The most smiles per gallon |

The most smiles per gallon

Randy Wyrick/Vail Daily

GYPSUM, Colorado – The Tire Rack Street Survival school is automotive nirvana for teens.

Kids are encouraged to drive too fast, skid as much as possible and run over stuff.

“We get to do all the things to the car that our parents absolutely forbid us to do,” said Mary Rice, one of 30 teens gathered Sunday at the Eagle County Airport for the day-long seminar.

She and sister Zhanna Rice came all the way from Moab, Utah, to abuse their parents’ car.

They learned learn all sorts of things, mostly how cars behave when they’re behaving badly.

It’s more than driving, it’s about living, say the volunteers from the Sports Car Club of America, who presented Sunday’s seminar. It’s sponsored by the Edwards Rotary Club.

The kids gained driving experience in real-world situations in their own car, learning handling limits and how you can control them. By the time they were done, they had become more observant of traffic situations, and to look far enough ahead to anticipate unwise actions of other drivers, and why seat belts and physics matter.

Every second driver is a bad driver, their SCCA instructors told them.

“But suspect everyone,” they said.

The Sports Car Club of America Foundation has been running Street Survival schools since 2002, and in Eagle County since 2008, said Arnie Coleman with the SCCA.

“It’s designed to help them learn to make instant decisions while considering the obstacles,” said Stephen Kohn, one of the volunteers with the Sports Car Club of America who runs the program.

They were in class by 8 a.m. Sunday, and most were less-than completely thrilled. They frowned and yawned through an early classroom session where they were supposed to learn some physics and inertia.

Then they went outside where they were instructed to do things to their parents’ cars guaranteed to make the kids grin and their parents cringe.

“They learned to stay out of trouble on the road,” said Angelo Loria, father of one of the 30 kids.

Matt Kelsall’s son Mack was out there, raising the distinctive aroma of warm tires skidding on pavement.

“This is a special thing for the Sports Car Club of America to do,” Matt said.

Early in the day, the kids seemed reluctant to stomp the gas. Only one or two made screeched their tires. By that afternoon, everyone did.

“They get more aggressive as the day goes on,” Coleman said. “We didn’t have to tell them to go faster. They get that.”

By the end of the day most cars had music blaring – or what passes for music when teenagers command the stereo. Occasionally a rambunctious parent would call their beloved offspring in the car, just to see if they’d pick up when they weren’t supposed to. They didn’t.

There’s a rain course and because Sunday was warm and sunny, the airport fire and rescue guys were kind enough to pour water all over the kids all afternoon. One year the fire guys poured so much water so hard that it knocked the trim off a couple cars, which was pretty funny if it wasn’t your car.

There’s a slalom course and the kids drive it like they’re supposed to. It’s a lesson in suspension and how a car’s shifting weight changes the way it handles. And just when they’re getting good at that, the SCCA guys recruited a couple dads to throw cones onto the course in front of the cars the kids are driving, sort of the same way a small animal would dart in front of their car in the real world. Do not swerve to miss it – ever. If it misses you, great. If it doesn’t, the world is not running short of small animals that dart into traffic. Swerve and you’re endangering other motorists, yourself and your passengers.

You slow down in bad conditions by backing off the gas and staying away from the brakes, they learned.

Alexis Richins pointed out that tire pressure is important because that great big car is held to the road and kept under control by a tiny little contact patch.

They also learned to say things like, “Dad, the good news is that my right foot is still healthy. The better news is that I didn’t wreck the car, even though I really, really tried.”

Most lessons sink in. Some don’t.

A few years back one kid drove away from Street Survival and got himself arrested for practicing what he’d learned earlier that day. Turns out they don’t give homework.

“The Edwards Rotary Club is very proud of this. It’s all about giving kids more experience behind the wheel to improve their driving skills and understand the responsibility of driving defensively,” said Linda Hill with the Edwards Rotary Club.

Hill and Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy brought the program to the area after Hill saw how easy it was for her daughter to get her drivers license.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

Support Local Journalism