We have seen our first taste of winter already, and if El Niño performs as promised, there will be lots more winter driving in our immediate future. So it’s time to remind everyone how to cope with the hazards of snow, ice and slick roads.
I always compare driving on snow and ice to driving a race car, because although the speeds are vastly different, the techniques involved are quite similar. One of the reasons Finnish drivers like Kimi Raikkonen, Mika Hakkinen, Valtteri Bottas are such accomplished racers is because living inside the Arctic Circle, they grow up driving on roads with little or no grip. So with that premise in mind, here are some racing techniques you can apply to everyday winter driving.
First is the level of concentration. Look around you while driving, and marvel at the near-comatose level of consciousness in some drivers. You’re better than that, right? So keep distractions to a bare minimum, particularly when conditions are less than ideal. Leave your cell phone in its holster or purse: No texting, chatting, checking Facebook, or shopping on Amazon while you drive. Keep your hands on the wheel, not busy with a cigarette, sandwich, cup of coffee, or other extraneous object. It’s OK to have the radio on, but don’t attempt the drum solo from “Wipeout” while negotiating black ice. Pay attention to your environment: condition of the road surface, lighting conditions, traffic around you, and weather. It’s called “situational awareness,” and you should get used to practicing it religiously.
Now, racing drivers operating at the edge of adhesion quickly learn that finesse is the watchword while manipulating the car’s controls. Never use big, abrupt movements of the steering wheel, brake or accelerator, especially when snow, ice or wet pavement compromise adhesion. Gentle, progressive application of the car’s controls will maximize what little grip there is between your tires and the road. Not to get too technical, but forces acting on your four tiny tire patches are all that keep your car pointed where you want it to go. So remember that braking and turning at the same time put more stress on that already tenuous connection than merely doing one or the other separately. We’ve all experienced the sensation of applying the brakes and turning the wheel, only to go blithely sailing straight ahead on a snowy road, front wheels cocked sideways but not biting. In race car parlance, that’s called “push,” and on the road as well as on the track it can end up with an abrupt halt against an immovable object. As they say in the TV commercials, “Don’t be that guy.”
Changes are in the air for NASCAR’s premier division in 2016, with new drivers coming in, others departing, crew chief swaps, and more. There’s a good crop of contenders for the Rookie of the year title, including another member of the Earnhardt family. Jeffrey Earnhardt will run for Rookie honors in the no. 32 GoFas Chevrolet. Another contender is Chase Elliott, taking over the No. 24 Hendrick Racing Chevy vacated by the retiring Jeff Gordon. Also included in the rookie battle is recently crowned Xfinity champ Chris Buescher, who will move into Front Row Racing’s no. 34 Ford Sprint Cup entry. Long-time Xfinity competitor Brian Scott replaces Sam Hornish Jr. in the No. 9 Penske Ford, and will also vie for Rookie honors. Finally, Ryan Blayney is in the running for the title, driving the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford. The Wood Brothers, one of the longest-running teams in NASCAR, will run a full season in 2016 after several years as a part-time entry. Clint Bowyer is no rookie, but is in an interim year with HScott Motorsports before assuming the driving duties in the no. 14 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet, replacing the retiring Tony Stewart. Furniture Row Racing, coming off their best season ever with Martin Truex Jr. finishing fourth in the championship standings, will switch from Toyota to Chevrolet for the No. 78 car in 2016. And Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick, Kyle Larson and A.J. Allmendinger will all have new faces atop the pit box when the new season kicks off at Daytona.