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From the field: Indy is Miles Ahead

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Imagine these cars and sexy, intelligent international racers sitting next to you in the passengers' seat... Indy now makes it real.
  • Rebecca Townsend
  • Imagine these cars and sexy, intelligent international racers sitting next to you in the passengers' seat... Indy now makes it real.

I felt like a teenager this afternoon, I told my nine-year-old when she returned from school.

"Momma spent the day out at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway driving MINIs with hot, professional, instructive, experienced, foreign race car drivers — Dan Clarke of Britain and Stephan Gregoire of France, a seven-time Indy 500 veteran who was Fastest Rookie in 1993!" I said.

"All in the name of responsible journalism, of course."

The arrival of the Miles Ahead Teen Driving Intensive is a big story for Indy; mark my words.

A team of race professionals has organized a teen driving school operated under the instruction of talented, professional drivers using MINIs at the Speedway. For $400, a teen receives courses in avoiding obstacles, the dangers of distracted driving and skid control. Part of the exercise is performed on a portion of the track's Formula One-level road course.

Media and Miles Ahead team members led by Ted Woerner, standing next to teen Andrew Lewis, a junior at the International School of Indiana, and his father, Alan, as they outline the obvious benefits of the new teen driving program. - REBECCA TOWNSEND
  • Rebecca Townsend
  • Media and Miles Ahead team members led by Ted Woerner, standing next to teen Andrew Lewis, a junior at the International School of Indiana, and his father, Alan, as they outline the obvious benefits of the new teen driving program.

"We demonstrate simple procedures to optimize your ability to control your vehicle and give yourself the highest level of situational awareness while driving," according to the course website.

Anti-lock braking systems and dynamic stability control technologies are common now. The instructors familiarize students with these and other safety systems, as well as maintenance, "a key factor in being able to successfully avoid hazardous situations."

The Miles Ahead team operates under the leadership of Gregoire and Ted Woerner. The men have been dreaming of the possibilities of such a school for several years. The Speedway blessed the plan in late 2010.

They are able to use the track facilities 50 days a year.

Gregoire advised me to ease into the MINI's handling through some slaloms. Then we tried obstacle avoidance. He suggested that I not accelerate into the last-minute lane change he triggered to simulate an obstacle in the opposing lane.

It was hard not to accelerate on a beautiful afternoon in a new car sitting next to a real life racer.

"What we do is not easy," Gregoire said, cautioning the importance of understanding your equipment and mastering control.

The whole point of the program is to educate young drivers (and their parents) to help reduce the 90 percent of accidents that are caused by driver error.

Slow down. Do not text and drive. Do not drink and drive. Take it easy and smooth when you're driving on wet or frozen pavement. Buy a MINI.

The drift lifter simulates ice and rainy conditions. It takes a steady hand behind the wheel to master. - REBECCA TOWNSEND
  • Rebecca Townsend
  • The drift lifter simulates ice and rainy conditions. It takes a steady hand behind the wheel to master.

Clarke also had to remind me to calm down. In skid control, which jacks the rear end of the car up slightly on a wheeled mechanism to cause fishtailing, I gunned it and ripped into a wicked donut. I love my job! (Except when government officials send me into conniptions by not passing the mass transit bill and not caring when we run Separation Anxiety, which clearly calls for them to account for $1.5 million, and officials don't say boo, like maybe if they ignore it, it will go away ....)

Clarke patiently took me to the day's last exercise – the distracted driving where I have to send a text and then wear goggles simulating a 0.06 blood alcohol level.

I managed to text him "This is fum" before we completed the course. The goggles got me – the only puppy (plastic cone) I killed all day.

As I pulled up to the final stop, "Free Bird" came on radio, the sun was shining, the sunroof was open, Dan was looking like a hot, British racer/soccer player and I was in the driver's seat of his MINI.

"Can't we head back out to the slaloms?" I begged.

"Why? Haven't you already done that one?" he asked.

"'Free Bird' is on," I said, turning up the radio and expecting that on an afternoon like the one we were enjoying we wouldn't need any other reason to open the engine up.

It's a Hoosier custom with which he might not yet be familiar.

"Well, now you're really gonna hate me," he said.

He made me drive the course again without distraction to prove how much easier it was. Driving without the booze goggles was definitely a refreshing change.

While there will always be something untamable in the driving spirit of this journalist, who grew up driving the gravel, back-country roads of Hoosier hill country, the lessons Clarke and the Miles Ahead team are committed to impart save lives.

And they will improve the overall quality of Indiana's driving stock, ensuring that Hoosier drivers always retain a place on the field.

Caterina Blitzer, the International School of Indiana's vice president for development and external affairs explains why ISI student graduates of Miles Ahead are encouraged to spread the word to fellow classmates.
  • Rebecca Townsend
  • Caterina Blitzer, the International School of Indiana's vice president for development and external affairs, explains why ISI student graduates of Miles Ahead are encouraged to spread the word to fellow classmates.

It is important as a driver to have control.

That's something I've learned in driving in almost all imaginable conditions. Today that control manifest itself in controlling the urge to take Clarke on a joy ride, something I would have done in a millisecond as a teenager.

I better fess up to my daughter that I'm getting old.

But not too old to enjoy and recommend Miles Ahead Teen Driving Intensive.

If I were a betting woman, my money would say that their 50 days of track time will quickly fill and that people and their teen drivers will flock in from around the world to enjoy the experience. It won't hurt sales at Dreyer & Reinbold, the local MINI dealer, either.

The Speedway scores for Indy again.

The Miles Ahead Teen Driving Intensive team is stacked with experienced international racers who can stress the importance of knowing one's stuff behind the wheel.
  • Miles Ahead
  • The Miles Ahead Teen Driving Intensive team is stacked with experienced international racers who can stress the importance of knowing one's stuff behind the wheel.

Editor's Note: The International School of Indiana is referenced in this story. News Editor Rebecca Townsend has direct ties to the school, though neither ISI nor Townsend knew that they would encounter each other in the course of this story.

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