Timeout With: Scott Smith

Q: You’re in charge of the NASA Car Control Clinic. How did that get started?

A: To date, I have been doing this program for 13 years. It was originally conceived with the assistance of David Vodden at Thunderhill Raceway. The track is located in a very agricultural area with many two-lane roads. Young drivers were being killed because of dropping two wheels off the road and overcorrecting right into oncoming traffic. The car clinic program has been offered at the track in one form or another for many of those years. In 2011 Jerry Kunzman asked me to come back and head up the program as a full-fledged nonprofit to help save lives. Having both of my daughters attend the program and several of their best friends I know that they are all much safer drivers and well equipped to handle an emergency situation.


Q: How have the car control clinics been going in the NorCal Region?

A: The NorCal Region puts on four to six clinics per year, some in connection with Thunderhill Raceway in Willows, Calif., and some at large parking lots in the Bay Area. We are continually looking for new venues to offer the program. Our average clinic size is 25-30 students. We have been offering them for over four years now.


Q: Have you done any more work with other regions that want to conduct car control clinics? 

A: We have helped the SoCal Region start the clinics there. It was exciting to attend their first clinic they had in 2014. With six students in attendance we had a large portion of the Camarillo airport to use for the drills. We are always available to assist any region that would like to offer this program and we encourage them to contact us.


Q: When setting up a car control clinic, what’s the best way to market it to ensure you get good attendance? 

A: Quite simply: by word of mouth. It is the biggest advertising tool available. Get everyone talking about it — parents talk to their dentists, doctors, school counselors, PTA, local and state police, and their friends. We have many students coming through the program now who had older siblings that attended in the past. Use social media. We have a current Facebook page where we post events and it is available for any region to post on also.

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Q: What have you found to be the most important drill when conducting these clinics? 

A: Here in our area there are two. The first is parallel parking. You would think that it would be one of those items on the driving test but sadly no. Most students think it’s boring and a waste of time when they are doing it. When it comes to the post event survey it’s the top one that they say they will use on a regular basis. The second one is our two-wheels-off drill. With the many distractions facing drivers today it’s so easy to drop two wheels off the pavement. The problem comes from overcorrecting, jerking the wheel to get back on the pavement. Students learn how to slowly and gradually return all wheels to the pavement in a safe and controlled manor.


Q: Is there a particular drill that the kids tend to gravitate toward or all they all about the same in terms of popularity? 

A: Again, there are two. The first drill that all students seem to enjoy is the split decision drill. A coach will direct them into one of three lanes within a very short decision/action area. Most students will run over several cones the first few times, but repetition brings positive results and a smoothness to their driving. The second one is our combined slalom/skid pad drill. Because of the drought in this area we have not been able to make this a wet skid pad, but students still experience the sensation of the very beginning of a skid and how most modern cars push.


Q: What’s the most important thing for a NASA region to keep in mind when considering offering car control clinics? 

A: Don’t expect your first event to have 20-30 students. Rocky Mountain Region did its first clinic with only one student. Use the event as a training tool for your coaches. And find someone that has a true passion for this program. It’s about saving lives and giving people valuable skills to make them safer drivers. Also, view this as a separate entity and not an add-on to your NASA Region. For me this is something I “want” to do and not something I “have” to do. NASA Car Control is building a staff of dedicated volunteers to help every region that wants to offer this program the tools and training to make it successful.

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It’s also important to note this program can be a great feeder to the HPDE1 program. We see at least three to four students/parents that come to one of the HPDE events and participate. We offer everyone a 25 percent off promo code via our follow up e-mail and we are able to track who uses it and again follow up and thank him or her for joining us.


Website: nasacarcontrol.org

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NASACarControl/

Image courtesy of Brett Becker

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