Nena Knows Jeeps

Jp Magazine - - Table Of Contents - By Nena Bar­low jped­i­tor@jp­ Pho­tog­ra­phy: Nena Bar­low

I could say that the day spent at the Bob Bon­durant School of High Per­for­mance

Driv­ing was strictly for work, but, se­ri­ously, it’s just some­thing I have al­ways wanted to do. One can al­ways learn new skills from other pro­fes­sion­als. What I came away with, aside from a day of adren­a­line-junkiepleas­ing driv­ing, was that the same skills we em­pha­size for 4WD train­ing are just as crit­i­cal for high-speed driv­ing: where you look, smooth driver in­puts and corrections, and con­stant fo­cus.

Be­ing ac­cus­tomed to driv­ing lifted rigs on a min­i­mum of 35-inch tires, the first thing I thought while set­tling into the nearly ground-level seat of my as­signed Chal­lenger Hell­cat was, “Wow! How can I see any­thing from down here?” The an­swer is the same as it is from the seat of the Jeep—look far­ther. On the track, this meant that as we headed into a 180-de­gree turn, we were look­ing al­most 90 de­grees to our left, at the exit of the turn where we would again start ap­ply­ing the throt­tle. Be­cause if we were look­ing over the hood at the tire wall in front of us, we would not be able to ex­e­cute steer­ing in­put or the right amount of brak­ing to re­sult in a smooth turn.

The same is true off-road. If you are look­ing at the base of the dune in­stead of the crest, you won’t ap­ply the right amount of ac­cel­er­a­tion be­fore you get to the base. If you are look­ing at the boul­der right un­der you while rock­crawl­ing, in­stead of the next one you need to start plan­ning for, you won’t be on the right line. The num­ber-one mis­take that driv­ers make, whether on a high-speed track or in slow and rough ter­rain, is look­ing at what is just over the hood in­stead of all the way to the end of the ob­sta­cle or at the exit of the turn. You drive where your eyes are look­ing. If you know where you want to end up, fo­cus on that, and mak­ing the small de­ci­sions be­tween here and there be­comes eas­ier and smoother.

I have dis­cussed the im­por­tance of smooth driver in­puts to throt­tle, brake, and steer­ing be­fore, but this be­came hyper-im­por­tant at 90 mph. On the track in a Hell­cat or on boul­ders with your Jeep, jerky move­ments cause weight shifts and loss of trac­tion.

Don’t con­fuse quick with jerky. You can do quick, smooth move­ments, but bounc­ing on and off the throt­tle, brake, and steer­ing causes a back­lash ef­fect in your weight dis­tri­bu­tion that cre­ates slip­page. And slip­page is usu­ally bad, whether it’s a sharp turn on the au­tocross track or a care­fully placed wheel on top of a huge, slip­pery boul­der. As I al­ways say, good driv­ing looks like bal­let, whether at 1 or 100 mph.

Last but not least, you need to re­main fo­cused and undis­tracted. Con­stant fo­cus is ex­haust­ing, es­pe­cially when you are learn­ing a new skill. Once you re­peat the ac­tion enough that you “get the feel” for it, you can re­peat this per­for­mance with less men­tal ex­er­tion. Af­ter do­ing half a dozen laps on the oval, ev­ery­thing started to click into place. It be­came au­to­matic to come fly­ing to­ward the curve, look at the apex, gen­tly ap­ply the brakes to get the nose dip as I steered into the curve, slowly let off the brake as I reached the apex, and then ease back into the throt­tle as I started to come out of the curve. The same is true for pick­ing your way up a boul­der field or across a dune face—ap­proach­ing, scan­ning, ad­just­ing speed, and glid­ing through, with your line, wheel place­ment, and brake and throt­tle corrections al­ready de­cided be­fore you get there. Get­ting the “feel” does not mean it’s now okay to text or make sand­wiches while driv­ing, but it does mean you can en­joy it more and for longer.

Driv­ing skills carry over, no mat­ter what sort of per­for­mance ma­chine you op­er­ate. Learn­ing fi­nesse and fo­cus in what­ever you choose to drive pays off.

1.My ride for the day boasted 707 horse­power, but it also had the steer­ing and brakes to keep up with all those ponies. A well-built and bal­anced ma­chine is truly a piece of art. It should be re­spected for its ca­pa­bil­i­ties and al­lowed to do its job. This one re­minded me of the art of smooth con­trols, long-vi­sion, and fo­cus—all of which ap­ply in four-wheel­ing too. 2. “Hang on, I wanna try some­thing.” But do no­tice that my left hand is on the steer­ing wheel in the cor­rect po­si­tion, even though I am parked and clearly not do­ing the cor­rect thing with my right hand, tak­ing a selfie. 3. But­tons we don’t see on Wran­glers. I ap­pre­ci­ate a ve­hi­cle built to its own par­tic­u­lar spe­cialty, but I don’t rec­om­mend us­ing but­tons you don’t un­der­stand. Does “Launch” mean I go all Elon Musk space­man? 4. The black car is in the apex of the turn, marked be­tween the two orange cones. At this point, he has lifted his foot al­most com­pletely off the brake and is pre­par­ing to be­gin gen­tly de­press­ing the throt­tle, as he is look­ing ahead at the straight­away. You can see the nose of the black car dipped down as he is still on the brake and turn­ing, while the white car is lev­eled out and prob­a­bly just about to squeeze the throt­tle. If you en­joy driv­ing, I can’t rec­om­mend Bon­durant Rac­ing School enough—it will im­prove your driv­ing in all ve­hi­cles. 5. Where would you be look­ing here if you were the one driv­ing? Would you be fo­cused on the rock ledge right in front of your tire? It’s bet­ter if you are look­ing where the road is the far­thest to the right in this photo. It means you will have more time to pre­pare if some­one is com­ing the other way, and you should have al­ready picked a smooth line for both the ledge right in front of you and the one ahead at the cor­ner. 6. The driver of this Jeep run­ning across the dune should be look­ing at the exit point where the dune meets the flat, not at the sand or side­hill right in front of her. This makes it eas­ier to ad­just throt­tle and steer­ing as needed for a smooth tran­si­tion.

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