SLAC Today logo

Paul Kunz: Avoiding High-Energy Collisions

(Photo - Paul Kunz)Paul Kunz bought his first BMW in 1971, but didn't join BMW Car Club of America until 1985. He initially joined for maintenance tips—"then I discovered driving events," he says, which includes autocross and drivers' schools on racetracks. "The first time you do either really takes your breath away."

About two years later, Kunz helped the local BMW CCA chapter start a car control clinic. Three times a year, some 60 drivers spend a full day refining their skills under the guidance of Kunz and other volunteer instructors.

Each student's first trip through the exercises is spent in the passenger seat, as an instructor drives the car through the course. "Many students are shocked at how quickly I can drive their car," he says. Then they get a chance to try it themselves with three exercises: collision avoidance, skid pad, and slalom.

Collision avoidance first involves simply braking—hard. Although it may seem like an everyday skill, "you wouldn't believe how difficult it is to get some people to brake that hard," says Kunz. Then it's on to maneuvering around obstacles simulated by traffic cones. "It's the 'avoid the deer in the middle of the road' kind," he says. "A lot of cones get hit."

In the skid pad, a driver navigates an oval course with the steering wheel at a fixed angle, steering by using only the gas pedal. "The technique is to focus far enough ahead—which is really far," he says. "Once students get it, the focus shifts to the right spot and the exercise is a piece of cake."

As students weave between cones in the slalom course, they often drive faster without compensating for increased speed and start making mistakes. "That's when they start learning," says Kunz. "As they learn, they drive quicker and with more control than on their earlier tries."

At the car control clinic, "it's a real joy to see some people improve so much in a single day," he says. "At the end of the day, everybody's got a big smile on their face." Kunz recently started teaching at the chapter's new 'street survival' program for teenagers. "It really would be a safer highway if everyone had to take a course like this," he says.

But when he takes his 1988 735i BMW to the autocross, "it's really satisfying to beat some young squirts in their sportier cars."

—Krista Zala
    SLAC Today, August 9, 2006