A local race car driver and doctor are offering 30 young drivers a fast track to sharpen their skills behind the wheel through the Tire Rack Street Survival program.
BMW race car driver Seth Thomas and Michael Hogan, a physician and founder of the Lanier Extended Area Drivers Education Resource, or LEADER, are excited about the initiative and its potential.
“It’s going to teach kids accident avoidance and teach them in their own vehicle,” Thomas said. “It creates a more educated and more aware driver and a reduction in accident rates.”
The program, open to drivers between 16 and 21 years old, is set for Dec. 12 at the Cumming Fairgrounds. Created by BMW Car Club of America in 2002, the effort has since expanded to 80 locations nationwide.
Thomas said the program is so popular because it puts kids in real-life scenarios they may not otherwise experience prior to getting into an accident.
Most importantly, they see how their vehicle responds to various situations and are able to learn from mistakes by practicing in a controlled environment.
Thomas contacted the nonprofit organization, asking for a Forsyth tour stop. He also has a personal connection to the program’s goals.
“The main reason I wanted to get involved is my sister was in a bad automobile accident a couple of years ago ... she was in the hospital for about two months,” he said.
“This is my way to give back to the community that I’ve grown up in and to help educate our youth about how to drive properly and how to be safe out there.”
Once BMW agreed to bring Tire Rack Street Survival to Forsyth, Thomas said he went straight to Hogan to see if LEADER would get involved.
For nearly a decade, Hogan has been working to further educate young drivers. He has helped enhance the driver's education program in the local school system, which now has 36 driving simulators in classrooms.
“Anything that helps kids recognize the dangers of driving ... can be nothing but good for them,” Hogan said. "This increases their awareness, it makes them more careful and it gives them an opportunity to practice.”
LEADER is working to bring a track to the county that real cars can use. Until then, though, Hogan said this program is the best way students can get hands-on training in their own cars.
Unfortunately, he said, space in the Tire Rack Street Survival program is limited to just 30 participants. But Hogan sees a much larger future for the program.
“What we’re hoping for is the kids that sign up will go back to their schools and say, ‘Listen, we had a great time and it’s so much fun.’ And then next year we’ll have 50 kids and the next year we’ll have 100 kids,” he said.
“It’s like when we started driver's education. We started off with, I think, 50 kids and now we’ve had 4,500 go through the program.”