In Praise of Skid Schools

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Sharing a couple of wobbly pops with my friend Hartley Nagy the other evening and I was surprised to learn that he’d recently taken a course at a skid school at Shannonville raceway. Even better, his company had paid 75% of the cost ($300 of the $400 for the one day hands-on seminar).
I’m a big believer in this kind of training and I’ve attended two former skid schools in Ontario, both now defunct: the former Markel school in Centralia, Ont., and the Canadian Center for Decision Driving in Grand Bend, which up until a few years ago used to operate a slippery track beside the Grand Bend drag strip.
Both courses were memorable. The Markel program had a really enthusiastic director who loved what he did. After lunch he pulled out a B-train configuration that he’d got surplus from the DOT, and we had fun jacknifing a set of joints, too. The pad was shared with a regional airport and the occasional Cessna would taxi alongside the pad, and locals from Huron Park would break in on the CB with some saucy and scatological commentary from time to time.
A few years ago, I got to take the Grand Bend course. The stopping distance and spin recovery drills were great. At the end of the day, I got the feeling that the students had bonded in a way, and come away from this training with more confidence, feeling more like truck drivers with some inside knowledge.
But I hadn’t heard of the operation at Shannonville, although Rick Mercer took the program in 2010 and raised the celebrity of the multi-purpose track immensely. This incarnation is run by the Transport Training Centres of Canada which appears to run the program at that track about once a month.
As far as I know this is the only transport skid school in Canada. The only other training institute that utilizes direct skid avoidance training is KRTS in Caledonia, Ont., which sends its students to a skid pad down in Marshall, Michigan as part of their tractor trailer training package. I can’t find much recent info on the Scheider’s National skid training facility in Green Bay, Wisc., but I suppose they are still using it. And skid pad training the US seems much more prevalent than in Canada, with pads scattered around the States.
These courses usually use older trucks or newer ones that have the ABS systems shut off. But I’d really like to try these maneuvers with these controls left on. After all, that’s what we’re driving these days, with the exception of the old beast I had as a spare truck last week..900,000 kms and a sunken seat, but more annoyingly, the trailer ABS idiot light flashed intermittently, and after I dropped the wagon, the tractor ABS came on. Who knows how frequently these systems malfunction or are effective? This winter I saw two jacknifed tractor trailers on the way up Wooler Hill which seems more difficult to do going up than coming down, but apparently not for these two drivers. And here’s betting they never went to skid school.
I think this is a great tool to give drivers, particularly newbies. It develops a sense of respect and wisdom about what that can go horribly wrong in milli-seconds. There’s really no other place you can practise this. If a trailer starts coming round you have to get on it right away; and ramps always deserve respect, either bobtailing or coming in high and heavy. At skid school, when you feel the tug of the restraint chains you know that trailer’s not coming back. And that should be the only time it happens in your driving career.

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Harry Rudolfs has worked as a dishwasher, apprentice mechanic, editor, trucker, foreign correspondent and taxi driver. He's written hundreds of articles for North American and European journals and newspapers, including features for the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and CBC radio.

With over 30 years experience in the trucking industry he's hauled cars, steel, lumber, chemicals, auto parts and general freight as well as B-trains. He holds an honours BA in creative writing and humanities, summa cum laude.

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  • Although not at a formal skid school site, some fire departments in BC put their drivers through a skid program on very icy conditions using an airport runway that is wide enough to allow the vehicle to go out of control. Going through the red tape to use the runway is more difficult than getting people to participate. It is absolutely amazing what these drivers come away with in the knowledge field, more confidence, more respect for road conditions and above all the experience to know how bad road conditions can affect your driving even in an emergency. It’s worth the effort and then some.