January 27, 2020

By Dustin Merkel

We all have our winter driving stories growing up in Wisconsin.  Whiteouts, black ice, high winds, blizzards, poor road conditions, and unexpected animal crossings are just some of the many challenges we face driving in this Winter Wonderland.  We’ve all counted the vehicles in the ditch on our way to our destinations while clenching the wheel and counting the seconds to our arrival. 

Are you and your loved ones confident and prepared to drive in these conditions?  Most people are not as prepared as they think they are and I’m just as fault as the next.  So I decided to sign up for Road America’s Winter Driving Program with the intent of gaining knowledge, getting real winter driving experience, and to see just how prepared I am.

My Road America Winter Driving Program Experience

Once signed up I was initially nervous about the program.  I thought of my dad teaching me to drive sitting in the passenger’s seat criticizing every move I made and remembering how uncomfortable that feeling was. What exactly did I just sign myself up for? 

The day of the class arrived, and Wisconsin’s winter arrived with it bringing 7” of snow, low visibility, and strong winds.  Driving to the school was uneasy with the road conditions well below ideal but seemed to be perfect for the course ahead.  Once at the school, I noticed that others in the class shared the same anxiousness I felt.  Our class was a diverse group and ages ranged roughly from 16 to 55 years old with all different levels of driving experience.

Upon getting settled, the instructors welcomed us with an energetic tone that put everyone at ease.  It was apparent that the instructors were excited and looking forward to making this learning experience enjoyable.  My anxiety quickly turned to sheer excitement as I was ready to hit the road, but first, we had a short in-class instructional session.  The session covered a large spectrum of topics such as vehicle precautions, winter conditions, and instruction of the maneuvers we would be performing.

Our lead instructor did an excellent job laying out the course and we all knew what the rest of the day would look like.  We then were split up into small groups and paired with instructors for our road course drills.  Each car had an instructor with 2-3 students which gave everyone plenty of practice with each drill.  The course was very well laid out and it was just a lot of fun.  Even riding along while not your turn to drive was enjoyable because you were a part of the driver’s experience. 

After doing a few hours of maneuvers, we had a lunch they provided if purchased.  I was expecting a small sandwich, a bag of chips, and a water.  I was pleasantly surprised when the lunch served was much larger than my hunger.  Just like the rest of the course, lunch was very relaxing.  They didn’t rush anyone, and we had plenty of time to relax while watching relative driving videos.  I was also surprised by how the group chemistry changed.  Everyone was now familiar with each other from our earlier driving session and we all shared a new bond through our shared driving experiences.  We were very talkative sharing in each other’s excitement and ready to get back out on the road course to do more driving.  The exhilaration of driving I once had as a teen was now clearly visible again nearly 20 years later.

After lunch, we broke up into our small groups and again headed back out to do more driving drills.  A few more hours passed that seemed like minutes.  The class was nearing to an end and everyone was very grateful of the instructors.  We were provided packets with useful driving tips and techniques as well as a certificate for completion.  As I pulled out of Road America, there was a driver in the ditch directly across the street from the school.  I couldn’t help to think that if he only took this course his outcome could have been a lot different.

My thoughts on the course.

Road America provides a platform to safely practice driving skills necessary for winter driving, the instructors offer expert feedback, and they really allow you to push your limitations in a vehicle.

Everyone can learn something from this course and it’s an excellent way gain confidence to best control your vehicle in any condition.   This program is a must for beginning drivers that may lack driving experience and the confidence in their driving abilities.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself and felt the excitement that I once had as a beginner driver myself.

What better way to show you love your family by signing them up and attending this course together? 

The Winter Driving Program is just one of the many courses Road America offers throughout the year.  They have specialized driving courses for teens, high performance driving, racing, off-road experiences, and many other non-driving experiences you can check out at https://www.roadamerica.com/experiences/driving-school.html

While in town, check out the best of what Elkhart Lake has to offer at https://www.elkhartlake.com/.

Upcoming Winter Driving Schools at Road America:
February 8th – Sign Up
February 23rd – Sign Up

Dustin Merkel

Dustin Merkel was born and raised in Wisconsin and currently lives in Cascade. He served as an infantryman in the United States Army including a tour in Afghanistan. He currently is a senior attending Lakeland University as a Business student with an emphasis on sports marketing and leadership. Dustin is excited to graduate this May where he looks to continue serving his community.

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