‘You need to be in control of that machine:’ Professional race car drivers share safe driving tips for Utah roads

Aug 24, 2022, 6:50 PM | Updated: 9:21 pm

TOOELE COUNTY, Utah — Professional race car drivers know a thing or two about managing a car and doing it safely. At their speeds, their lives depend on it. Their advice can also apply to drivers getting from point A to point B.

Drivers at Utah Motorsports Campus shared the tools they use on the track that can be transferred to the streets. Before the drivers ever hit the track, they follow a safety checklist.

“Always check your mirrors, always do the walk around,” driver Aryton Littel said. He’s been active in the world of motorsports since he was a child. He’s an instructor for the teen driving course at UMC.

‘It’s a passion for me, it’s a lifestyle, it’s something that I’ve never lived without,” he said. “I look at it and, in many ways, with the experience I have, I try to lead by example and be the pinnacle of what I teach.”

Littel said he always checks the conditions of his tires and if there’s any fluid leaking. He said drivers should check their mirrors every time they get behind the wheel; they could’ve been bumped out of position while the car was parked.

Littel said it’s important to make sure the steering wheel isn’t too high or too low.

“If I can extend my arm and rest my wrist on the top of the steering wheel…that tells me my elbow’s going to be bent at a point to where, if I do have to have fast hands and I do have to correct myself, I’m able to accurately articulate the wheel quickly,” he said.

Next, he buckles his seatbelt and puts on his helmet. Before his foot touches the gas pedal, his eyes stare straight ahead.

“I can see what people are doing before they do it,” he said. “I know what’s going on. It’s almost like a chessboard.”

The drivers say zig-zagging around the track at high speeds is safer than driving on Utah roads.

‘We’re more in tune with what the car’s going to do,” driver Jordan Priestly said. He’s also the president of JDP Motorsports and Revolting Performance, a full-service shop on site.

He said the most important thing to have while driving is situational awareness.

“If you’re not really paying attention to what’s in front of you past your hood, that’s when accidents happen , you’ll see pile-ups on the freeway,” Priestly said.

He said drivers need to give themselves time to react, not panic.

“Let’s say you get in a hydroplane situation, most people want to panic and slam on the brakes, and they start flailing and turning the wheel. When we get into those situations, we just lighten off the accelerator and let the car kind of roll and do its thing,” he said.

Priestly said lately, he’s seen more reckless driving.

“You do not go from the fast lane to the exit straight across… go to the next exit, and turn around,” Priestly said. “That three minutes is the difference between getting in a wreck and dying or potentially killing someone else or reaching your destination safely.”

Priestly said he never looks at his phone in the car, either.

“I see a lot of the younger generation driving and they are literally in their cell phones, so not only are they not experienced, but they’re distracted heavily,” he said.

Littel said beginner drivers can learn fundamental skills at UMC in a safe, controlled environment. He said knowing how to drive on a track gives drivers a greater appreciation for driving on the road.

“When I’ve got my family in the car and there’s a snowstorm and there’s unsafe conditions, I’m that much more confident that I can keep my family and my loved ones safe,” he said. “That, for me, beyond any trophies, any awards, championships we’ve been able to achieve, at the end of the day, I can sleep at night just a little bit more knowing that that’s something I’m capable of.”

UMC will start its teen driving school later this fall.

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‘You need to be in control of that machine:’ Professional race car drivers share safe driving tips for Utah roads