Driving safely on winter roads

Since I wrote last week's column on Friday night, before the snowstorm, I'm a week late with my annual winter driving lecture. Those of you who are reading this at the kitchen table are probably OK - those who are reading it in the body shop waiting room - sorry I'm late.

Let's start off with a little basic physics. Say you're driving a 4,000 pound vehicle at 30 mph - that's a considerable amount of mass and inertia. This collection of steel, aluminum, glass, and plastic is tenuously connected to the road by four small tire contact patches, and any change in speed or direction must be transmitted through those patches.

Anything that detracts from the tires' adhesion to the road, snow or ice for instance, tends to limit their ability to respond to your commands. Tires can transmit only three things from the vehicle to the road: acceleration, deceleration, and change of direction.

There is a limit, determined by road surface, temperature, and other factors, of just how much of these inputs the tires can transmit before they lose grip. There is another factor, which is when the tire receives multiple inputs, such as braking and steering simultaneously. This creates a vector of the two forces, but reduces the absolute limit of either force.

OK, let's put theory into practice. Say your vehicle can stop from 30 mph in 100 feet on dry asphalt pavement. On snow or ice, that distance is going to be doubled, tripled, quadrupled, or quite possible infinite. Remember to slow down in slick conditions, and to increase your distance to the car in front of you. Drafting is definitely not recommended.

Also remember the reference to vectors in the last paragraph. If you try to brake and turn at the same time on a slick surface, both your braking and turning performance will suffer. You will immediately experience what the race driver calls "push" and you will plow straight ahead with your wheels cranked to the right or left. Similarly, if you accelerate too hard while turning, you will be confronted with the condition racers call "loose." You will notice this when the rear of your car passes you.

The bottom line is that on slick roadways you have to use gentle inputs on all the controls. Brake early and progressively; turn slowly and smoothly, not jerking the steering wheel; and accelerate smoothly, feathering the throttle. You also need to stay more alert in slick conditions.

Get "up on the wheel" as Darrell Waltrip is fond of saying. Unfortunately, the level of concentration most people bring to their daily driving is just above comatose. In slippery conditions, that can lead to a trip to the body shop or worse yet, the hospital.

With Friday night's awards banquet at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City, the 2004 NASCAR season is finally over. I'd be willing to bet that some of those guys would have been a lot more comfortable if it had been held at Billy Bob's Road House, with peanut shells on the floor and two-dollar pitchers of Budweiser. The weird thing was seeing all those drivers with tuxedos and bow ties, and not a sponsor patch in sight!

Speaking of sponsor patches, here's an update to the story of NASCAR allowing distilled spirits manufacturers into Nextel Cup. Richard Childress Racing announced Friday that the No. 30 car's number will change to No. 07 and be sponsored by Jack Daniels' "Old No. 7" brand.

Dave Blaney will drive the 07 for 2005, with Jeff Burton moving to the No. 31, replacing Robby Gordon. This may be the ride that Blaney, a former sprint-car star, has been waiting for. I just wonder if he's going to chug a bottle of Old No. 7 in victory lane if he wins a race. Probably not, to hear Jack Daniels' global general manager Mike Keyes, tell it.

"We will be promoting our key message, 'Pace Yourself, Drink Responsibly' on a recurring basis and, like everything we do, our marketing will be directed to adult audiences of legal drinking age." Uh huh.

Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist. Contact him at racytalker@aol.com.


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