Thursday, March 22, 2012

Drive Like Your Life Depends On It

By C.J. West

In recent months I’ve been a passenger while my daughter drives on her learner’s permit. My life has flashed before my eyes once or twice and that reminded me of a fantastic experience I had on tour two years ago. 

I hosted an advanced driving class with Anthony Ricci from Advanced Driving & Security, Inc. Anthony is an amazing driver (I’ll prove that in a bit), and his class on situational awareness and driving techniques is incredible. We spent an hour in the classroom and then spent about two hours on the track. It was an incredible day on a converted airstrip on the Rhode Island coast. 

I learned several things from Anthony, but one thing has really stuck with me. A week before our session I sat in class with real bodyguards. These guys protect Fortune 500 CEOs and high value government officials. I was surprised by all the math. Lots of math. They calculated G forces and turning radii. After a while I guess they realized I was surprised and they told me something I’ll never forget.

Their lives literally depend on their driving. My daughter might kill me by running into a tree or an oncoming semi, but these guys have bigger problems. If they get chased and flip the car, the pursuers come up and shoot them before they do anything with the principal. They might only kidnap the exec in the back seat, but any wreck during a chase is fatal for the driver. It put a whole new perspective on driving for me and I’ll never forget the seriousness in the room when we had this discussion.

A week later I brought a group of fans to the classroom and then the track.

There was so much great information in the course I couldn't possibly do it justice here, but I want to share some of the things I learned because it is great information even if your most important passenger is three years old.

Anthony talked a great deal about situational awareness and how important it is to pay attention to subtle cues in traffic. You might not be a kidnap target, but there are idiots out there ready to crash into you because they are on a cell phone, or talking to a child in the backseat.

Anthony showed a series of photos taken on a busy street and asked us to identify which parked vehicles posed a threat. We learned to watch for illuminated tail lights, exhaust, presence of a driver, and one thing I hadn’t thought of, wheels turned toward the traffic.

On the track Anthony emphasized the importance of knowing your vehicle and positioning yourself properly. Here are some quickies from the track:
  • Enter and exit the car with two feet at once. This exposes you to less risk from someone approaching you when you are vulnerable. 
  • Seat yourself so you can brace your left foot on the rubberized pad. This will help you maintain control in severe maneuvers.
  • Keep a light grip on the steering wheel and steer smoothly to avoid skidding. This was key to maintaining control in the slalom.
  • Tilt your head down when checking back over your shoulder. Baseball pitchers do this because the shape of your eye allows the most peripheral vision when you are looking down. 
I’m going to leave you with a video of Anthony driving backwards through the obstacle course, which is a track with many twists and turns. I am filming through the windshield and we are chasing another car that is also driving backwards. 

If you’d like to meet Anthony and take one of his classes, visit him at Advanced Driving & Security, Inc.


  1. Fun, informative post! I would have loved to participate in such a class. That's been one of the best things about writing my police procedural series—getting involved in all kinds of training and educational experiences!

  2. A great post, CJ. It really gives me some "meat" to chew on when writing scenes like this.

  3. It really was an amazing day. Everyone got to drive the cars, including my 14 year old daughter.

    And the younger of the pro drivers took me through the obstacle course forward and let the car slide all over the road at 75 mph. It was a real rush.

  4. Sounds like a really fun day! Reminds me of a police driving course up in the mountains where they practice ice driving on a frozen lake! Good reminder that authors can benefit greatly from these "real life" experinces!

  5. Tom,

    One of the things I didn't mention is that I feel events like this one are a great way to connect with fans.

    I hosted this event for readers. Anyone could come for the cost of a book. Spending 3 hours in a setting like this is a great way to get to know someone.

  6. Great post, CJ! Now I want to watch all the Fast and Furious movies. :)

  7. I often have the same thoughts, CJ, about how the road is one of the few paces where we put our well being in the hands of complete strangers. We are at their mercy whether we like it or not. A drunk driver can come along and destroy a life in a split second. It's scary how vulnerable we can be at times. I suppose most of us just compartmentalize the notion so we can keep our sanity.

  8. Okay, Drew. You've forced me. For the last several months, I've often thought about a deranged, suicidal driver willing (or even wanting) to take as many out with him as he could. What's to stop him? We're hurtling along (as long as we're not on a California freeway) at speeds in excess of 60 mph with little or nothing between us. It's almost hard to believe it hasn't already happened.


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