An oft under-reported aspect of special operations missions are the inherent dangers associated with simply driving from point A to point B. In the United States, we enjoy fairly safe driving conditions under most circumstances, with heavily enforced traffic laws and a driving populace that has to at least pass a basic exam in order to legally get behind the wheel. Despite our speed limits, working stop lights, and law enforcement community that devotes a great deal of time and effort to policing our streets, however, an estimated 40,000 Americans still died in auto accidents in 2016.
Now imagine a country with no such regulations or enforcement, and life or death situations that call for aggressive, defensive, or even destructive driving to get out alive.
That’s where tactical and performance driver training comes in. As some of you may have picked up on by now, I’ve held a whole lot of unusual jobs over the years, before, during, and after my service in the Marine Corps. Some of them make for good stories, like being backstage security for the Red Hot Chili Peppers at Coachella, some of them make for bad memories, like having 30 year old sewage rain down on me from burst pipes while working in interior demolition. Of all the gigs I’ve managed to talk my way into, however, working for Skip Barber Racing was among the more rewarding.
Skip Barber Racing, which sadly recently went under, had a long track record of training up and coming race car drivers to compete at the top echelons of the racing industry, but unbeknownst to many, it also served as a place for elite special operations war fighters to receive technical driving training from some of the best racers in the business. No, I wasn’t one of those elite driving experts… but my brother was.
I worked for Skip Barber Racing both before and after my time in the Marine Corps, and I even did some consulting work for the team in exchange for more training and seat time on some of the country’s best racetracks, like Limerock in Connecticut, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and Road Atlanta. Despite my best efforts, I could never match my brother’s technical proficiency, but I was able to get their cars pretty sideways… That’s me behind the wheel in the feature photo up top (don’t tell my old boss).
When I was hired by SOFREP, I mentioned my ties to Skip Barber and came to learn that a number of our contributors actually attended courses with us, including our resident Delta badass, George E. Hand IV. Of course, Skip Barber only offered one piece of a much larger puzzle when it comes to learning to survive in combat situations behind the wheel. It’s best to think of driving like shooting; consistent practice in a single discipline will make you proficient within the parameters of the task, but it’s only through training in multiple facets of the game that you become good enough to rapidly take on any set of circumstances you may find yourself in.
In the video shown below, you can see the final driving exam FBI Field Agents undergo after they’ve received training in how to handle their vehicles in various sets of circumstances. While the syllabus the FBI uses is likely different from what we employed at Skip Barber, the exam looks quite a bit like the stuff we’d put our drivers through on a daily basis. Learning car control, how to manage things like oversteer and understeer, quick decision-making, and perhaps most importantly, how to regain control of a vehicle once you’ve lost it, are all facets of any performance or tactical driving program, and you can see a number of those things in play as the instructor takes you through their course.
This video, hosted through YouTube, was actually filmed in 360 degrees, meaning you can click on the video and drag your mouse to look around, see what the driver is doing, and what the course he’s maneuvering through looks like.
Once you’ve been well versed in car control, it comes time to up the ante on what you’re trained to do behind the wheel. In this video, you can see some of the tactical driving instruction MARSOC operators undergo in order to ensure they’re prepared to fight, even while behind the wheel.
Feature image courtesy of the author