SPARTANBURG SC (WSPA) – Teenagers learn to “unlock total car control to the limit” in a driving school taught by former racing drivers at BMW’s performance center in South Carolina.
The Ultimate Teen Driving Experience, held at the BMW Performance Center in Spartanburg, offers training classes for teens that teach them how to avoid complicated hazards while having fun, according to the school’s website.
Among these former race car drivers is Derek Leonard. He used to race a Ford Pinto with mesh for a windshield on a dirt road at Cherokee Motor Speedway in Gaffney, South Carolina.
“We don’t teach level crossings or turn signals. You know, we teach sliding-control interstate braking, decision judgment, big emergencies, and dynamic lane changes. We teach real automotive physics to children. said Derek Leonard, driving instructor at the BMW Performance Center on the East Coast.
The driving school offers two courses that teach teens how to avoid obstacles by breaking panic, practice emergency lane changes and drive while distracted, according to the school’s website.
“You hear people joking at work. [Some of them say], we don’t cure cancer, we don’t save lives. And I always tell our instructors, but sometimes it’s because of the things people learn,” said Matt Mullins, BMW Performance Center chief instructor.
According to instructors, one of the most important lessons in school is to train your eyes to focus on the intended path rather than on distractions.
“And it seems pretty easy when we’re sitting here in these chairs, you know, at zero miles per hour, but on the highway, when things go wrong and things go wrong, keep your eyes open and no on the issue is much more difficult,” Mullins said.
Classes are led by experienced BMW Performance Center drivers, most of whom have professional training in competitive racing, which they say gives them specialized training to teach people how to avoid or recover from extremely dangerous conditions, under pressure.
“It’s not so much that they have to be the fastest rider in the world to be a great instructor, but part of it is your ability to perform under pressure,” Mullins said.
Competitive racing Pedigree
Leonard got his start in competitive driving racing a four-cylinder Pinto, what they call a baby bomber, on a dirt track at Cherokee Motor Speedway in Gaffney, South Carolina.
“One of the old sayings is, you know, guys are either ‘wreckers’ or ‘checkers’. Either they’re going to win or they’re going to crash. I try to be really consistent and be there at the end…trying to make myself relevant in the last five laps,” Leonard said. “Where some guys, they want to be in front as fast as possible and they just want to stay in front, which is a perfectly within reason.”
According to Leonard, the most common weakness in professional racers and ordinary drivers is that they can get rattled under pressure. This is when eye discipline becomes very important, he said, keeping your eyes on the road and not letting obstacles distract you.
As a teenager, Mullins said he wanted to race stock cars in NASCAR, the National Stock Car Racing Association.
“I always wanted to be a stock car driver. I grew up in the South. It was kind of my dream. And so I met some guys there in California, and one of them ended up running a NASCAR school in Charlotte called Fast Track,” he said.
He would never have imagined that instead, he would become a driving instructor.
He competed in the Legends Car series which raced around Charlotte and eventually entered the NASCAR Sportsman division, then the ARCA series, then ended up in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck series.
His racing career came to an abrupt end after an accident on a track, he said.
“I was in a, a race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the ARCA series, I had a big accident, I broke my neck, I got robbed in the back of a helicopter,” a- he declared.
But he soon found an opportunity as a motor racing instructor. A friend of his who worked at the BMW Performance Center contacted him for a temporary teaching position at the driving school. He’s been there for 20 years now, he says.
Leonard and Mullins have both retired from racing. They are part of several driving school instructors who give lessons to teenagers and adults.
“We have people who email us, they call us and they’re like, ‘Oh my God, you know, I might have missed an accident’ or ‘Hey kid, you taught him how to school for teenagers. A deer ran in front of them. They were able to drive around it,” he said.
The BMW Performance Center offers a one- or two-day course for teens starting at $999, according to the school’s website.