I wish to take a breather from the hyperbole that makes up the total output of Open Wheel Motorsport Scribes and Bloggers as we race towards this weekend’s IZOD Indy Car Series opener at St. Petersburg. The topic of “Opening Bell” will be covered by people like Marshall Pruett, Robin Miller, Pressdog and about 9700 other bloggers having differing ability. Why would I regurgitate old news, old facts and in some cases, even fiction. Instead, here is how I plan to take my break…..
One of the benefits of living near the Hallowed Grounds that comprise the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the potential for interaction with those that have actually had the privilege to drive there. I have even seen some folks remain star struck when coming into the sphere of influence that makes up this collection of racers, be they past, present or future drivers. Personally, I just enjoy the overall ambience of life that comes from the interaction with these racing vehicle pilots. They make for very interesting encounters.
A few weeks ago, I had the rare pleasure of tweeting it up just a tad with none other than Speedy Dan Clarke and was fortunate to be invited to take a closer look at a program that he is involved in. I seldom write about what I would deem a worthy cause and yet I find myself compelled to forego that stance and involve you in a subject that is becoming near and dear to my heart. Consider this factoid: Imagine a commercial airline crash every two and a half weeks causing fatal injury to all on board. This represents the actual number of U.S. teen fatalities each year from motor vehicle collisions. And imagine a crowd the size of the spectator audience at the Indianapolis 500. This accurately represents the number of teens who suffer injuries each year in the U.S. as a result of motor vehicle collisions.
The previous statement is the defining position and factual truth that lead to a remarkable aligning of the stars, past, present and future, of Indy Car. It also made me stop a moment and consider some more truths when it comes to teenage driving. Being a parent of a no longer teen, I have the perspective of looking back and realizing that this stuff is ALL TRUE:
• The chance of one crash in the first three years of driving is 89.2%
• The chance of two crashes in the first three years of driving is 52.5%
• A 16-year-old is 20 times more likely to be killed in a crash than an adult
• Teens are 400% more likely to die in a car crash than 25-34 year-old drivers
• 63% of teenage passenger deaths occur in vehicles driven by another teenager
• 113 teenage drivers each week in the U.S. are involved in fatal crashes
• Nearly 1000 teens each day are treated in an emergency room for injuries suffered in a motor vehicle crash
The bottom line is that 3000 teenage drivers or passengers die in vehicle collisions every year.
Enter former Indy Car driver Stephan Gregoire and business manager Ted Woerner to form a partnership and an organization called Miles Ahead. This program touches my heart in that the overall goal is to reduce these statistics or at least, make a dent in them. Recently, I had an opportunity to sit down with the principals of the team that make up this organization. From the instructors to the operational themes and goals of Miles Ahead, it is very clear that they are trying to make a difference. Here is their story.
After Stephan Gregoire stopped racing, he and his business partner, Ted Woerner formed an entity called Miles Ahead to help address some of these sobering statistics. Through a partnership with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, they were able to set up a highly unique driving school that has the lofty goal of educating teenage drivers. Their approach is different in that they are targeting the root causes of accidents and not the perpetrators of the accidents. This is fairly unusual in that they feel their product will address behavior modification through enlightenment rather than appealing to the fear factor. If you have a teen, or if you even know a teen, I am pretty sure that you will agree that they are a difficult lot to get through to at times. They tend to practice selective deafness, selective learning and selective response. A parent will never know as much as a teen and when it comes to teaching driving skills, parents have no clue. I know; I just asked a teen about it the other day and they agree that we parents remain clueless. Miles Ahead overcomes this obstacle by hiring driving instructors that are bona fide race car drivers. Their stable includes Speedy Dan Clarke, Zach Veach, Stephan Wilson, Conor Daly, Logan Gomez and Alex Lloyd, among others. In my humble opinion, hearing truths coming from one of these drivers sure beats hearing it from your parents!
Another approach that the Miles Ahead, Teen Driving Intensive takes in promoting their safe concepts agenda is the hands on experience that a student receives during the half day sessions. They talk about it and then actually go out and do it. I know because I recently finished hitting some of the course with Stephan Gregoire and Dan Clarke and I clipped a few cones. The goggles that you wear that simulate being legally “buzzed but not drunk” did not help matters much in my case, but I can see how teens will be pretty stunned with the visual effects that mimic buzzed driving. Also, when Stephan had me hold a gizmo that I controlled to operate a light activation device which guided him into an unexpected lane change, I had to stop and go change my underwear. This was a lane change conducted at just under 40 mph but in a short distance which feels like what one would do to avoid a dog running in front of you. The subject of the exercise is avoidance and it will get kids attention, believe me!
One should offer major props to Ted Woerner for coming up with a plan to have businesses step up and help offer scholarships because tuition for this class is north of $400. Their goal of not giving a sense of being elitist is to be commended. This stuff ain’t cheap, but anything of value never is cheap. Your teen’s life is something that should always be valued. Remember, the value of the Miles Ahead training is to provide teenage drivers with the opportunity to learn and practice car control, handling, and avoidance exercises in a controlled, safe environment
Hit the jump, take a look, and thank these gents should you ever cross their paths. Some racing drivers just go away at the end of their careers, some give back. Some go out, come up with something that they are passionate about and enlist up and coming drivers to help out the cause. I applaud both of these guys for doing just that.
Thanks and we will chat again next time. I wonder what happens in St Pete??????
I should not even be allowed to own a camera and the following stuff sadly supports that theory!