How to Be a Safe Driver: 6 Lessons I Learned From Track Racing School

In this, the season of road trips, it's good to brush up on some basics.

by Nicholas McClelland

Few things behind the wheel thrill the automotive soul more than smashing the accelerator to the floor and winding up a beastly, naturally-aspirated V8 on a racetrack. The car’s throaty and ferocious acceleration throws your eyes wide open and causes all the hair on your body stand at attention. This is the bliss I experienced blistering through my veins as I blasted a 2019 Lexus GS F down the main straightaway at WeatherTech Laguna Seca Raceway. But my ecstasy was prematurely truncated when, an eye blink or two before the breaking zone, I felt my phone vibrating against my right leg. Distracted, I let off the throttle early and forfeited what could have been a great lap.

I’m fairly diligent about not touching my phone when I’m driving except to perhaps change the music at a traffic light. But otherwise I don’t text, check Twitter, or scroll through my email. I do, however, frequently leave it in my pocket. And an email alert at full throttle made me realize what a distraction that small haptic is. It saps the focus just as much at 35mph as at 135mph.

This was one of many small realizations I had during my time at the Lexus Performance Driving School, many of which have made me — and hopefully you — a better and safer driver on the street. As summer is peak drive time, here, along with some information from my instructor, veteran driver and head coach for Hooked on Racing Tupper Hull, are six safe driving tips I picked up.

1. Look Farther Down the Road

One of the simplest things I realized during my drive was also one of the most important: adjustments in vision are essential to being better behind the wheel. When I focused on looking further down the road, I was a better driver. “High performance driving racing is your vision; you want to be looking far down the road,” Hull said, confirming my suspicion. The same goes for the highway on your commute or the streets in your town. “The farther down the road you’re looking, the slower everything becomes and the sooner you can respond to the things around you.”

2. Be Aware of How You React

Certainly, you want to react to dangerous conditions on the road, but it’s important to not overdo it. In other words: Slamming on the brakes is usually not the best option to avoid issues on the road. “It doesn’t take very much input like a tap on the brakes or even a lift off the accelerator or even the slightest pressure on the accelerator will shift weight back and forth,” Hull said.

3. Understand Your Car’s Needs

On the track and off, you want to make sure your car is well maintained. According to Hull, one does everything they can to prep a race car and to make it safe so it will perform well and allow them to drive that car faster. On the street, it’s the same. “When I get into my street car, I want to know that I’ve got ample the tires or are at the right pressure. They’ve got adequate tread. I’ve got enough oil so I’m not going to burn off a motor,” Hull said. Your brakes are all so crucial. On the track, the consumables, like pad and rotors wear out more quickly and it’s easier to notice. On a street car, it’s a more gradual decay in performance, but you want to be aware with how they are functioning. “I do think being in touch with the car, whether it’s on the track or on the street, isn’t just safer, it’s going to save you a whole lot of headaches,” he said. “You don’t want to spend time on the side of the road waiting for AAA to come put your car in a flatbed.”

4. Learn to Handle Your Need For Speed

Speed limits are set up for a reason and, despite our need for speed, it’s important to fight the need to be overly fast or aggressive on the road. There are just too many people and too many variables. “I don’t get my giggles on the street,” Hull said. “I get them out of my system pushing the limits out on the race track in a very controlled environment.” Much like a boxing class serves as an outlet to get out aggression, track racing serves as a way to get your speed fix. So, take a class if you want to unleash your inner Andretti.

5. Be Aware of Your Headspace

Keeping your attention on what you’re doing behind the wheel is key to keeping yourself and others safe. Of course, every driver loses focus, whether racing or commuting. But it’s important to realize it when it happens, so you can regain your concentration. If you find yourself drifting, reset, refocus and put it behind you. The same is true about getting angry on the road. “If you thinking, ‘God, that guy is way offline’ or ‘I don’t like the way that dope dive-bombed into that turn’ – You got to get rid of that and get back into your own space and get hyper-focused,” Hull said.

6. Put. Your. Phone. Away.

A cell phone is a major distraction in life, but especially so behind the wheel. When you’re driving, it’s a great idea to set it on ‘do not disturb’ and throw it in the passenger side glove box until you reach your destination. A simple buzz threw me off on the track; imagine what a larger distraction would’ve done.