Some people will immediately conjure up the image of James Garner at the mention of Rockford, star of the hit television series, The Rockford Files. A smaller segment of that population will associate the word Rockford with the fancy reverse 180-degree turn he used to do in his car most episodes.
I doubt I knew it at the time I watched any of the private eye series, but I would one day learn how to do those “Rockford turns,” and my day happened last month.
I was finally able to take the Evasive Driving Course out at Summit Point Raceway. This class was designed for individuals who are vulnerable to, or under the threat of, some type of attack while in transit. I’d wager most students fall in this category, but for me and a few others, taking this class was for pure enjoyment only.
I was doubly fortunate to take the class with my youngest son, whose main goal was to do better than me. Nothing like beating your mother (or father, or older brother) at something. My goals were a little lower. I just wanted to not suck.
The two-day course included a series of lectures, followed by instructor demos then our getting behind the wheel and performing the maneuvers. There were three students per car, allowing all passengers to learn from not just the instructor, but the other students.
Day one began with basic vehicle dynamics. We learned threshold braking, braking-in-turns, how to swerve to avoid objects and what to do if we go off road.
We did a fun “serpentine” exercise where we had to swerve in between a series of cones as quickly as possible without hitting them. We had to focus our eyes on where we wanted to go, not on the cones. This principle is true for driving in general, but it’s hard to not look at an object you don’t want to hit as it seems counter-intuitive.
One of the memorable skills learned that day was what to do in front or rear skids. Every person should get to have this much fun. Plus, how many times have you been in a skid on a rainy day and didn’t have a clue how to stop it?
We also got to drive fast around the track. Understanding how to drive quickly out of an emergency situation is necessary. But going fast is also a blast, launching your adrenaline and endorphins for a natural rush.
On day two of the class, we learned escape tactics, or what to do if we encountered a dicey situation. We first learned specific skills, such as high-speed backing, Y turns and J turns. The J turn is the technical term for the Rockford. Once we practiced those (I could have done J turns all day; I didn’t come close to getting my fill), we went through scenarios on the track and when the instructor yelled “attack,” we would respond with the best tactic we could.
I was forewarned that many students leave the track and attempt to dazzle friends or family by performing a reverse 180, only to find themselves in a ditch. I took heed.
Next we did barricade breaching — or ramming. You might think that you just barrel through something in your way, but there is some strategy to it, along with “mash the gas and don’t let up until you’re safe from danger.” I now effectively understand how to bust through a few cars if they get in my way.
I learned probably the most dangerous maneuver next: the precision intervention technique, known as PIT. When you PIT a car, you spin them out and keep rolling. Why is this dangerous? Because it will be very tempting when I’m feeling irritated by other drivers, which is frequently.
Another fun exercise was “driver down,” where we learned to take the wheel from the passenger position if the driver passed out or keeled over. This was challenging, but a useful skill should the need ever arise.
We spent the remainder of the day learning to recognize and practice various attack scenarios. We did this with multiple vehicles and dummy terrorists placed in strategic positions and later, using the entire track with live simulations where paintballs replaced bullets. I don’t think there were any survivors, and it certainly showed our knee-jerk reaction is typically wrong.
We also learned about IEDs, street line driving, had some car myths debunked, and got to do one final, put-it-all-together drill where we hauled the freight through a coned course.
It was goob gobs of fun, and much of what I garnered translates to everyday scenarios. At least I think I can justify that PIT or emergency Rockford.
This column appeared in The Journal on Sunday, August 9.
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