Never Stop Driving #38: The ultimate driving destination?

The Ultimate Driving Machine should spawn the ultimate driving destination, yes? Over the past thirty years, BMW has built just that in South Carolina. I spent last weekend there with my 18-year-old daughter and left wondering why I hadn’t visited sooner.

Unlike my two sons, my daughter isn’t interested in racing cars or performance driving, but I’ve still spent the past several years trying to get her a higher level of training than the average teenager is provided by the programs that lead to a driver’s license. Good training is depressingly hard to find. I enrolled my daughter in a local driving school, and it covered the basic rules and offered helpful hints, but there was nothing about how to steer a car in an emergency or even how to panic brake. I can teach that stuff, so we spent many hours—often with her protesting—in a high-school parking lot. But it still wasn’t enough.

The key training aspect, in my opinion, is driving a car at and over the edge of control. Drivers need to experience what happens when a car fishtails, so they can practice correcting. This must be performed to have a chance of sinking in, which means some sort of track or big empty parking lot is required. We chose the BMW teen school simply because it was the closest one to us that offered classes in the winter. It costs two grand for two days. A big lump, but it pays lifetime dividends.

Car accidents are a leading cause of teen death. I believe that as a nation we woefully undertrain our drivers, and as we’ve learned over the past few years, the robots are not going to save us any time soon. I also believe that an over-reliance on driver aids is making us dumber and less safe drivers—although that is a personal observation, and I don’t have solid data to back it up. Safety starts with the behavior and decisions of the person behind the wheel, not with electronic aids.

The BMW driving school is right across the street from the automaker’s factory near Greenville, South Carolina, which was built back in the mid-1990s. That monstrous facility now pumps out nearly half a million BMWs per year, many for overseas markets. The driving school is its own major operation, with a classroom building that has a kitchen, gift shop, and locker rooms. Dozens of BMWs, from M5s to 340s and SUVs, stood ready next to a test track that was watered with sprinklers.

The BMW Performance Center HQ in South Carolina. Larry Webster

By lunch on the first day, my daughter had already looped a car while driving the wet skid pad. The class covered lane changes, braking, and sliding and even provided some light off-roading. My daughter hadn’t been thrilled about going to South Carolina, but I did not have to twist her arm for the second day. On the flight home she declared that she expects to have much greater confidence behind the wheel of her VW Jetta. And she liked driving the new BMWs. Stick to the Jetta, I replied. But there’s no question, the cost of the BMW driving school was money well spent.

BMW offers a variety of classes from one-day experiences to racing schools in South Carolina and at a track in Palm Springs, California. During our weekend, another class taught on- and off-road motorcycling. I might have to return for that, leaving time to visit the nearby BMW Car Club of America museum and definitely drive the mountain roads that are only an hour away.

Not that BMW is the only option. There are numerous effective driving schools from Ford, Porsche, Lexus, Skip Barber, Radford, and Mid-Ohio. Tire Rack supports an excellent, nationwide teen school called Teen Street Survival that is only $95. Hagerty Drivers Club members get $25 off a Sports Car Club of America membership, which offers many local training opportunities. Former Indycar driver Robbie Buhl hosts a free, one-day teen-focused instruction called Teen Street Skills that my son attended—2023 dates will be announced March 1.

There are so many ways to help our kids—and us—to become better drivers. Seize one.


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    These teen classes are expensive but I think they are well worth it. My 16 year old son took the 3 day Radford (Bondurant) Teen Driving Class and he is now 22 years old with no accidents or tickets. His clean driving record has saved me more in car insurance than the price of the course.

    Larry, I experienced the same conundrum when attempting to teach my kids car handling skills. I decided to take them to a local autocross, where they could explore the cars limits in a safe environment. Plus, they were able to watch others navigate the same course seeing how others were getting on with it.

    Plus, like any new skill, it has to be repeated, and this venue provided that aspect as well.

    I did the BMW Performance Center Delivery option back in 2006, and it was an excellent experience that included time on the track with an instructor. Highly recommended since it’s a free option for new BMWs.

    Most local chapters of the BMWCCA offer car control clinics, as do the Porsche clubs. I taught both my kids to drive at them.

    Minor correction regarding Hagerty Drivers Club members saving $25 off SCCA membership. The $25 off is actually on entry to the SCCA’s Track Night in America (a great, entry level track program) and Time Trial National Tour events, not an SCCA membership. HDC members can save $25 off each entry, so could add up to a lot of savings once you’re hooked on track driving!

    Some of the best money ever spent was sending my son to Bondurant many years ago for a two day teenage driving session. Not only did he become a better driver but he got turned on to hi performance driving and performance cars. The local PCA – Southwest Michigan sponsors a one day session at a local parking lot.

    Larry, you hit every nail on the head. Lack of training and reliance on nannies has done nothing to reduce the carnage on the highways. Lately we are finding that many people hurtling down the superslab with us have never held a driver license.

    By the time my son worked for you (briefly) he had already learned basics from me, including stick shift and dirt, and had attended an advanced school which taught emergency maneuvers (required after being cited for speeding in a school zone). Shortly after his return from a week at Bondurant a Taurus took a left in front of his Trans Am. The crash was just up the 4 lane main street from my house and was unavoidable. He was injured but survived. The car did not.

    Please post all info you get on advanced drivers schools,

    great insights shared, looks like I need to find a “teen driving school” near me for my two boys – they’ll love it.

    Great article Larry. to underscore your point about PRACTICING, I had been racing formula fords for a year, already had my first win, and was always into cars, drove like a (young guy) on the street in anything with wheels. then i took Skip Barber’s car control class with Terry Earwood. At first i was like “i race cars, i don’t need this class”. by the end of the first session i realized how much i had overlooked! PRACTICE with an expert, makes perfect. my on-track confidence soared and my lap times dropped!

    This was a most excellent article; more young drivers (and some oldsters!) could benefit from detailed training. Your observation (I also believe that an overreliance on driver aids is making us dumber and less safe drivers) is one I have been preaching for years. I especially love the Allstate TV ad showing the extra-cautious woman parallel-parking her convertible; when reminded that cars nowadays have back-up cameras, she responded: “Those are for amateurs!” Right on! Those trendy high-tech aids might indeed be helpful in such a tight spot, but the bottom line is: you gotta be the master of your vehicle without the aids, because they aren’t totally foolproof or 100% reliable. Thanks for your insights!

    Great idea. My grandson is approaching driving age and I think you just suggested his birthday present. I had my daughter (his mother) attend the BMW driving school here in Arizona. Terrific lessons taught by equally terrific instructors. She was never reduced to tears by any of them. Don’t ask. Thanks again.

    Agree with your comments about the “big lie” that is autonomous driving. The more we rely on automation which allows easier in-car access to our phones, the worse the drivers become. Many beneficial technologies (ABS, traction and skid control, etc) have been true driver enhancements. Playing patty cake while piloting an enormous GMC suv (as seen on their commercials) sends the wrong message.

    Hello Larry, I totally agree with your plan to be sure your children are properly trained for real-world driving! I drove all three of my children to high school. Once they had their driver’s permit, they drove the 30-minute trip regardless of weather conditions. For my daughters I found a fantastic course for them, drivers’ edge, It is a free program that has kids in the driver’s seat doing ABS stops, slides and even had a State trooper there to talk with them. He explained what to do if you do get pulled over. They also covered the proper way to adjust your seat, mirrors, etc. A very valuable program. I also enjoy reading your column! Please keep it up!

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