As I write this, the weatherman is predicting as much as six inches of snow on the valley floor over the weekend.
And with slick roads, we all need to pay a little bit more attention to our driving. The main thing that separates racing drivers from the rest of us is the level of concentration they bring to the task of driving. Yes, Brad Keselowski texts from his racecar, but only during red flags! Of course, the racing drivers are operating on the limits of adhesion at 200 miles per hour, but snow and ice bring that limit of adhesion right down to the speeds we normally travel on the roads.
So the best thing you can do when roads are slick from snow and ice is stay home by the fire. But if you must venture out, the next best thing is to pay very close attention to your driving. Don't talk or text on your cell phone, don't be munching on a Big Mac, lighting a cigarette, or messing with the CD changer. And most of all, don't pound down a few rounds of holiday cheer before getting behind the wheel. Even if it doesn't cause an accident, it could still get you onto Santa's and the NHP's "naughty" list.
So with that in mind, here are a few tips to stay safe on the road and make it through Christmas alive:
• Buckle up. It plants you in the seat and gives you better control, and could save your life if some other driver intrudes on your personal space.
• Be smooth. The very best racing drivers are those who are the smoothest and gentlest on the controls. Don't yank the steering wheel, mash the gas or the brake, or do other things that can upset the balance of the car. Ease into the throttle when starting from rest. Avoid using the brakes as much as possible, but when you have to use them, do it early and gently. Use small, slow movements on the steering wheel.
• Anticipate. Because it will take you longer to stop, you need to be aware of what is happening ahead of you. Leave more space between you and the car ahead. This will give you more time to react if they do something dumb. The old NASCAR excuse, "He checked up and I had no place to go," probably won't fly with the cop who investigates the accident.
• If you have the time and interest, learn about vehicle dynamics. It will help you understand what to do to keep your car under control, and more importantly how to regain control when you lose it. One of the basics of vehicle dynamics is the tire "circle of friction." Tires can accelerate, brake, or turn. Doing more than one of these things at a time means that the tire can't accomplish either one at maximum efficiency. So when you try to brake and turn on a slick surface, you may find yourself plowing straight ahead with the steering wheel cranked over. Weight transfer from front to rear wheels or vice versa can also cause the car to behave oddly on slick pavement. Get any good "how to" book on race driving for a detailed explanation of these subjects.
Christmas is only a few days away, so I hope you have all been good racers and race fans this year so that Santa will bring you what you asked for instead of a lump of carbon from a garbage truck piston. For me, I already had my present . . . a fantastic racing season with nearly all of the major championships going down to the final race. It doesn't get any better than that, so I hope that 2013 is just as good.