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Teens tackle ‘street survival’ behind the wheel

DetroitNews

Melvindale — Sixteen-year-old Olivia Racine, of Highland, pressed down on the accelerator of her 2002 Navy blue Ford Escape Saturday in the parking lot at Melvindale’s Faith Christian Assembly Church.

Nick Manting, 17, of Lake Orion, navigates the slalom course while driving a 1993 Mercedes Benz 500E.

At the urging of an adult volunteer, she accelerated as fast as she could — then hit the brakes hard just yards from the edge of the parking lot along Outer Drive.

“I felt like I was going to keep going, like I needed to brake earlier, but they kept telling me to keep going” Olivia said later. “I learned that I can break in a shorter area than I thought I could.”

Olivia was among 21 teenagers who participated in a day-long Tire Rack Street Survival course sponsored by the Southeast Michigan Region Porsche Club of America. The class included some bookwork, but the focus was on pushing the limits of young drivers.

“The traditional driving class, you learn the rules of the road and how to parallel park,that’s about it. We teach them how to drive the cars,” said Don Kleist, co-chairman of the driving school event.

It was an adventure for Melissa Racine too, who watched pensively as her daughter’s vehicle neared the end of the parking lot.

“She stopped!” Racine said, letting out a breath. “I was getting a little bit nervous. I’m glad there’s a little cushion before they get to the road.”

Parents came from Highland in northern Oakland County, Chesterfield Township, Novi and across the area to give their teens the chance to experience challenging driving situations in a safe environment.

After learning how to brake, they sped through a slalom course of orange cones, then accelerated across a skid pad made with water from a sprinkler and dish soap.

“Nice, easy does it, smooth on the throttle,” Steve Carbary, 47, a volunteer coach, urged 15-year-old Ben McHugh, of Northville, as the teen cut through the suds. “You’re driving around the curve, you see an ice spot, you open up the steering wheel and just modulate.”

The Street Survival course was developed in 2002 by the BMW Car Club of America Foundation, and expanded to other high-performance car clubs. Tire Rack has been sponsoring Street Survival since 2006. Information on the classes can be found at www.streetsurvival.org.

Saturday’s class in Melvindale was staffed by about a dozen volunteers from the Southeast Michigan Porsche Club and a few other local car clubs. Some have been teaching the class for nearly a decade.

“I have never seen a student at the end of the day think it wasn’t worthwhile, they had a poor day, or they didn’t learn anything,” Kleist said.

“When we get into the auto cross (obstacle course) at the end of the day you wouldn’t know they are the same drivers — they’re confident, they go through all the turns, and they do a great job.”

KBouffard@detroitnews.com