7 Things Stunt Drivers Can Teach The Rest of Us
By Aaron Crowe
You may have noticed the legal wording at the bottom of car commercials where an unseen driver is effortlessly speeding around snowy corners: “Professional driver on closed course. Do not attempt.”
Unless you’re used to driving in reverse at 50 mph, the caution is there for a good reason — they’re driving in ways that most people don’t.
Granted, some of what they’re doing in TV commercials is enhanced with computer-generated imagery, but also requires professional drivers. Stunt drivers also do maneuvers in TV shows and movies that require them to take a vehicle to the edge of losing control.
While everyday drivers may not need to perform bootleg turns, do a reverse 180 or slide around corners, some stunt driver moves can come in handy during emergency situations such as car jackings or driving on wet roads.
Here are seven things that everyday drivers can learn from stunt drivers. Just remember this disclaimer, which Wyatt Knox, special projects director at Team O’Neil Rally School, which trains stunt drivers, told us: Don’t try these maneuvers at home. Only attempt in safe, open areas, and preferably with a professional instructor on a closed course. Some maneuvers in a high center of gravity vehicle can cause a rollover.
- Be a precision driver.
This means knowing where every point of your car is and how to manage that space, says Chuck Hawks, a retired pro racer who owns Teen Driving Solutions School.
“Stunt drivers are precision drivers — where speed matters less than accuracy,” Hawks says. “They are very aware of where their tires are physically touching the ground and where their car’s body ends and the surroundings begin.
“Having reference points on the car from your perspective in the seat is critical,” he says. “Precision drivers know how to manage that space well. They also have keen awareness of what the car feels like when it’s on the edge of traction.”
A layperson who studies these things and improves with practice is bound to be a better driver overall, especially when moving in tight quarters, Hawks says.
One simple way to do this is to follow the advice of “You go where you look, so look where you want to go,” Hawks says. That means looking as far as you can see the pavement. That doesn’t mean to lock focus there, but to look as far ahead as they want the car to end up as possible, he says.
- Throttle oversteer.
If you’ve ever driven around a corner in the rain and your car has started sliding or fishtailing, and you were able to control it, then you’ve done a bit of stunt driving. This is one of the main times when looking where you want to go will help you naturally steer in that direction.
Throttle steering, also known as “power sliding,” can exaggerate this sliding with a rear wheel drive car on a slippery surface, or in a vehicle with a lot of power. It may not help you drive out of fishtailing, but can make you feel like you’re driving in “Tokyo Drift” or the “Dukes of Hazard.”
Accelerating aggressively on a wet road while turning will cause the rear wheels to spin and some dramatic oversteer — when the back end of the car loses grip and slides sideways while the front maintains traction, Knox says. Always look to where you want to go and “be prepared to let off the throttle if it all starts going wrong,” he says.
- Reverse 180s.
You may drive upon a scene where you quickly want to get out of the situation by turning around in reverse. It happened so often to Jim Rockford in the TV show “The Rockford Files” that it’s also named the “Rockford turn.”
“This is essentially when a forward traveling vehicle comes to a stop, reverses up to speed, spins around, and ends up going forward again in the opposite direction,” Knox says.
The key is to reverse up to a decent rate of speed, let off the gas and turn “left hand down” aggressively when you make your move so you’ll end up where you want to be and not in the ditch, he says.
It’s also important to shift quickly and properly to pull this move off smoothly and without damaging your transmission, Knox says. The move can be dangerous in vehicles with a high center of gravity that are prone to rollovers, he says.
- Forward 180s.
Also known as “bootleg turns,” this is another evasive maneuver where a forward traveling vehicle slows down, spins around to end up facing the opposite direction, then accelerates again.
“All you really need to do there is get slowed down to a reasonable speed, release the brakes and pull the handbrake, turn in the desired direction, let the car rotate, put the handbrake down and drive away,” Knox says.
- Handbrake turns.
Ever wonder how cars slide into parking spaces in dramatic fashion in car commercials? Precision drifting even looks cool with a remote-controlled car. To do this with a real car, handbrake turns or “e-brake turns” are useful.
Most cars have parking brakes that work on the rear wheels, Knox says. Most stunt cars — such as rally cars, drift cars and other racing cars — are modified to work this way if they don’t from the factory, he says.
“Pulling the handbrake while you’re moving will cause the rear tires to lock up, again causing the back end to slide sideways,” Knox says.
Vehicles that don’t have throttle oversteer (our second tip), such as four-wheel or all-wheel drive, can use handbrake turns. The method is used for dramatic parking jobs in car commercials, initiating higher speed drifts, and generally getting a car to slide sideways easily, Knox says.
If you’re driving a rear-wheel drive vehicle with a manual transmission, don’t forget to push the clutch in during the maneuver, and that handbrake turns can be dangerous at high rates of speeds and in high center of gravity vehicles.
- Slightly under inflate tires for better control
It sounds counterintuitive, but keeping your vehicle’s tires 10 percent under the recommended pounds per square inch, or PSI, given on the tire wall will help give your tires more control, says Jason Hanson, author of “Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life.”
Control is important during evasive driving, and it comes from your tires, Hanson writes in his book. Most people drive with underinflated tires, he says. Using 10 percent less air in them gives you better control and improves gas mileage, he says. So if your tire recommends 44 PSI, then inflate it to 40, Hanson recommends.
- Hand and seat position.
Proper hand positioning on the steering wheel is important, Hanson says, and can help in evading roadblocks or when someone is in front of your car.
He recommends positioning at the nine and three o’clock areas, which forces you to keep your elbows bent and to get the most mobility out of your car. If someone is standing in front of your car trying to block you, having your hands in these positions can easily allow you to maneuver your car around him, Hanson says.
The car seat position is also important. Many people are often too far from the steering wheel, Hanson says.
He recommends putting your arm straight out toward the steering wheel and resting your arm on top of it. The bottom of your wrist should rest on top of the steering wheel.
If your fingers are touching the wheel then you’re too far back. If your forearm is on the wheel then you’re too far forward.
All of these tips may not be enough to avoid an ambush or get through a hairpin turn or even a left turn safely if you’re driving too fast, but if you at least look ahead to where you’re going, you’ll get there.
And remember, don’t practice these at home. Hire a trained professional to teach you.