Mark Cox is the kind of guy who drives cars on ice – for fun.
He does rally racing, which amounts to drivers going as fast as they can on a special track packed with ice and snow.
“Maybe not in the U.S., but worldwide, it’s a pretty big sport,” Cox says, adding that he’s driven the professional circuit on and off for more than 20 years beginning in the 1980s.
Now the 52-year-old teaches others as director of the Bridgestone Winter Driving School in Steamboat Springs, Colo., where the average wintertime snowfall is just shy of 13 feet.
“When you master driving on ice, every other surface becomes that much easier to handle,” Cox says. “Poor driving technique is magnified by slippery surfaces – make a mistake, and you are off the road.”
Which sounds a lot like driving in the wintertime in northeast Indiana. So we asked Cox and a couple of local experts to share a few tips.
Eyes forward. Way forward. “It takes four to 10 times longer to stop on ice than on regular pavement,” Cox says. So, look farther ahead than the typical one or two car lengths – keep your eyes four to 10 cars ahead, he says.
And allow adequate stopping space, adds Kevin Tunks of Roanoke, who races at Baer Field and earned his winter driving stripes in central Wisconsin: “Obviously, keep your speed down, and don’t be driving too fast for conditions.”
One thing at a time. A car has three means of control: the brakes, the gas pedal and the steering wheel. When you have limited traction, Cox says, use only one at a time – for example, in making a turn, first brake while going in a straight line, then use steering to make the turn and accelerate after that.
Practice in an empty snow-covered parking lot. “Intellectually, it sounds simple, but doing it is hard for most folks,” he says. It doesn’t hurt to test brakes from time to time when driving through bad weather for changes in traction, he adds.
Skid control. If the front wheels lose traction, don’t panic, Tunks and Cox say.
“Take your foot off the accelerator and decrease steering back toward straight. That will allow the wheels to roll more freely and regain grip,” Cox says.
For rear-wheel skids, get off the gas and steer in the direction of the skid: if the back end of the car is going to the right, steer to the right.
“Point the front wheels where you’d like the front end of the car to go,” Cox says.
Honor thy brakes. Dad’s advice about pumping the brakes to stop on slippery surfaces is no longer current with the advent of anti-lock brakes, Tunks says. If you have anti-lock brakes, press the brake as hard as you can and hold it. You can also try dropping into a lower gear to get a better grip, Cox says.
Get reacquainted with your tires. Tires that were fine last year might be too worn to perform well this year or under worse conditions, Cox says.
“When tread depth is half worn on a snow tire, it gives you the performance of a new all-season tire,” he says, “and when an all-season is half worn, it gives the performance of a summer tire, and it has no place on ice or snow-covered roads.”
When authorities say not to drive, don’t. That’s the advice from the Fort Wayne Fire Department, which has tips at http://fortwaynefiredepartment.org/current-news/1389-driving-safely-in-winter-weather.