Ian Law has spent a good chunk of his life behind the wheel of a car in one form or another. A racer since 1984, Law is a four-time Canadian Auto Slalom champion (1986-89), a multiple Solo 1 road racing champion and even has an Ontario Ice Racing Championship on his resume (1992).
All of this time spent as a competitive racer has also lent itself nicely to his other main occupation: driving school owner and chief instructor. Law spent 11 years as the Canadian Automobile Sport Clubs (CASC) chief Solo racing instructor (1986-97), and has operated his own driving school, the ILR Car Control School based in Brampton, Ontario, since 1989.
If anyone is qualified to talk about driving schools and the mass of humanity that enrols in them, Law certainly is. He was kind enough to give us a few minutes of his time to talk about his experiences and just what type of person enrols in a driving school.
PRN Ignition: How did you wind up operating driving schools?
Ian Law: It’s kind of a neat way we got started. Being a real enthusiast and wanting that sport [club racing] to grow, I did what I could to encourage other enthusiasts to come in and try out this sport. But what I started noticing quite early was talking to a lot of enthusiasts who had the latest and greatest cars at the time. We’d get them to come into the sport and they’d get their doors blown off by competitors that had been doing it for a while and had learned the technique, so they would end up leaving the sport totally humiliated and embarrassed because there were drivers in lesser vehicles beating their newer, more performance-oriented vehicles. I’m watching this, thinking there’s something wrong with this picture. We can’t get people to stay around if we keep scaring them off, so I actually developed an Auto Slalom School in the mid-1980s to teach them [proper] techniques. Then it dawned on me that a lot of the techniques related to competition driving was all about learning how to control the vehicle at the limit and that spawned our Car Control School. We finally said, ‘we’re teaching these people skills that are handy on the road just learning to control your vehicle’, so our Car Control School was an offshoot of the Auto Slalom School. Then we started refining it and, over 25 years, developing it.
PRN Ignition: Is there a prototypical client that enrols in one your schools?
Ian Law: No, there really isn’t it. However, this is what I’ve seen over the years with experience talking to people at car shows and stuff. Most enthusiasts seem to be of the mind that it’s about technology. They want to get the fastest car, so they spend $8 to $10,000 on upgrading the suspension or getting a bigger turbo, all sorts of the latest and greatest technology but what, by far, the average enthusiast doesn’t understand is it’s not the technology that makes them a fast driver, it’s the technique. So that’s probably the toughest thing we try to get across to enthusiasts: stop throwing a bunch of money at your vehicle until you learn how to drive it properly. One of the things we always tell them – we highly recommend to an enthusiast – is they don’t spend any money on their car until they can get 100% out [of it]. Once they’ve learned the technique, practiced it and get 100% out of their car, then they can modify [it] from there. One of the biggest mistakes an enthusiast makes is throwing that $8,000 or $10,000 into their car, giving it a stiffer suspension, and what they’ve done is not only have they made that gap between the potential of the vehicle and their skills much bigger, but they’ve also made the car more difficult to drive. It’s one of the toughest things we’ve noticed – it’s a common thing with enthusiasts. They’re thinking about technology all the time. They don’t realize it’s not technology that makes them a better driver; it’s technique.
PRN Ignition: I assume there are a lot of bad habits to break.
Ian Law: Definitely. It’s just amazing the amount of misinformation that’s out there, and the bad habits that drivers bring to the track from their daily driving. One of the most common ones, particularly if they have a standard, is to put one hand on the wheel and hold on to the gear shift lever. They’re thinking, ‘I’m going to have to shift soon, so I’m just going to hang onto this thing.’ We spend a lot of time helping them identify their habits and then working on building the good habits that will help them with [proper] technique.
PRN Ignition: Do you see a big change in your students from beginning to end?
Ian Law: Definitely – the transformation is amazing. We get to hear those comments at the end of the day: “I had no idea.’ That is probably the most common thing we hear. ‘I had no idea there was this much more to learn.’ Part of that is the misconception when we get our driver’s license. [There’s this notion that] you’ve got to be a legal driver because we think you’re a good enough driver to give you license. The driver thinks, ‘Well I must be a good driver because the government says so.’ We know it’s the total opposite of that. The problem is, whether it’s an enthusiast or a regular driver is, they don’t know what they don’t know. They don’t realize there’s more to it until someone shows them.
PRN Ignition: Is there a big difference between the types of people who attend one of performance driving programs versus those over those who enrol in car control or winter driving? Ian Law: No, but I’ll tell you what does happen. When we put someone through a car control school or winter driving school, and they start to say ‘I had no idea I could do this with a car’, that’s when they say, ‘What more can I do? What can I learn?’ Then we’ll get them out to our performance driving schools – not that they’re going to want to enter [racing] competitions – but they just want to learn more. We get a lot of those where we’ve turned the light on in their heads.
PRN Ignition: What are the biggest benefits of taking a driving program?
Ian Law: First and foremost – and we spend a lot of time with our students on this – is our vision training. What drivers don’t realize, whether it’s an enthusiast or the average driver, is what’s required to be a good driver is completely counter intuitive. What we do with our eyes is always the wrong thing in driving. We get a lot of eureka moments when people say, ‘wow, I didn’t realize that just by looking over here, driving becomes so much easier.’ The biggest one is understanding what’s required of the eyes to be either really good, safe drivers or performance drivers. The other thing is how much the mental aspect is part of driving, whether its safe driving or performance driving. What do I need to do to set up a driver to pass them? One of the main things we say to drivers is anybody can drive fast, it’s the smart driver that knows when not to. Then there’s the understanding of being smooth with the controls. Those are the three big ones, and once we start helping drivers understand more of that, and they start to fall into that, their driving really improves.
PRN Ignition: Do you find people are generally receptive to coaching?
Ian Law: Yes and no. When we get female drivers into the course, they’re right open to learning. Younger males, I’d say in their 20s and 30s who are coming in thinking, ‘I know this already.’ It’s tougher to get through to them sometimes. Every now and then we do run into that attitude, but that’s more with corporate groups where people have to be there. Luckily, the vast majority of people who are coming to us from the general public have already made up their mind that they’re going there by their own free will [so it’s not a problem].