Experienced by Kimatni D. Rawlins and MiKaiya Rawlins
Before the holidays kicked in, I scheduled an educational road trip to Spartanburg, South Carolina with my teen daughter MiKaiya (Mika) for the BMW Ultimate Driving Experience. She attended the Two-Day Teen School while BMW set me up with supplementary tutelage from their Two-Day Car Control School to complement my 25-year track resume. I have been to the BMW Performance Center on at least eight occasions and always return with renewed adulation and fondness for the brand and the machines, so I was incredibly excited for Mika since she had requested the opportunity after receiving her Maryland license this past summer.
Welcome to the law of physics where young, new drivers require as much schooling as possible behind the wheel to truly understand vehicle dynamics, defensive driving, and situational awareness. I have taught her as much as I could, but teenagers respect adults’ knowledge outside their household. Hence, I figured I would let a handful of professional instructors take over the requisite task. Plus, the getaway was a temporary escape from some of the emotional distress she was feeling due to COVID-19 and virtual learning. Parents, please sign your new teen driver up to as many driving schools, clinics, and programs as possible. The investment is well worth the commitment due to the exorbitant amount of teen driving deaths in the United States. Think safety over convenience first.
At the BMW Performance Driving School, Mika learned how to correct over and understeer on the wet skidpad. Understeer is when the front tires have lost traction, and subsequently, the vehicle will not respond to steering inputs. Oversteer is when the driver has lost grip of the rear tires. Thus, BMW taught her how to counter-steer, reduce speed, and regain control. At 16, I was still wheelying down the block on BMX bikes, not drifting BMWs. Afterward, she was all smiles, and her confidence has skyrocketed exponentially. Maybe next, I will take her to BMW’s second driving school location in Thermal, California, allowing attendees to bask within the serenity of the beautiful mountain range backdrop. More importantly, BMW will introduce you to a performance drive consisting of the M2 Competition, M4, and the advanced M8 Competition AWD. Exciting!
As a Fit Father of two young ladies and the publisher of Automotive Rhythms, I am astute enough to know that one can never receive enough experience and professional instruction behind the wheel. With today’s world spearheaded by digital communication, kids are bombarded with non-stop information from social media to texting. There are so many distractions in their space that it becomes inundating getting around town safe and sound.
In Spartanburg, BMW’s international repute led to the creation of a state-of-art facility incorporating a wet 300-ft diameter polished concrete skidpad (intentional low friction surface), almost two miles of paved road, decreasing and increasing radius turns, straightaways, and an off-road course utilizing a fleet of current BMW vehicles like M6 Competitions, M5 Competitions, X4 Ms, and M240is. There is also a service center on-site that maintenances factory employee vehicles when needed. Spartanburg is also the epicenter of the manufacturing of the BMW X Sport Activity Vehicles (SAV). There is an essential corollary between meshing an all-terrain utility with the performance attributes of a sports sedan. As one of the most successful model lines for BMW, the X5 is pertinent to the group’s economic accomplishments since it sets the stage for the rest of the “X” family.
Both my course and Mika’s began with roughly 80 minutes of classroom instruction and Allison Bormann, Adam Seaman, Jim Clark, Laura Hayes, Rafael Torres, and James Bickford led the track demonstrations. The teens learned proper hand and seating positions and positive driving habits such as setting your eyes up and looking ahead. Moreover, one of the key objectives was to showcase proper A.B.S. braking and turning instead of just accelerating.
Here are some of the classroom take-a-ways:
- Keep your eyes up like a running back navigating through holes and look as far ahead as you can. At 60 mph, for example, the vehicle is traveling 88 feet per second. Drivers need to view things before they happen to react correctly and avoid an accident, possibly.
- Look where you want to go and point the vehicle there. Turn your head and eyes in that direction, and your hands will follow.
- Correct seating position creates good feedback. With both hands on the wheel, your line of vision will be straight out of the windshield. Then adjust yourself to the pedals, especially the brake. You want to make sure you can press the brake entirely to the floor with the knee still bent.
- The “9 and 3” steering hand position is better than “10 and 2” since it gives you 200 degrees of motion. Moreover, do not grab the wheel underhanded since airbags deploy at 200 mph and can easily break your wrist.
- BMW is a fan of 50 to 50 weight distribution since it offers four equal contact patches, which is the area of your tires that are always touching the ground. Braking leads to deceleration, which shifts weight distribution to the front for better traction since it increases the contact patch. Therefore, brake into a turn and accelerate out of turns to shift traction back to the rear. Never accelerate into a corner!
- 80% of American drivers set their side-view mirrors where they can see a slither of their vehicle. The problem is that it creates an overlapping field of vision. However, you do not need to see your car.
Before we headed out in BMW M340is for the teens and M340i and M240is for adults, I implored Mika to focus on the classroom lessons and harness the power of proper control. Out on the track, the teens applied the new schooling to the slalom, lane change, cornering, stability control, and emergency braking, creating real-world driving conditions. The warmup slalom set the tone for the rest of the day since we had to keep our eyes up and hands and arms relaxed while maneuvering left and right through the line of cones at 40 to 60 mph.
Then, learning how to correct understeer and oversteer on the wet skidpad was one of the most intuitive challenges. Mika had trouble with the routine initially but felt more empowered afterward because she learned C.P.R., and I am not referring to Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation. BMW’s definition is Correct, Pause, and Recover. The adults also had a chance to put C.P.R. to the test, and I must say I did quite well, only spinning once out of ten rounds.
Next up was an actual test of alertness as we organized at the double lane change activity area. Allison directed everyone to keep our eyes up, hands and arms relaxed, left foot on the dead pedal, and not to look at the cones. “My favorite course was the lane changes because it taught me how to move fast in different lanes just in case of an emergency,” said Mika. “I accelerated at a certain speed, and when the BMW approached the cones, I quickly steered into the next lane and only used braking after finishing the complete turn.”
Another monumental lesson was learning about A.B.S. (Anti-lock Braking System) and hitting the brakes hard for panicky stops. Yes, you can mash the pedal as much as your leg provides strength. More importantly, many drivers do not realize that they can brake 100% and still steer. Thanks to A.B.S., the vehicle will not lock up, providing it the freedom to maneuver around the looming crash object. What is fascinating is how much extra distance is needed when just 5 mph is added to your acceleration pace. When doubling the vehicle’s speed, four times the stopping distance is required, not double as most would suggest.
All-in-all, Mika had a magnificent time at the BMW Performance Driving School. Designed to teach teens and adults about the incredible engineering behind the blue, white and black roundel stamped with BMW, their Teen Driving School is ideal for neophytes ready to hit our busy streets and highways. For more information, prices and inquiries, visit https://pds.eventsbmw.com/ or call 1-888-345-4BMW.