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DIEZ: Driving tips for winter weather

Roger Diez
For the Nevada Appeal

Good morning, and a very Merry Christmas to one and all. I hope that you were a good little racer or race fan, and that Santa brought you everything on your list.

I’m pretty sure that every U.S. race sanctioning body, from NASCAR to IndyCar, had higher TV ratings and better fan attendance at the top of their wish lists for Santa. The IndyCar folks got a couple of nice presents, with engine packages from Chevrolet and Lotus (read Ilmor and Cosworth) for 2012.

Every racer and team owner sat on Santa’s lap asking for more sponsorship money and good racing luck.

As for race fans, they can only hope that the coming race season is every bit as good as the last one, with most major championships being settled in dramatic fashion in the last race of the season.

Last week. I devoted the column to my last-minute Christmas gift guide and I hope it was helpful to some of you. The guide pre-empted my annual winter driving tips, and they certainly would have come in handy last weekend. But most of winter is still ahead, and I’m sure we will have more snow, sleet, black ice, and other winter road hazards, so here is my take on winter driving.

•••

Because you have less traction on any form of frozen water, you need to pay much closer attention to your driving than you otherwise would. Pretend you’re in a Rick Hendrick NASCAR Cup Chevy going 200 miles an hour at Talladega. If that were the case, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be texting, talking on the cell phone, fiddling with the CD changer, lighting up a cigarette or munching on a Big Mac. And, you certainly wouldn’t have a few beers before climbing in the window and buckling up. Well, driving on snow and ice is a lot like driving a race car in slow motion. A race car at speed is right on the limit of adhesion, and so is your car on ice and snow. So you need to do some (but not all) of the things race drivers do . . . bump drafting is out, but pretty much everything else applies.

Here are the key things you need to do:

• The first is to anticipate. Look further down the road to see what’s happening ahead of you, because it will take you longer to stop. Leave a bit more distance between you and the car ahead so you have time to react if they lose control. The cop who shows up at the accident scene isn’t going to buy the “He checked up and I had no place to go” excuse.

• The second is to be smooth on the controls. Yanking the wheel, mashing the gas, and stomping on the brakes all upset the balance of the car. It’s not such a big deal on dry pavement, but that kind of activity will send you out of control before you can say “Oh . . . (expletive deleted).” Ease into the throttle when you start off, avoid braking as much as possible, and let the engine braking slow you down. When you do use the brakes, use them early and gently. Make small, smooth movements with the steering wheel.

• One of the first things I was taught in racing school many years ago was the “circle of friction”. Without going into the whole explanation, basically it says that at tire can accelerate, decelerate (brake), or turn. If you try to do two of those things at once, only part of the available friction can go to either one. That’s why when you try to brake and turn at the same time on snow or ice, you are likely as not to plow straight ahead with your front wheels turned left or right. In racing parlance, that’s called “push”.

• I know all this a lot to think about, but if you focus all your attention on your driving, you’ll be OK. And once you’ve learned that focus, try to maintain it even when the weather gets better. Your fellow drivers will thank you for it.