Skid Pad Instruction
At Summit Point, we have the great fortune of having a skidpad facility
available for use at our drivers' schools. The skidpad allows us to teach you
car control in a safe, controlled environment. At your forthcoming school, you
will be scheduled for skidpad instruction during each school day. To ensure
maximal use of the limited time we have, we have established a specific skidpad
curriculum with specialized instructors. This guide describes what you will be
doing and why we believe skidpad training is crucial to your driver
Driving Mechanics vs. Car Control
On the track, we teach driving mechanics. Mechanics are the skills
you acquire for braking, turning, and accelerating properly. As you approach a
corner on the track, you use threshold braking to slow your car
maximally, you turn smoothly and precisely onto the line, the path of
largest radius around the corner, and you apply throttle progressively to
accelerate out of the turn. Repetitive practice of these mechanics produces
highly skilled drivers.
What such practice does not give you is car
control, the ability to detect and recover from loss-of-adhesion
situations. Unless it is raining at your school, you will most likely never
experience a loss of control on the track. The suspensions and tires of most
cars are so good, and the corresponding limits of adhesion are so high, that
most students never exceed those capabilities except in extreme circumstances.
Therefore, we must provide an artificial environment to allow you to develop
car-control skills. That environment is provided at the skidpad.
The Importance of Car Control
Modern cars are so forgiving of student mistakes that many students reach an
"advanced" level without really learning much more than how to drive very fast.
Cars continue to cover driver mistakes until a particularly egregious mistake
overloads the suspension and tires beyond their ability to compensate. The
resulting loss of adhesion occurs at such a high speed that the driver has
little time to recover. Such recoveries must be experienced and practiced
beforehand so that they become instinctive, and the driver can draw upon them
in an emergency.
The purpose of skidpad training is to provide low-speed exercises that
demonstrate common errors made while driving and to learn the car-control
skills that allow you to overcome such mistakes. Cause and effect may be safely
demonstrated, and proper correction may be learned and practiced in a safe
environment. We have developed a curriculum that promotes skill building in a
series of measured stages.
No one skidpad session will impart all of the skills you will need to become
an accomplished driver, but each session will build upon your prior efforts. To
achieve what we consider perfection of skill will generally require scores of
sessions, which is why we consider each session important, regardless of your
current skill level. At the end of each session, you will be a better, safer
driver than you were before.
The Danger of Complacency
It is important to understand that driving only on the track leaves a
critical gap in your driving skills. As you drive faster and faster on the
track, the danger of that gap increases. At the skidpad, we can measure your
car-control skill level accurately. That skill level, coupled with your
on-track speed, is a good predictor of your likelihood of surviving an on-track
It is equally vital to recognize that driving-mechanics skills are not
a predictor of car-control skills. Good mechanics and high on-track speeds
can easily lull you into a false feeling of mastery. That mastery is rarely
borne out in extremity, and it shows at the skidpad. Indeed, an unfortunate
number of the students who get into trouble on the track believed that such
trouble would never happen to them because of their good mechanics skills.
That is why your skidpad sessions are so important. Most drivers' schools do
not have such a facility or cannot make it available to their students. You
have an extremely rare and valuable opportunity to develop your car-control
skills, one which most of your fellow students attending other schools do not.
By reading through this guide, you will be able to maximize your benefit from
the limited time we can give you.
What You'll Learn at the Skidpad
For the novice student, skidpad training will introduce you into the
behavior of your car at its limits of adhesion and will train you to master the
control of your vehicle under those conditions. You will learn how adhesion
loss occurs, why your instinctive reactions to that loss are almost always
wrong, what the correct inputs are, and perhaps most importantly to think
through loss-of-control situations. Rather than being passive during
incipient trouble, you will begin taking an active role in minimizing or
eliminating the problem. The skills you acquire may well allow you to prevent
that future accident on the Beltway.
For the intermediate student, more progressive training will allow you
master understeer (loss of adhesion by the front tires) and
oversteer (loss of adhesion by the rear tires) and relate their control to
safer on-track driving. You will learn how the inputs you make to your vehicle
control its attitude, how you can get yourself into trouble on the
track, and how you can get yourself out of trouble.
For advanced students, we work to hone your control skills to such a fine
degree that you will be able to cope with any threatening situation you might
encounter either on the track or off. In addition, precise control of your
car's attitude on the track will allow you to maximize your cornering speeds
and safely use all of your car's performance.
For all students, it is imperative to realize that a gap exists between your
perceived skill level and your actual skill level. Virtually every student
initially overestimates his or her car-control ability, which engenders a
dangerous feeling of security on the track. We have documented this gap in the
slightly over one thousand students we have seen at the skidpad. If you learn
nothing else at the skidpad, understanding the limits of your abilities will
lead to a safer school experience as you leave more of a margin for error on
Our skidpad is an asphalt "doughnut," with an outer diameter of 300 feet and
an inner diameter of 240 feet. This provides a driving surface that is a bit
over five "Interstate lanes" wide. To reduce the speeds involved and the wear
on modern, sticky tires, we operate with the skidpad surface wet. The second
and third lanes from the inside are painted to retain water at the pavement
surface. In addition, the white lanes form a "visual barrier." For our
purposes, we assume that the white lanes represent a road bordered by guardrail
or concrete walls. Controlling your vehicle within this imaginary constraint is
equivalent to controlling it within the confines of a two-lane public road such
as those you encounter going to and from the track.
Because of the watering system employed, your car will get a bit dirty from
running on the skidpad. However, the car-control skills you acquire will far
outweigh any minor cleanup required. A car wash is far cheaper than a trip to
the body shop!
The Skidpad Curriculum
We have divided the process of acquiring car-control skills into a series of
staged goals and have constructed driving exercises to enable students to
achieve these goals. Ideally, each student would start with the first exercise,
and proceed to the next in sequence as mastery of each had been attained. To do
so, however, would take approximately ten to fifteen hours of practice per
student, which is clearly impractical for a school of forty to sixty
students. Moreover, you will hone the various tools of your car-control skills
(steering, acceleration, and perception) at different rates.
Our approach, then, is to have each student perform one or more of the
exercises at the current school and to record each student's progress,
so that we may continue the process at the next school. This allows us to build
your skills progressively at every school you attend. Note that this means that
students within your group may all be doing different exercises. Additionally,
while we will generally work with you toward these goals sequentially, we may
apply exercises within a goal out-of-sequence as needed by the pace of your
learning, the responses of your particular car, the degree of wetness of the
Here is a brief description of each of our target goals, in the sequence in
which we teach them:
- Initiation of understeer--Driving so that your front tires begin
to lose adhesion with the pavement. Detection of the onset of understeer via
visual, audible, and tactile cues. Most on-track problems in dry
weather begin with understeer.
- Recovery from understeer--Applying inputs to your steering and
throttle to regain front-end adhesion. Earliest possible detection and
correction with minimal inputs to maximize recovery effectiveness.
- Initiation of oversteer--Driving so that your rear tires begin to
lose adhesion with the pavement. Detection of the onset of oversteer via
visual, audible, and tactile cues. Most on-track problems in wet
weather begin with oversteer.
- Recovery from oversteer--Applying inputs to your steering and
throttle to regain rear-end adhesion. Earliest possible detection and
correction to maximize recovery effectiveness.
- Progressive correction--Driving to provoke and correct
progressively an understeering or oversteering attitude. Using
proportional steering and throttle inputs in correction to minimize disturbance
of your car's balance. Note that the application of large throttle and steering
inputs can cause over-correction of the original problem, resulting in a worse
situation. When you reach this level of achievement, you will be able to
correct most driving mistakes that otherwise would cause a loss of control on
the track or highway.
- Unstable balance--Driving to provoke and maintain an
oversteering attitude. Balancing your car in an unstable attitude requires
detection and correction of minute deviations in your car's position. The very
high skill levels required will allow you to cope with nearly any situation
that can happen on the track or on the street.
For each goal, we employ these exercises:
Initiation of Understeer
- Establish a constant-radius path around the skidpad.
- Accelerate smoothly with no additional steering input until the front tires
begin to lose adhesion. Mild understeer is heard audibly as a "chatter" of the
front tires and felt as "light" or "greasy" steering, more so than detected
- Detect understeer as soon as it occurs. Learn to fight your initial
instinct, which is to add more steering, because that makes the understeer
Recovery From Understeer
- Correct understeer by reducing throttle until the front tires regain
- Correct understeer by decreasing steering angle until the front tires
- Hold a constant steering angle (the instructor holds the steering wheel)
and control understeer by use of the throttle alone. Try to drive at the
maximum speed allowed by front-tire adhesion, slowing as necessary.
- Hold a constant speed (turn on your cruise control, if your car is so
equipped) and control understeer by use of the steering wheel alone. Try to
drive the tightest circle allowed by front-tire adhesion, running wide as
Initiation of Oversteer
- From a constant radius and a constant speed, accelerate sharply to provoke
- From a constant radius and a constant speed, decelerate sharply to provoke
- From a constant radius and a constant speed, understeer onto an area of
drier pavement. As the front tires dry out and gain adhesion, the nose of your
car will pull sharply to the inside, and your car will rotate into
- Detect oversteer as soon as it occurs. Learn to fight your initial
instinct, which is to delay momentarily before taking corrective action,
because that delay rapidly decreases your chances of a successful
Recovery From Oversteer
- Correct power oversteer by smoothly retarding the throttle (to allow the
rear tires to regain adhesion) and apply steering to counter the rotation.
- Correct trailing-throttle oversteer by smoothly increasing the throttle (to
transfer weight to the rear tires) and apply steering to counter the
- Prevent oversteer due to pavement transitions by removing the undesirable
steering input to cancel the understeer before transitioning.
- Drive around a series of cones on the skidpad, arranged as the points of a
pentagon, in the least time possible. This requires control of wheel locking
under braking, control of understeer on turn-in, and control of power oversteer
on exit. It also requires progressive correction, i.e., correction
spread over the distance between cones, or between the cone and the edge of the
skidpad, to minimize loss of time.
- A similar exercise is run without cones. This is substantially harder, as
we have removed the visual reference that the cones provide. Instead, you must
continually scan, then lock your vision on a distant feature of the pavement or
landscape to achieve progressive correction.
- Provoke power oversteer, allow the car to rotate between 30º and
45º, and apply corrections sufficient only to maintain that
attitude, rather than correct or exceed it. Work on minimizing steering and
throttle inputs. To do so, not only will you have to sense small attitude
deviations and apply corrections as early as possible, but you must also "read"
impending changes in the pavement to anticipate corrections that will be
needed. Note that this level of skill is extremely rare among drivers and
requires a very large amount of time and effort to achieve.
You will note that our program begins with mastery of understeer and then
proceeds on to mastery of oversteer. This sequence frustrates some students who
find the exploration of oversteer to be more thrilling or interesting and who
want to start with oversteer. While understeer exercises may be less glamorous,
there are two very important reasons we have adopted this order.
First, detection of the onset of oversteer is substantially harder than
detection of understeer, and it is very difficult to develop the rapid
recognition of your car's attitude change that is necessary for successful
mastery of oversteer. However, that recognition is much easier to acquire and
hone when practicing understeer recovery. Understeer mastery is therefore
crucial in developing your "feel" for your car that you will need to
successfully correct oversteer.
Second, as noted above, most dry-weather problems begin as understeer. As
most of the drivers' schools you attend will be dry, concentration on
understeer first gives you the tools you will need to overcome the majority of
the troubles you will encounter on the track.
The success of this sequence of instruction has been borne out by our
experience with the slightly over one thousand students we have seen at the
skidpad. Indeed, we have found that many students to whom we gave insufficient
initial understeer training frequently were unable to master oversteer, because
they never could detect the onset of oversteer soon enough. Remedial understeer
work corrected their problems, but they lost valuable skidpad time in the
So, if you believe that understeer work is dull, and you cannot wait to
begin oversteer, please bear with us. You are building a solid foundation for
more advanced work, and ultimately you will build your overall skills more
rapidly with this sequence.
Your Skidpad Session
You will be scheduled for one or two skidpad sessions per school day,
depending on the run group you are in and the particular exercises we plan to
use. One run per day gives students a "double-length" session to practice,
whereas two "single-length" runs per day gives students the opportunity to
implement during their second runs suggestions from their instructors after
their first runs. Please let us know on your Instruction and School
Evaluation form how well your particular scheduling worked out.
Every student will have a skidpad instructor, regardless of prior
experience. Our skidpad instructors are experts at car control, and
they are thoroughly familiar with our skidpad curriculum. Your skidpad
instructor will explain general skidpad driving techniques (where to be driving
on the skidpad, what gear to use, where to place your hands on the steering
wheel, how fast to go--typical skidpad speeds are 30-35 MPH--etc.). All skidpad
instructors will have a record of your previous skidpad achievements, if you
have attended skidpad sessions with us before. We will be able to tailor your
instruction to your exact needs.
Just before you go out, your instructor will discuss what you are to do
while on the skidpad, how your car will react, what to expect, and what
corrective inputs will be required. If you have any questions regarding your
pending session, please feel free to ask your instructor; we are here to
While driving on the skidpad, your instructor will help you identify
impending loss of adhesion and help you apply the correct input in response.
While it is certainly safe to do so at the skidpad, our goal is not to
have you "spin" your car. A spin results from an uncorrected mistake. Rather,
we seek to have you prevent the spin by applying proper recovery
techniques before you lose control.
At the conclusion of your skidpad run, your instructor will review your
progress and suggest ways you can improve your recovery skills. If you have any
questions regarding your performance, please ask.
Terminology Used at the Skidpad
The following items constitute a brief list of terminology used by the
skidpad instructors. It is important that you understand these terms to
maximize your productivity while at the skidpad:
- Understeer (also called "push")--In a turn, the condition where
your front tires lose adhesion with the pavement while your rear tires remain
in contact. Your car tends to "run wide" of the turn (i.e., travel straight
ahead, even though you are turning the wheel). Turning the steering wheel more
is ineffectual and indeed will exacerbate the condition. Proper correction
involves reducing speed and/or reducing the amount the steering wheel is
- Oversteer (also called "looseness")--In a turn, the condition
where your rear tires lose adhesion with the pavement while your front tires
remain in contact. You car tends to turn more into the turn (i.e., rotate about
its axis). Turning the steering wheel more will exacerbate the condition.
Proper correction involves reducing speed and turning the steering wheel in the
opposite direction; this applies a force to counteract the rotation.
- Rotation--A change in attitude, i.e., a change in the direction
your car is pointing, though not necessarily in the direction your car
- Rotation rate--How fast your car is rotating. To effect a
correction, you must stop your car's rotation; the inputs you apply must be
proportional to your car's rotation rate.
- "Tighten" or "steer"--A command to increase the amount of steering
you are applying in a turn, i.e., make the turn sharper by turning the steering
wheel more. When tightening the steering wheel, you should progressively and
smoothly add steering; do not "jerk" the wheel, as that action upsets your
- "Unwind" or "straighten"--A command to decrease the amount of
steering you are applying in a turn, i.e., make the turn easier by turning the
steering wheel less. As with tightening, unwinding should be applied
- "Both feet in"--Simultaneously depressing the clutch and the brake
to the point of incipient wheel lockup to stop your car as quickly as possible.
Used in response to a loss of control. Your instructor will issue this command
in order to bring your car to a rapid and safe stop on the skidpad
We think you will find your skidpad sessions rewarding and highly
instructive, regardless of your skill and experience level. We firmly believe
that thirty minutes of skidpad time will give you far more skills and make you
a far better, safer, and more comfortable driver than will any ten days of
driving on the track. Your skidpad sessions are crucial to your development as
a driver, and we want to do everything within our power to maximize your skill
acquisition while you are at the skidpad. Please let us know how we did and how
we can improve your experience by filling out the appropriate questions on your
Instruction and School Evaluation form which you will receive during
morning registration at the track. See you at the skidpad!
Revised May 1999