Race drivers stress SMART driving

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By Dave Taylor

Carroll County High School was the scene of what could be best described as a pep rally for smart driving last Thursday. A safety team from the Indy Lights auto racing series gave a presentation on safe driving for the student body, a promotional event connected to last weekend’s IndyCar and Indy Lights races at the Kentucky Speedway.

The program is sponsored by Bridgestone Americas as title sponsor of the Indy Lights Racing Series via the company’s Firestone tires brand. Saturday’s Indy Lights Race was called the Drive SMART Buckle Up Kentucky 100.

The team brought along the National Guard Indy car driven by former Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon, displaying the speedster in front of the entrance to the gymnasium, home of the Carroll County Panthers. Fittingly, the team that owns Wheldon’s car is “Panther Racing.”

Angela Patterson, spokesperson for the TeensDriveSmart.com safety education team, introduced three Indy Lights drivers and hosted a game of Jeopardy featuring contestants from each of the four high school classes. All questions posed during the game were auto safety or driver related.

Students participating were seniors MaryEsther Fremin and Josiah Nickels, juniors Kevin States and Evan Mefford, sophomores Joe Gibbs and Kelley Wheeler, and freshmen Kiara Benhoff and Trey Burgin.

“This is a pilot program,” Patterson said. “Carroll County High School is the first school we have been to with our presentation. I think it went pretty well. We’re hoping to go to many more schools and do this. Obviously, Firestone is involved in races all over the country, so we’re hoping to visit schools in close proximity to those tracks as well.”

SMART is an acronymn for each driver to ensure that everyone in his or her vehicle wears a Seatbelt, the Music is turned down, the driver is free of Alcohol and other harmful substances, Rested and alert and avoids distracting behavior like Texting.

“We chose Carroll County because they have a very active chapter of Students Against (Destructive Decisions) and because it is near the (Kentucky) Speedway,” Patterson said.

“Our SADD chapter has gotten very active this summer,” CCHS Principal John Leeper said. “This is a relationship that we want to keep building, especially with NASCAR coming next year we would love to get some kind of event going with that as well.”

The students were shown a brief video including race accidents in which every driver walked away from the crash followed by photos of passenger vehicles that had been involved in accidents caused by distractions to the drivers. They were encouraged to visit the Web site www.teensdrivesmart.com to learn more about safe driving.

“Most teen accidents are caused by a distraction,” race driver James Hinchcliffe said. “We may go 200 miles an hour on a race track, but we know that all of us out there are professional drivers and we’re focused on what we have to do. It is way more terrifying to drive on a road than it is to drive on a race track because on the road you can never be sure about what the other driver is going to do.”

Hinchcliffe, fellow drivers Martin Plowman and Stefan Wilson and the Firestone Firehawk mascot tossed t-shirts and bubble gum into the bleachers to the delight of the students.

The program also stressed the hazards of talking on cell phones and texting while driving. Students took away a number of lessons from the event.

“I learned that driving fast is bad,” senior Chris Srouder said. “You can’t always drive fast.”

Elizabeth Snow picked up a different message. “Don’t drink and drive and don’t text and drive,” the senior said. “Don’t take your eyes off the road unless you pull over because you don’t want to lose your life over something stupid.”

Following the presentation, while students lined up for driver autographs, Leeper was very positive about the program.

“I think it gives us a starting point where our teachers can use some of the follow up materials and talk to the juniors and seniors and even those freshmen and sophomores because a lot of times they’re riding with the individuals that are being distracted while they’re driving,” he said. “But our teachers in the classrooms can do some follow up work that will allow them to really drive home the message that was started today.”