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Driver’s Ed, accelerated

Teens have chance to learn defensive driving techniques at Iowa Speedway

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017 10:35 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017 11:26 a.m. CDT
(David Dolmage/Daily News)
Teacher Chas Beeler stands with his heavily modified1990 Mazda Miata in front of Berg Middle School, where he is a technology teacher. Beeler, an active member of the Sports Car Club of America will be volunteering with the SCCA this weekend to teach Street Survival, a defensive driving course aimed at making teens safer behind the wheel.

Come Saturday, Chas Beeler’s classroom will look a little different. Beeler, a technology teacher at Berg Middle School, will be out at the Iowa Speedway volunteering with the Sports Car Club of America to teach Street Survival, a program that teaches kids age 15-21 better car control.

Beeler calls it “driver’s ed 2.0” and the program, a partnership between the SCCA, and Iowa chapter of the BMW Club and Tire Rack is designed to give kids an education beyond driver’s ed. The all-day program in Newton gives teenagers a chance to have firsthand experience in car control. Instructor Fred Bell has been teaching the course, which is typically held twice annually, and he said it’s easy to see the difference it makes in building critical driving skills with younger motorists.

“We get feedback from students and their parents every year after the first snow of the year telling us how the car stayed out of the body shop, and the kids stayed out of the hospital,” Bell said.

The program is a mix of classroom work, paired with driving exercises designed to teach new drivers how to safely control their car at the limit. Using soapy water to simulate winter driving conditions, instructors at the Street Survival course teach students how to maintain control of their cars in less than optimal conditions. Instructors will also explain how ABS braking works, show active demonstrations of an air bag deployment and provide a static display of a big rig surrounded by vehicles, giving each student the opportunity to experience first hand what a semi truck driver sees, and more importantly, cannot see.

“Our top priority is to make the road safer for everyone,” Beeler said.

Students may not be enthused about attending another day of driver’s ed, but Beeler said instructors at Street Survival work hard to make sure the class is fun as well as informative. One of the day’s first activities is a ride along with an instructor, which usually sets the hook.

“Once you take them out for the first time their eyes are glued open and they’re onboard for the rest of the day,” Beeler said.

Getting younger drivers excited about driving is the best way instructors have found to make the lessons stick. Each $75 entry also includes a one-year membership in the SCCA, and both Beeler and Bell hope the course will foster the same lifelong love of cars they have. The same skills that make a driver faster on the track will also make them safer on the road.

“There’s a real difference in their focus, they are looking further ahead, they are getting their eyes up earlier, it can head off potential problems,” Bell said.

Mixing his passion for cars with teaching is nothing new for Beeler. His Miata is stuffed full of 3D printed parts, which he uses to teach students to make during class time at Berg. Beeler designed and printed a phone mount, vortex generators, and several other parts for his Miata, which isn’t hard to spot in the school’s parking lot. With its heavily flared fenders, stickers and loud exhaust, it’s a good talking point for his students as well. The third-year teacher said he’s turned down plenty of requests from students asking to drive the car.

“It’s an attention-grabbing car for sure,” Beeler said. “It’s an easy subject to get students interested in.”

With so much attention, Beeler parks the Miata in his garage when he’s not using it, to make it harder for students to figure out where he lives in hopes of keeping his house from being toilet papered during Homecoming. Even though he’ll make his debut as a driving instructor this weekend, Beeler said he isn’t nervous to head out on the track with students.

“It can’t be much different than teaching, with a room full of students bouncing every which way.” Beeler said.

Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or ddolmage@newtondailynews.com

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