By Sean Barron
Shelby Engleka began her day with trepidation about having to do something she assumed wouldn’t end well, but a few trips through an obstacle course later, her attitude was transformed.
“It’s hard to make myself do something I know will be bad,” the 18-year-old woman from New Galilee, Pa., said, referring to having been forced to quickly brake and react in a simulated situation. “But it’s better to do it here and run over a cone than to do it on the road and run over a child, a dog or a deer.”
Engleka, a Mohawk Junior/Senior High School 12th-grader, was one of 10 students who put their reflexes and skills to the ultimate test by participating in Sunday’s Tire Rack Street Survival Teen Driving School.
Hosting the nine-hour event in Boardman Park were the Mahoning Valley Region Sports Car Club of America and the BMW Car Club of America Inc.
The program’s main purpose was to better prepare the teens and make them more comfortable with handling sudden, unexpected situations they may encounter while driving. Those include slippery road conditions, children and animals that dart out in front of them and vehicles that cut them off, noted Sandy Kryder, a member of the local SCCA chapter.
“This is in advance of that,” said Kryder, adding the teens also learned about maintaining proper tire pressure and gained a deeper perspective on what it’s like to drive big-rig vehicles, which take much longer to stop than cars and usually have wider and more pronounced blind spots.
Engleka, who earned her driver’s permit at age 16, said the experience also gave her a better sense of the science behind an anti-lock braking system, which prevents skidding. It also marked the first time she hit a set of brakes full force, she said.
“I felt what anti-lock brakes felt like ... and how to control the car after I [nearly] lost control of the car,” Engleka said.
Orange cones were continually reconfigured for a series of challenges that also included abrupt lane changes, air-bag demonstrations and wet skid pads, which gave the participants a better feeling of what it’s like to hydroplane and skid on wet, slippery roads – and what to do in those situations.
During the lane-change simulations, two volunteers tossed additional cones to surprise the drivers on the course, which forced them to quickly respond in an evasive manner. The exercise was to accustom them to handling unexpected situations such as deer on the road, along with drunk drivers and children who aren’t paying attention, noted John Gingery, an instructor.
“We want them to not think about it, but to react to it,” said Gingery, adding that parents also can benefit from the course.
The idea was not to frighten the drivers, but to give them added tools for dealing with adverse, real-world situations, explained Gingery, who also thanked National Tire & Battery of Boardman for providing material assistance.
Soon after, water from three 250-gallon plastic containers was poured on the parking lot and mixed with dish detergent. The mixture created the wet slip pad, which simulated slippery conditions similar to those from ice, snow, gravel and rain.
The students drove their vehicles for six laps – three clockwise and three counterclockwise – around the obstacle course so they could see what it’s like to hydroplane and skid, as well as how to take safe, corrective action, noted Bill Stewart, a member of the SCCA and BMW clubs.
While several students were testing their grit, maneuverability and determination on the obstacle course, others were receiving classroom instruction from Reed Kryder, an instructor who’s also Sandy’s husband.
About 80 percent of accidents with young drivers can be attributed to inattention, and many occur in mere seconds, Reed told a group of five participants. In addition, many young people today are intimidated by using vehicles, in part because they rely heavily on communicating with others via texting and social media, which decreases in their view a necessity for driving, he explained.
As for Shelby Engleka, however, it seems safe to say that online communications won’t be a substitute for driving anytime soon.
“I definitely feel more confident and safer in my car and on the roads,” she said.
Concurring with that perspective was her mother, Cathy Engleka, who said she was impressed with how her daughter handled the difficult trials, as well as with the program itself.
“I definitely think she’ll be more prepared for unexpected situations,” Cathy added.