Having professional driving experience with sprint cars and a passion for the motoring craftsmanship of Porsche, Rotary Club of Clare member Barrie Lee Smith knows a thing or two about how to get around a track safely.
Joining up with his club’s Rotary Young Driver Awareness (RYDA) program, Mr Smith now passes his knowledge and passion for driving on to student drivers.
“The road is unpredictable … and the things which are on the road can be more unpredictable than those on a race track,” Mr Smith said.
“You’re doing a more consistent speed on a race track than you are in a car, and you need to make sure you don’t become distracted.”
Having settled into retirement in Blyth, Mr Smith’s life of sprint cars and Porsches is behind him, but his knowledge of driving is still as fluent as ever.
He competed as a sprint car driver for around one year during his racing days in the 1970s, but as he got older he decided to pursue the role of crew chief and use his knowledge and understanding of physics to compete.
With only a few podium finishes during his career, Mr Smith modestly explained he was not the best chief out on the track, but he maintained a passion for motorsport, and an undeniable respect for his vehicle.
“Being a crew chief means you’re in charge of the crew, the car, and the driver comes to me and says ‘Barrie what do you think?’ and I say ‘I think the car’s going to pull this way’ and you discuss,” he said.
“That's a crew chief’s job in a nutshell.”
Knowing the limitations of their own cars and the other vehicles on the road, including what they are capable of doing, has allowed RYDA’s students to develop a greater understanding of road safety, Mr Smith said.
"Be aware of the conditions while driving, understanding what the car capabilities are, and the potential things which can go wrong," he said.
The RYDA program shows students how their own perceptions of their car’s abilities might be misguided, and in one scenario they closed off a section of road and let students predict braking distance. They did this by heavily applying the car’s foot brake at one point, marked out by a witches hat, and let students predict where the car would stop.
“None of the students ever get it right,” he said.
Mr Smith said students either majorly over-reached and placed the cone way too far away from the actual stop spot, or they under judged and thought the car would stop sooner than it did.
He said his goal working with RYDA was that if he could ‘save one child’s life’, it would be worth it.
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