions are my own. 

Allison is a freelance writer, a mother of two, and the wife of a car-obsessed husband who got her... More about Allison Bell