But, as racing legend Stirling Moss once said, “There are two things no man will admit he cannot do well: drive and make love.” As we recently learned during a Dodge SRT program at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona, the true beauty of owning an automobile like the 707-horsepower Dodge SRT Hellcat Charger (pictured) is knowing how to really drive it. Just ask Justin Bell, a world champion in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Bondurant racing instructor, who had a few inside tips for improving one’s skills behind the wheel before taking us for a hot lap in the monstrous Viper ACR.
Here’s what he had to say.
1. Feel her out first.
“From the minute someone turns a key in a car you can tell whether they are comfortable in the environment. A lot of guys have these big powerful cars and they turn it on like they are reaching for Heidi Klum’s hand in a nightclub. You gotta own the car (as in feel the car) from the minute you get in it. It’s very important to be familiar with the car. It’s like being a fighter pilot, you have to know where everything is.”
2. Plan your move.
“You gotta plan on how you’re going to drive it. If you got skills, then use them accordingly. If you haven’t, then you’re going to have to fake it. But faking it by showing off is not the way to do it. That can only end badly. Choose your moment. In some way, you want to demonstrate the strength of that car in the safest way you can and still look cool. If it’s a Hellcat Challenger, floor it even if it’s for a few hundred feet. But make sure you have the traction control on if you’re not a good driver because the next thing you’re going to do is turn sharp right into a tree. Not cool. A little burnout—cool. Hitting a tree—not cool.”
3. Think opposite of sex.
“If driving a high-performance car on a racetrack or in a more spirted situation on a country road, remember the principle of cornering is the opposite of sex. For all our lives as men, we’re taught quick in and slow out whereas it’s the opposite in a car. You want to be slow on the way into the corner and fast on the way out. There are very few heroes in the world of the late break. You don’t want to be the late breaker because it means you’re going to be slow on the way out of the corner.”
4. Save the aggression.
“Be smooth with your hands. We have all this technology in cars and we actually rely on it to save us. But every time you activate traction control or something, it’s actually a little bit of an uncomfortable expense. It actually means you’ve crossed the threshold in the car for that situation and you’re driving over the limit for that situation. So be smooth with it. Driving is a very sensitive, smooth, almost ballet like thing. The only way to get the best out of the chassis of a car is being to feel what it’s telling you. Even the layman driver will be rewarded by being smooth. Racing is aggressive but driving actually isn’t. It’s balanced and very sensitive.”
5. Keep your eyes on the prize.
“Vision is important. Obviously, not the ability to see. That’s a prerequisite. It’s actually the ability to be spaciously aware and look ahead up the road. If you can look up the road and see what’s happening, it allows you the advantage of time. You need to get time on your side. I liken it to a good athlete, the baseball player that seamlessly connects his eyes with the movements of his hands and gains time on the field. In a car, you need to gain time by being aware. Bondurant teaches three to six seconds ahead. While that might not always seem natural, it gives you the advantage of time and knowing what’s coming.”
6. Remember, she isn’t idiot-proof.
“We put all this cleverly technology… traction control, ABS brakes. And yet… all these things aren’t going to stop us from paying the consequences for our own stupidity (in a car). You just can’t defy the laws of physics.”
7. Don’t be “that guy.”
“Have a bit of discretion with the car. You don’t want to be the guy that parks the (sports car) outside in front of the nightclub. It’s like if you really got game, you don’t need to do that. You quietly park it, you do your thing and rely on everything else to get the girl to go home and show her how well you can drive. Driving is about an inner confidence. It’s like a guy that can fight, he doesn’t walk into a club and smack the first person. But he’s got a confidence. He’s knows he can handle himself. That’s what driving well gives you.”