Now that you are firmly seated in the car with your eyes focused well out in front, it’s time to talk about steering. Surprisingly, there are several schools of thought about where and how to grip the wheel.
Most driving schools want you to hold the steering wheel with your left hand either at 9 or 10 o’clock, and your right hand at 2 or 3. I personally prefer the 9 and 3 position, feeling that it gives me the most leverage. The details of your steering wheel (where the spokes join the rim, any bumps for gripping), as well as personal preference, will influence your choice.
For the track I like to wrap my thumbs inside the wheel, hooking them over the spokes. This is great for cars that don’t have airbags. However, for late-model cars I recommend laying your thumbs on top of the wheel, pointing up. This way, when the air bag pops it won’t break your thumbs. Make this your all-day-every-day practice; you won’t have time to think about it in the last second before the airbag deploys.
The gearshift lever is for shifting gears, not for resting your hand. When it’s time to shift gears, drop your right hand to the lever as you start to push in the clutch, make the shift, and immediately return your hand to the wheel. You don’t need to “get ready.” This is exactly what you’ll see race drivers do. Realistically, between radios and the coffee cups, we all drive with one hand from time to time. Still, you can control the car much better with two hands than with one. Develop the habit of driving two-handed most of the time, and always get two hands on the wheel when you see any potentially hazardous situation developing.
A different approach is to hold the wheel at 8 and 4 o’clock, with thumbs on top. The thinking here is to minimize injuries if the airbag deploys. Imagine that you were using the popular “right hand at 12 o’clock, left hand holding the cell phone to the left ear” driving position, and the airbag popped. Your right hand would smash into your chest and face, causing plenty of damage. If you have your hands at 8 and 4 with your thumbs on top, your hands will go down into your lap, and you will do a gentle face plant into the nice cushy air bag. I was taught this hand position recently at the Bobby Ore Stunt Driving School and you can control the car this way. (Yes, I have video). I’m not ready to give up 9 and 3 for the track, but I’ll be using 8 and 4 for daily driving, especially in airbag cars.
For gentle curves, just turn the wheel without changing your grip. (Did I have to tell you that?) For tighter turns you’ll need a good way to do a little handwork; more on that next month.