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Way More Fun Than Watching “Red Asphalt”

, , , , , , , , | Related | May 17, 2022

Most people’s first experiences with learning to drive involve an instructor and paid lessons. To fully complete your learner’s Log Book, when I was learning to drive, it was mandatory to have a certain number of hours spent with an official driving instructor and they encouraged you by having those hours count for double — one hour with an instructor became two on paper.

My brother and I, along with two of our extended family friend’s kids had a very different introduction to driver’s education. My parents own forty acres of rural Australian property — bushland, lots of trees, and paddocks. Dad had created a dirt bike track several years prior for us to ride our motorbikes on, and with a little tweaking, he turned it into a decent track a car could run on. It was all dirt and grass winding through trees, zigzagging across the paddocks, and joining into the near-half-kilometer long driveway.

Dad’s old Nimbus was to become our chariot of learning, and I’ll let you know right now that that thing was a beast. It took all the abuse that a young, inexperienced driver can inflict on a car and more. My brother even managed to flip the thing once on accident, and besides a dent in the roof (easily panel-beaten back to normal), the car was unaffected by the ordeal.

Our dad (and our friend’s dad when visiting) were our unofficial instructors, and under their tutorage, we learnt the basic fundamentals of car operation and maintenance.

One day, about two and a half years into this expedition of discovery, our dads decided to give us each a whirl at a “test conditions” run around the track. This was very exciting and a little daunting to us older kids because our real learner’s tests were looming close. They organised amongst themselves a checklist of sorts for what we needed to accomplish during the “test”: reversing, turn signals, parking, and a few other things they set up the course to accommodate.

And because we are Aussies and it was private property, beer was also involved. Not for us kids, of course — oh, no, that would have been a trainwreck of bad decisions! No, our friend’s dad decided to hold a freshly opened bottle of beer for each of our runs and implemented an additional ruling of “if you spill too much beer, you fail.” I’m pretty sure it was to drill into us that how we drive is just as important as following the general rules of the road… or something similar. Looking back, I realise that this strange addition actually added a thin layer of anxiety to the “test” and made us more aware of how our driving affected passengers’ comfort and wellbeing, making it feel a touch more realistic.

I don’t recall the order we went in, but I do remember that the youngest family friend’s kid went last. Let’s call him Callum.

The first three runs went quite well; no trees or safety-cone “people” were struck, and aside from a few minor mistakes with parking and forgetting a turn signal here and there, we were racking up a nice string of “passed” results. We were all in the car for each person’s run (to create a realistic, mildly distracting environment for our years ahead as young drivers) so we were all witness to one another’s successes and failings. Then, it was Callum’s turn.

Callum’s overall run was good, as well, although he did manage to hit a stump at one point that was previously hidden off to the side of the track while taking a turn too wide. Aside from that, he was going great! Soon, the final straight stretch and hairpin turn to the finish line were in sight: we were all going to pass!

But this story wouldn’t be here if everything went as planned.

Instead of slowing down in preparation for the hairpin turn, Callum hit the accelerator. We hurtled into the corner at speed, and in a panic-induced state of decision making, Callum ripped the handbrake in an attempt to slow down, which put the car into a powerslide of epic proportions.

On the outside edge of this turn was a tree. A big tree. This tree was of the weeping willow variety with many long, dangling, whip-like branches with slender leaves dripping down in a beautiful green cascade. As the handbrake was pulled and inertia entered the equation, we were all thrown to the left of the car. Callum’s dad’s window was down and, thanks to the seatbelt, only a small portion of this body was now outside of the car. However, that portion was home to, arguably, one of the most important features of a human being: the face.

Callum was screaming, I was screaming, my little brother was cheering with his hands in the air like a deranged roller coaster rider, Callum’s older brother was being crushed into the door by our combined weight and didn’t have enough air in his lungs to join our crescendo of noise, Callum’s dad’s face is being kickboxed into oblivion by the aforementioned whip-like branches… and the beer is flying in all directions, coating everyone in a thin veneer of foam and yeasty goodness.

Smack! Smack! Smack! Smack! Smack! Smack! Smack!

After what felt like an eternity, the car came to a shuddering halt and we all peeled ourselves off the door and off each other. Callum’s dad’s head was now back inside the vehicle, peppered with an impressive collection of shallow cuts, blood, and beer, and his majestic mullet was chock a block full of leaves. He was also still holding the, now empty, bottle of beer in a white-knuckled death grip, and that’s an achievement I’m still in awe of!

A couple of seconds of silence permeated the tension-filled interior of the chariot of learning, none of us daring to break it first. Callum’s dad wiped a hand down his face, hissing as the cuts were touched and more beer was introduced to the wounds. He took a deep breath, and in a soft voice, he addressed us kids in the back seat:

“Would you kids step out of the car for a moment? Callum and I need to have a chat.”

We f****** legged it! No need to tell us twice. We. Were. Outta. There!

About 100 or 150 metres away was the verandah where our mums and Callum’s sister were seated with shock etched across their faces at the spectacle they had just witnessed. We had barely reached the concrete when a gods-awful bellowing came from the car, echoing off into all corners of the property and probably sending more than a few birds winging away in fright. Callum was banned from driving for the rest of their week’s stay with us and no more mention of home “tests” was made again. Ever.

Callum is an amazing driver now and doesn’t even have a speeding ticket on record to my knowledge, but that day and our early years of driving on the track will never be forgotten. It was even a story told at his father’s funeral a few years ago and is now a funny memory we can all share and cherish involving the man.

Notes:

  • Everything that occurred during this and all other driving sessions at the property was in full compliance with Australian laws.
  • No minors, drivers, or fatherly instructors were under the influence of alcohol at any given time while the car was running.
  • Despite the ordeal, none of us were traumatised or otherwise harmed, and the injuries sustained by Callum’s dad were minor: head wounds just tend to bleed a lot because of how shallow the skin is.
  • No-one unlicensed to operate a vehicle ever drove on any actual roads outside the property line or endangered another driver in any way.
  • Please don’t attempt to recreate any of these events, and always follow the rules of the road and laws pertaining to your country when it comes to driving and underage individuals. 
  • And, finally, thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed this story, and if you’re just learning to drive, please don’t use the handbrake for cornering, especially on dirt, as it is very dangerous and serious accidents can occur.

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