Opinion: Drifting the Night Away

The driving culture is something that I have been involved in since I can remember, it is part of who I am. I spent much of my youth driving ATVs on frozen lakes, dirt tracks and road shotgun in race cars. That taught me a lot about slip angle, vehicle dynamics and control before I even had a license. These days I prefer a car or a kart but regardless I enjoy honing my craft. The best way I have found to do that outside of track time is in the ice and snow.

If you want to be thrown in the deep end of learning how to handle a car with no traction venture out into a remote location and get to it. Bring a friend to watch from a distance and turn the nannies off. I am never one to condone recklessness, speeding or driving outside of one ‘s ability level. To me driving slow in a parking lot that is vacant, a cul-de-sac (sorry to all of our French readers for using that term) or in my case a vacant circle around a fountain and some adjacent streets, can provide a safe means of getting acquainted with vehicle dynamics. It is amazing what one can learn to do when friction is limited on cold tires at 5-10 mph (safe speed that should cause no damage to bumpers minus paint).

Tonight was one of those nights that I just wanted to get at it. Germany has been brutally cold of late but we have not had snow (3 ” all winter). Tonight it was in the single digits with a nice covering of packed snow on the cobble stones. That surface combination is better than any wet polished concrete slab a driving school can throw out there. It was a blast even though I was going slow. An hour or so later I am back in from the cold (of course the windows needed to be down to aid in vision) and I ‘m happy to say that unlike on the skid pad there is no tire wear in the winter (another plus). It took a few minutes to shake off the rust but the instincts are still there and hopefully nature will cooperate and I can get back out sooner than later.

I know this post is worthless without video but it is difficult to video in low light in snow with what I am working with.

I hopefully sparked some interest in keeping things safe and learning a bit more about car control…

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  • Babak

    Not saying you are promoting this, but wouldn’t this be considered illegal as far as cops are concerned? I’m as unlucky as it gets with cops, and I don’t think they would understand the purpose of learning car control… Just want your opinion on this Michael.

    • Anonymous

      Babake- I am not condoning breaking the law. if you feel that in your area doing something similar is going to get you into to trouble it is not worth it. What I will say is that law enforcement isn’t going to waste man power (in most situations) with a single driver going slow in the snow and not placing anyone else in danger. When there is a group of cars all out hooning they will usually get involved. 

      The other key is finding a remote location that is not on their list of hot spots. Depending on how local laws are written they would be hard pressed to give someone a ticket for doing 5-10 mph in the snow, if you do not bring attention to yourself they have little reason to bother you. Reckless endangerment would be doing donuts and all that. Following the rules of the road always applies- drifting out a left hander while maintaining proper side of the road etc “due to snow” is nothing they can argue. In some locales parking lots are private property (others public if they have street signs) so that is different entirely….I do not condone anything illegal or anything that could cause harm to yourself or others so always stay safe and do what you feel is within your limits of ability and the law.-M 

  • goat

    Nice post Michael and as a canuck it is one of winter’s great “consolation prizes”… what winter taketh away (sheet metal little by little via oxidation) it giveth back (ability to practice power slides and drifts without destroying tires or even squealing tires or needing truly reckless speeds / M-level horsepower to get sideways). Still do this several times a winter, actually, as do most of my friends. It never really gets old and it is indeed a safe way to learn car control. 

    Babak – One piece of advice I can share is that if you want to keep it safe and also not “shame cops into action”, keep it to just your own car or a couple of friends. When you end up with a pack of cars “occupying” a parking lot late at night sooner or later the police do show up or – worse – one enthusiastic driver crunches into a parking median or into another enthusiastic driver.  

    • Babak

      I’ve always done that alone – never with other cars in the lot. Once had a cop drive by the lot, turned around and came back to force me out. He didn’t give me a ticket, but told me he would’ve given me one for reckless driving had he seen me in the act. Haven’t done it since.

  • Adam

    Well my G35 Coupe did this even with a light shower so drifting I got very familiar with.  One evening I got out of class at about 10pm and it was about -3 with a fresh layer of snow and I couldnt get the car to straighten out, I literally went home with the car pointed to one side or another. 

  • Joe C

    Michael, Great minds think alike!

    • Anonymous

      Glad to hear it!

  • Ben

    “Great drivers are made through many terrifying moments” -Bertil Roos

  • Natextr

    Something that I look forward to every winter.  I go to a big park-and-ride lot that is usually empty on the weekends and never gets plowed.  It is great to also see how much the nannies actually do.  I’ll do a couple of passes with DTC on and then fully disabled.  Even in an Xi, it is a blast.

    Great idea Michael and timely as Connecticut is due to get a couple of inches tonight/tomorrow…

  • Lee L

    My dad did something similar with me in a school parking lot. Had me drive slow and he randomly pulled up the handbrake to make me skid in the snow. It help a ton in realizing which way to turn the wheel in a skid.

  • Bob Hayhurst

    Nice piece Michael; sounds like you had a good time. I agree with you that under the right conditions speed isn’t nessesary to show the dynamics of drifting or correcting skids. I like the idea of the slow speed maneuvers. You’re able to exercise control and analyze your inputs without (hopefully) crashing. I can’t think of a better way to spend an hour or so on a cold, snowy evening…