By Alex Gallacher
Every racing fan grows up wishing they could race in the big leagues. NASCAR, F1 and the IndyCar Series are the essence of speed and grace. However, what does a person do if they don’t have $5 million just laying around for a NASCAR set? Well they improvise, and the Minden Ice Races are a perfect gateway into the sport.
Before you ever take to the ice though, it’s important to learn how to drive on it. Now a lot of people might think they are a pro, given that millions of people across North America drive during the winter season each year. Driving in the ice and snow is one thing, but being in control of your car is something else entirely.
Enter Ian Law’s Car Control School, the group dedicated to getting all drivers prepared to drive on the ice. I was given the chance to sit in on Ian’s Feb. 6 class.
Getting into class, the instructor talks about the fundamentals of winter driving. Things like being aware of your surroundings, observing potential black ice spots, but the most important thing is that no trip is worth dying over. If the weather is too bad, don’t go.
They taught everything from new steering techniques to how to check blind spots. While most of the people in the room were fresh faced 16-year-olds, as a 24-year-old who had been driving since 2014, I learned so many things to make me realize how much I really didn’t know.
Around noon, Ian, myself and Ian’s trainee – and my co-worker at the Canadian Touring Car Championship – John Trimble, all headed out to the driving course. The course consisted of a slalom, a hard-braking zone, a U-turn and an avoidance challenge. I joined John and Ian for a few test runs, before I got into my own car to run the course myself.
With John as my instructor, I drove the course a few times over. My main takeaways were keeping the car controlled during the slalom, but keeping both hands on the wheel at all times. Using Ian’s technique, which can be boiled down to keeping your hands at “9 and 3” and letting whichever hand isn’t dominant slide down the wheel until it hits a pre-determined point during the turn, I was able to complete the slalom without hitting anything.
Moving on to the hard-braking zone, the section is designed to show you just how much you can slide in icy conditions. I was asked to approach the zone as fast as I reasonably could, but slamming on the brakes and watching the car slide. I hit the zone going about 60, and I still slid right past the cones.
The final aspect is the obstacle avoidance, this test has you running down a straight line until John told me to brake and steer into either the left or right lane. This test gets your blood pumping as you don’t have much time to react. I think this is one of the most important tests and despite having this knowledge myself, most others on the road don’t think they need it. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been driving for 40 minutes or 40 years, we live in the frozen tundra of Canada. It’s cold, it’s icy and dangerous if you aren’t prepared on the road.
Due to Ian’s car racing background, he took me out in the drift car to show me how to control a car in the extreme during a slide. Ian blew my mind. He drifted that car with the precision of a surgeon removing a brain tumor and naturally after he gave me a drift I wanted to try myself. I can safely say, it wasn’t as easy as it looked. Video games like Forza Horizon 5 and Need For Speed Heat make it look so easy, and I can safely say after my 20 or so attempts I nailed two successful drifts. The hardest part is looking where you want the car to go and applying the right amount of gas at the right time to keep the car in a slide and not spin out.
Let’s just say I need a little more practice. As someone who is familiar with the drifting scene at Shannonville Motorsport Park, drifting is a blast and something that can come in handy on the road. While I’m not suggesting you go out right now and lay down a drift on the 400, learning to keep control of your car and not spin out is a key to winter driving if you are ever in a slide.
For those interested in taking Ian’s course, you can head to carcontrolschool.com and book a location and date. Ian can train those 16 and older. I highly recommend all ages take this course.