(Image/Randy Pobst)

The loud pedal. Your right foot. The throttle. The gas. 

Or in the words of a favorite YouTuber, Vice Grip Garage, The Make-It-Happener. 

We love what it does, but YouTube is loaded with examples of how all that noisy fun can lead straight into trouble. I’m here today to bust this common myth about driving: You can power out of trouble.

“Oh, no,” you blurt. “I got all sideways in my ’68 Charger and just gassed it and pulled myself out of it.”

No you didn’t, friend. The Muscle Car Gods just gave you a break on that one, and here’s why:

The gas pedal only makes you crash faster.

Mashin’ the gas is a lot like shooting a firearm. You don’t pull the trigger unless you are pointed at your target, right? Well, it’s the same exact thing in your hot rod. Power is for leaving a corner, not entering it. And if you are not sure where you are going, why would you wanna go there faster?

Stay away from the pedals when you are in doubt.

Your main job as a driver is actually weight management. We’ve all seen drag cars lift their front wheels at the strip. That’s an extreme demonstration of what happens every time you apply the power: the front gets light. So think about it. What’s the steering wheel attached to? The front wheels. Every time you accelerate, the front gets light. So how well you think it’s gonna steer? Not so great, that’s how well.

So let’s flip this around. If you hit the gas and the front gets light, what do you suppose happens when you let off? You got it, race fans, weight goes the other way, forward. Now there’s a good load on those front tires; the ones attached to the steering. How well is your Charger gonna turn now? Really well, ‘cause the steering tires now have some grip.

Here, do this test right now. Put your fingers on your desk or table, whatever’s right nearby. Lightly slide them back and forth. Easy right? Now push down a little, doesn’t take much, and try to slide back and forth again. How’s that workin’? It’s a lot harder, isn’t it? That’s just what happens to your tires.

Then why do all those cars crash into the curb leaving the car show? Well, that’s because of the other main rule of driving:

Whatever end of the car is sliding the most will try to go first.

You know how all those performance upgrades can make it easier to spin the tires? Then what happens? You get sideways, right? Fishtail, donut? The rear tires slide the most, and they try to come around and lead.

With great power comes great responsibility, they told Spiderman, and it’s true for us at the wheel, too. If the rear tires start spinning too much and the car is getting too slideways, back off a little and hook ‘em back up. If you are in a little trouble, power only makes it worse.

The gas pedal is for when you KNOW where you are headed.

Most times trouble starts in a corner. That’s because your tires can only do a lot of one thing at a time: turn, accelerate, or brake. If you ask your tires to corner and accelerate a lot at the same time, those tires are gonna give up on you and slide.

It’s called drifting, when it all goes well on track. Otherwise it’s called crashing, and crashes suck.

In a front-drive car, the same thing happens. If cornering and too much power is added, now the front tire loses traction and slides, so you won’t turn much until you back off the power and hook ‘em up again. When the front slides it’s called understeer, and it’s a lot easier to control than when the rear slides, which is called oversteer.

  • UNDER-steer – The car’s not turning enough, it’s trying to plow off the road front-first.  
  • OVER-steer – The car’s turning too much, and it’s trying to come around and go off the road backwards.

Both situations happen for the same two reasons. Either too much power spins the tires on one end, or too much weight transfer makes one end light and it loses grip.

So here’s how to drive and look like you know what you are doing.

When you enter a turn kinda fast, look into the corner and keep slowing down until you know you are going to make it in good shape. Stay away from the loud pedal, it’s too soon. Slowing down puts some load up on the steering tires, like when you leaned on your fingers and they stuck better on your table.

The natural act of slowing for a corner helps you make the turn.

Once all looks good, then and only then, go smoothly to the gas pedal and roll it on as things continue to look good. If you ever have to back off, then you know you went on the power to soon. Only use the power when you are pointed where you want to go, like the trigger and the target.

Seems simple and logical doesn’t it?

Well you know what, that right foot has a mind of its own, and always wants to jump in way too early. Have some patience when in a turn, and only use the power for LEAVING the corner.

The more power you have, Hot Rodders, the longer you must wait to power out.

Now that makes sense, eh? So why can’t you power out of trouble?

Because when a tire is already sliding, it does not have the grip to handle any more horses. You are just going to make it worse. In our muscle cars, power is probably what caused the slide in the first place. Ease off the gas, keep your eyes on the road, settle it down with a little countersteer. When you are sliding too much, catch it with your steering, stay away from the pedals.

Last piece of advice, and this can save your car and maybe your life. If you ever totally lose it and spin, jam the brakes and hold them ’til you stop.

When you are in trouble, stay away from the gas.

More next time: How to catch a slide, and if you spin, both feet in.

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Author: Randy Pobst

Randy Pobst is a career road racing driver with almost 100 pro victories, including two at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and earned factory driving contracts with Porsche, Audi, Mazda, and Volvo. He was also a track tester, video host, and writer for Motor Trend and Hagerty magazines. Randy is a highly respected evaluator of automotive handling. Check out his own Instagram and YouTube, @RandyPobst