Simanaitis Says

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HANDS ON THE WHEEL

A FREQUENT query: “I have $xxxx to spend and want to improve my car’s handling. What should I do? Tires? Shocks? Springs? Anti-roll bars? ”

An honest reply: Attend a high-performance driving school—and improve not only the handling of this particular car, but every car you ever drive.

This reply isn’t meant factitiously. Rather, it’s based on my own attendance of several of these schools over the years. Regardless of one’s driving skills, there’s always room for refinement.

And it’s not just for those doing “high-performance driving,” as practiced in competition on the track. Many of the techniques are directly applicable to everyday driving.

Formula Ford

Even the skills learned in a Formula Ford can enhance everyday driving—and it’s great fun. Here I’m at a Jim Russell School, then at Laguna Seca.

Consider, for instance, hand placement on the steering wheel. The first school I attended was Bob Bondurant’s, way back in 1979 when he was at Sears Point (now known as Sonoma Raceway, Infineon in between).

It was there that I learned how to trail-brake into turns, gently transferring weight forward to enhance front grip, and also the basic 9-3 position for hands on the steering wheel. (You’ll notice there was no instruction on texting—nor, for that matter, on the brodie knob.)

I digress here to mention that rotating handle affixed to a steering wheel rim, the brodie knob.

A rather fine brodie knob.

A rather fine brodie knob on a very nice steering wheel.

This device abetted one-hand driving, the other on a girlfriend’s shoulder, and thus in some circles gained the moniker of a necker’s knob. Its general devil-may-care employment honored Steve Brodie, of bridge-jumping fame.

Steve

Steve Brodie, 1863-1901, may have jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge in 1886. Or maybe not. Either way, the claim gave him a thriving saloon trade and stage career.

He also gave our language the film noir term for a suicide from height—“The guy did a brodie outta the seventh floor.”

Back to other uses for the hands: In turning the steering wheel, Bondurant’s taught the cross-over technique. On a shallow right turn, for instance, bring the right hand to the top of the wheel, keep the left gripped at the wheel’s 9 o’clock, and rotate both.

If a sharpish right-hand corner, the right hand “crosses over” and grips the wheel just above 9 o’clock and rotates from there; the left hand stays at 9 o’clock, then rotates with the wheel once the right passes through 3 again.

The point of this is to keep at least one hand in a known directional orientation at all times. After a bit of practice, it becomes absolutely second nature, and I cross-over by habit to this day.

Some schools teach a different technique, keeping the hands at 9-3 and shuffling the wheel between them. I prefer the cross-over to the shuffle, but the point is to have a smooth consistent technique, whichever one is chosen.

A fond recollection: Back in 1979, R&T’s Joe Rusz and I attended Bondurant’s along with perhaps six “civilian” students. We got no special favors, indeed maybe special scrutiny and certainly special ribbing.

Who

Who is this kid—and wherever did he get that haircut?

In the debriefing after the final afternoon’s open lapping session, Bob asked, “Who was in car no. 11?”

“That was me,” said Joe.

“You looked a little squirrely out there,” Bob said, generating much good-natured laughter from all of us.

“And who was in no. 8?” he asked.

I was in no. 8, but I kept quiet about it. No fool, me.

Bob got me anyway: “Whoever you were, you looked really good.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013

2 comments on “HANDS ON THE WHEEL

  1. Dick Carlson
    January 24, 2013

    October, 1977, was when I attended the 5 day school. Recommend a driving school to everyone. Best money spent.

  2. A. POWELL
    June 19, 2019

    Nice article. I took the Bondurant course in 1984 and they taught that same technique. I have used it ever since, and it has made me a much smoother driver, which is something my wife and kids appreciate.

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