If you have a new teen driver in your house, I highly recommend taking them to Thunderhill Raceway in Willows to go through their Teen Car Control Clinic. It’s a great way for them to learn some important skills and also learn what their vehicle can do in a safe environment. Cost of the clinic is $129. To me, that is a small price to pay for them to get a chance to learn things they really can’t practice on their own. You bring your own car, preferably the car they will be driving so they can learn what that specific can do and how it handles. There is also a clinic in Sacramento. That one is $250 and you use their car. I prefer this one. Parents could hang out in an air conditioned building or sit outside in the shade and watch the kids. I recommend bringing a lawn chair if you want to do that. The next clinic is August 24, 2019. After that there is one in November and December.
Our son recently got his driver’s permit. I heard about this clinic from a friend who said his daughter went through it and made a huge difference. She went there being tentative and not wanting to drive and came out with new confidence.
It’s a little over 100 miles from Elk Grove. That in itself was a great opportunity for our son to get a chance to drive for an extended time there and back. We left at 6:30 am to get there around 8 am. That allowed time to check in and get the car ready. You have clean everything out of the car, all loose objects and even floor mats. They also have a food truck there that was serving some breakfast items.
From 9 am to 9:30 am there was a brief introduction to what we were doing. At 9:30 am we started and they kids went through three courses. Each course had an instructor at the beginning and the end. The beginning instructor would talk to the kids about what they would be doing and the second would critique what they did. They would go through each course several times over a 90 minute period.
First was a slalom course that consisted of driving through cones on a straight road. Pretty basic as they were spaced far enough apart. The drivers would increase their speed as they did it more times. Some went a little too fast and took out cones.
Second was an emergency stop. The drivers would accelerate to around 40-50 mph and then pass through an area with two sets of cones. They were to hit the brakes after the first set and stop before the second. Most all of the cars had ABS (anti lock braking) so the test was to give them a chance to learn how to it feels when they rapidly apply the brakes and you can feel the brake pedal pulsing as it brings you to a stop. First time through, most drivers were tentative and didn’t accelerate too much. As they did it it each time after they felt more confident and went a little faster. This is something you probably could practice in a empty parking lot somewhere.
The last course was accident avoidance. The drivers would accelerate towards an instructor behind a barrier and then he would use a flag at the last second to point left or right and they had to swerve that direction. Their speed was around 40-45 mph. That was a good exercise to teach them how to avoid something in the road or an accident.
Their next exercise was on a “skid pad” from 11 am to 11:45. This was a large open paved area. They course asphalt was watered down. The drivers would then do a circle or figure 8 around cones. The idea was to get them to drive fast enough so that the car would skid to give them an idea how to the car reacts and for them to learn how to handle it. Most of the cars were front wheel drive so it was a little harder to get them to skid. I think having the cones farther apart to allow for more acceleration would have worked better.
We then stopped for lunch. The food truck was serving hot dogs and burgers. You had to pay for that. It was around $10 for burger with fries. Drinks were extra.
While we ate, a CHP officer gave a presentation for about an hour. She talked about the dangers of teen driving, distractions, DUI’s, wearing seat belts etc. Just reinforcing the dangers that happen and asking parents to have a talk with their kids about what is expected.
The afternoon course consisted of getting a chance to drive on the race track. It is a 2 mile road course with several turns, so it’s not like the oval tracks you see on TV. It gave them a chance to open it up on the straightaways and also maneuver through tight turns. For this part they had an instructor in the car with them. We were split into three groups. While one group was on the course the other two got to relax. They did two sessions with each lasting about 15-20 minutes. They generally were able to do about 5-6 laps per session. My son said this was his favorite part.
They also had to go through a section where they had to intentionally drive off the track and have two wheels in the gravel to learn how to get back on the road. That’s really important on rural two lane roads. The impulse is to overcorrect which can send you into oncoming traffic or across the road. I asked my son how fast they went on the straight portions and he said around 80 mph.
After that was done the drivers got a certificate and it was over around 3 pm. That meant another 100 miles back home for us. Our son really liked it and I thought it was a worth the drive and money. Anything that helps make him a safer and more aware driver is priceless. I will definitely be taking our younger son there next year.