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Career race car driver Robin Dallenbach was among the instructors at the BRAKES hands-on driving school at Bradenton Motorsports Park.
East County Wednesday, Jun. 1, 2016 6 years ago

BRAKES instructors a driving force in teen safety

Side of Ranch: Jay Heater
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

The cardboard cut-out deer was just ahead on the track at Bradenton Motorsports Park and my BRAKES driving instructor was prompting me to go faster.

"Floor it," she said firmly, before adding even louder. "Floor it!"

My right foot didn't want to cooperate as it received conflicting instructions from my brain. After all, that's was Bambi, for goodness sakes, and I didn't want to squish Bambi.

Jay Heater
Jay Heater

I finally got a little bit of speed going, and I was closing on my intended target in a hurry. That's when my instructor did an about-face. "Brake! Brake!"

I followed orders, veering off to the right of Bambi and feeling a grab, grab, grab, from the anti-lock brakes, instead of experiencing an uncontrolled skid.

It was just a little demonstration of what today's cars can do.

It's safe to say that many adults don't understand the capabilities of today's automobiles in emergency situations, unless we've been there, done that though experience.Taking it a step farther, it's obvious teenagers have absolutely no idea about the capabilities, good and bad, of their cars.

BRAKES (Be Responsible And Keep Everyone Safe) offers a hands-on, driving school for teens unlike the type of instruction they will receive from a driver's education class or from driving with their parents. The BRAKES driving instructors allow teens to feel for themselves what it is like to go into a skid, to veer off the road in an emergency situation or to experience the feel of anti-lock brakes.

"It's something you can't teach them," said Bradenton's Ray Gape, who brought his 16-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, to take the free class.

After years of driving as adults, most of us don't want to put our kids into a skid to prove a point.

So after 50 hours of instruction, it's likely they feel they know it all.

Such was the case for Bradenton's Courtney Yost, who was pulled out of bed on May 22 by her mother, Sandy, to attend the class.

"I was kind of tired and I thought I knew everything," said Courtney Yost, who is 15. "I'm glad I had my eyes opened to what could happen."

Most of what can happen is bad. I watched as students crushed cones, sent their vehicles into spins or ran over Bambi.

Doug Herbert, the owner and founder of BRAKES who started the organization in 2008 after two of his teenage sons, James and Jon, were killed in an auto accident, explained to me I couldn't get the feel of what BRAKES is all about by standing to the side and watching.

So he put me in a car with one of his instructors, Robin Dallenbach, for a run around the course.

After I failed miserably to follow her instructions the first time around the course, Dallenbach told me we needed to start over.

As we waited another turn, I started to think about the name, Dallenbach. My instructor was the second women to qualify to a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event, a 30-year veteran of auto racing, a precision and stunt driver and a pace car driver for the Indy Car World Series from 1985-1998. She is the wife of former NASCAR driver Wally Dallenbach, who also was a longtime television auto racing commentator.

Obviously, Robin Dallenbach, who lives in Texas, has lots of things she could be doing with her time, but she feels it is more important to fly around the country to work with Herbert and BRAKES.

Perhaps her main goal is to let teenagers know they aren't invincible. "They think they have a little bubble around them," she said. "And we don't teach them any of this in driver's ed."

BRAKES had 15 other instructors, many with driving backgrounds just as impressive as Robin Dallenbach, trying to impress upon teens that they don't live in a bubble. Some of the message came before the teens even climbed into the vehicles. Instructors talked about the tragedies they had experienced. They told the teens one of the most important decisions they will make is whether to get into a vehicle at all, especially when one of their friends is driving.

"We want them to know, when something doesn't feel right, get out of the vehicle," said instructor Todd Modderman.

Sitting next to Dallenbach, I thought how fortunate it was BRAKES decided to come to the Lakewood Ranch area for the first time. With continued sponsorship, the program will return and that's a bonanza for our area.

Why? It was obvious.

As I waited for my next turn and watched another teen driver floor it, Bambi was squished once again.




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