Advice to the wise: Always be mindful of safety

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Mar 30, 2024 | Honda, Safety, Column | Posted in Safety , Columns | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

With the advantage of hindsight, perhaps sending off two absolute noobs in an off-road, high-performance side-by-side during a press introduction was asking for an incident.

Ever drive one of these before?”

Nope. You?”

Same.”

We’d figure it all out somehow, right? Gas on the right, brakes on the left, no bumping.

For the first session, I’d be the passenger/ballast.

Halfway through our second lap–less than a minute per circuit–we were moving along to keep up with the pro driver leading our pack. Thanks to the kicked-up dirt, visibility could quickly go to zero.

Then it happened: sky, ground, sky, ground.

We came to rest on his side–his being the driver. Despite gravity’s best intentions, a three-point belt still held me in.

How many times did we roll? And in which direction?

So there we were, strapped in and sideways, not even knowing each other’s name.

You okay?”

Kinda, but my right arm hurts. You?”

I think so.”

Now what?”

I don’t know.”

More voices soon joined the conversation. Other journalists? Trained professionals? Medical personnel? I just saw feet.

Stay put,” they said, “we’re going to flip you back on your wheels.” I don’t think we could have protested even if we wanted to. I can’t recall anyone checking to see if we were injured.

I had the presence of mind to grab a selfie after getting free. EMS cleaned the wound on my forearm–my elbow must have slipped beneath the window net–and concluded that I didn’t ring my bell.

Soon after, another buggy rolled.

We’re soft, squishy creatures. Perhaps we should consider that fact.

Know who’s around you

Know whose hands your life is in. Are you sharing a track with experienced drivers or flat-out novices? If you’re riding as a passenger, who’s doing the driving?

And if something goes wrong, where’s the safety crew and what are their qualifications? Or is someone just going to call 911?

This was the usual ride-and-drive press event. Journalists were paired up: One drives, then you swap seats. Sometimes you know the other journalist and sometimes you don’t.

Know how to exit a vehicle

Someone with the event staff had closed the door for me. Looking back, I had no idea where the door release even was.

Did the driver have a quick-release steering wheel? How were we supposed to undo the window net and belts?

Lesson learned: Practice exits. Have a back-of-the-napkin plan in case you come to rest upside down or up against a wall.

Know your safety gear

We’d been told to wear closed-toe shoes. The rest of the required gear was provided as necessary, including a helmet, long-sleeved shirt, long pants and gloves.

Should we have been wearing some kind of neck support?

What about fire? (Looking back at the photos, I see an extinguisher on the roll bar’s rear leg.)

Related words of wisdom from pro driver Robb Holland: If your suit properly fits you, you’re more likely to wear it, even during “just” a track day.

Know the vehicle’s limits

Can a side-by-side take a tight turn flat out, or must it first nearly come to a stop? Can you trail-brake, or must all of your slowing be done in a straight line? Well, we learned the answer to that one rather quickly.

Know how to use a tool before firing it up.

Listen to your Spidey senses

We’d been moving–and not slowly–in a Honda Talon 1000R, a vehicle that could out-drag my Miata. The course covered a mix of terrain: grass, dirt and even a jump.

Oh, and there were trees just off course.

Even as the guy in right seat, I should have said something: This is sketchy AF.

Later that day, we went for rides in a race car. Shorts and T-shirts would be fine, we were told.

I later heard that the format for the side-by-side experience would change: rides only.

Fortunately, I’m fine. I got a good story to tell. The pharmacist at the Walgreens in Smyrna, Tennessee, helped me pick the right bandages so I could redress my arm back at the hotel. My raspberries healed.

My new friend feels horrible. We broke bread together that evening, and he filled in some of the holes in my recollection: He was making a left turn when the buggy dug in and flipped onto its right side and nearly completed a full revolution.

Or maybe we almost rolled twice.

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Comments
J.A. Ackley
J.A. Ackley Senior Editor
11/14/22 12:30 p.m.

Hindsight always seems to be 20/20, especially in these situations. It's a good reminder.

Jesse Ransom
Jesse Ransom GRM+ Memberand UltimaDork
11/14/22 3:25 p.m.

Oof. Glad you mostly got a reminder of how wrong things can go, though it doesn't sound like "unscathed" is quite the word either.

Important stuff, calculated risk, and figuring out how much calculation to do, and when there are important differences between "casual" and "stupid." That's very much not directed at anybody in this anecdote, it's just a truly difficult thing to spot, doubly so if the flow of the event is sweeping you along.

I've been thinking about this sort of thing lately with a longing eye cast toward some of the Australian and British car and bike track events. I like how these seem (from a distance, at least) to keep some of the aggression and competition tamped down where it's not appropriate, but I also don't know how one fosters—let alone enforces—the sort of "casual but serious" combo needed to keep things light while not so light as to be inappropriate for the fundamentals of vehicles on track. And they don't have perfect records, either.

Lof8 - Andy
Lof8 - Andy GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
11/14/22 3:37 p.m.

These things, in stock form, can't be tossed too hard.  And the factory roll cages are made of tin foil.  They need to be lower, stiffer, and a proper cage fitted before they're safe to push things.

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
11/14/22 4:00 p.m.

There was a time not long before working at GRM when I sold used cars. (I was very bad at it.)

The short version is that I didn't listen to my gut when a young driver (probably about my age) wanted to test drive a C6 ZR1. Both of us walked away, but the world lost a ZR1 that night.

te72
te72 HalfDork
11/19/22 7:01 p.m.

These things are the three wheelers of the modern age.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
11/19/22 7:40 p.m.
te72 said:

These things are the three wheelers of the modern age.

You know, you might have a point there. Still surprised at how easily we rolled. It was like we fell off a step or something. 

aircooled
aircooled MegaDork
11/19/22 10:49 p.m.

Those things look like the result of a dare by someone to see if they could sell millions of vehicles that are as roll happy as possible in an environment of extreme vehicle safety.

I remember seeing commercials for some version (almost the cost of a road car BTW) and then a few months later commercials from one of those law firm looking for people injured when driving one.  I would have thought the lawsuits would have killed them by now.

As a Corvair guy, I can guarantee those thing are way easier to roll than a pre 64 Corvair (lates are almost impossible to roll) which in reality is rather hard to roll except in some rather rare circumstances..

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
11/21/22 12:01 p.m.

Does anyone here have a side-by-side? How are you digging it? And roll it yet? 

californiamilleghia
californiamilleghia UltraDork
11/21/22 12:14 p.m.
te72 said:

These things are the three wheelers of the modern age.

The first 3 wheeler I got on , 10 minutes later I looped it going up a small hill and it was on top of me running !

Not hurt, just a few scratches , but I learned to lean forward and had fun with them for years :)

My buddies built theirs up with 3x the horsepower and I learned not to ride over my skill just to keep up , 

Tom1200
Tom1200 UberDork
11/21/22 3:01 p.m.

I don't own one but have multiple friends that do...............if you chuck them around like a rally car it only takes a small rut to put it on it's lid. Basically if you can keep the rear tires spinning you're fine but if they suddenly grip you're likely going over.

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