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How To Launch Your Car Hard Without Crashing Like A Big Dummy

How To Not Wreck Mustang Meme Ts1

Most car meets ban hoon behavior for one reason, and that’s safety. We’ve all seen it happen a million times—a crowd gathers at the exits, phones raised in anticipation. Like a red flag to a bull, the driver sees this, smashes the loud pedal, and ends up binning the car in a ditch mere seconds later. There are two ways to avoid this, and today, I’m going to teach you about both of them.

The first way is simple—stop driving like a hoon on public roads! Just about every meet explicitly asks drivers to avoid revving their engines, doing burnouts, or anything else that could piss off the public. And for good reason!

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Of course, that goes without saying. But let’s say you’re off the street, and you want to launch your car safely. You don’t wanna lose control, or end up sideways in a barrier. How do you avoid the Mustang curse and leave with tires smoking and your dignity intact? We spoke to race driver Parker Kligerman and the rally school experts at Team O’Neil to find out. If you wanna learn what to do, and what not to do, read on.

It Happens All The Time

For the purposes of this explanation, I’ll stick to talking about rear-wheel-drive vehicles. These cars are the ones that we see crashing the most often after peeling out of Cars and Coffee. It can be a Camaro, a Mustang, a Viper, heck—even a McLaren Senna can end up in a crash like this if you’re not careful. Big power, rear-wheel-drive, and a lack of skill are a bad combination.


Typically, the driver wants to look like a big hero. They switch off traction control and launch the car hard with plenty of revs. It gets sideways and they panic. They jump off the gas, the car hooks up, and veers straight into a wall. Or a series of parked cars. Or, in extreme cases, the crowd of spectators that was waiting for this to happen.

In a lot of peel-out crashes, the driver mats the gas pedal while they’re turning out of a driveway. When the rear wheels break loose, the rear end swings out like a pendulum and if you’re not quick, it can be very hard to overcome at that point. Starting on the straight and narrow can be a big help if you’re inexperienced.

Furthermore, it’s important to know how to control the car properly when the rear wheels break loose. Even if you start out in a straight line, the back end can still step out if you’re giving the car a ton of welly. Often, that’s what people are going for, because it looks cool! But you need to be able to control it to avoid crashing.

Let’s take a video where we see a rear-wheel-drive launch, where the back end steps out to the left and the car ends up pointing to the right. The driver inevitably countersteers to the left to try and bring the car back into line. With heavy throttle application, the angle of the slide increases. At this point, the driver panics, and comes off the gas. This usually causes the rear wheels to stop sliding and grip, and weight transfer increases the grip over the front wheels, too. The front end bites, and suddenly all that countersteer is too much, and the car spins in the opposite direction, out of control.


In this classic video, we first see an Audi leaving fast and clean. The driver gets the car straight and accelerates away. In contrast, the Mustang driver that follows does everything wrong. He’s got the wheels spinning before he’s even left the driveway. He keeps it in check, but then he dumps the clutch with too many revs as he shifts into second, and the back steps out hard. Watch it in slow motion, and you’ll see that as soon as he comes off the throttle, the car turns in the direction the driver was countersteering. He’s too slow to catch it and he slams straight into the white sedan.

Mustang Crashes Leaving Cars And Coffee Chicago 0 13 Screenshot
He’s got the wheels spinning before he’s even out of the lot. He’s eager.
Mustang Crashes Leaving Cars And Coffee Chicago 0 14 Screenshot
As he shifts into second gear, he gets too much wheelspin.
Mustang Crashes Leaving Cars And Coffee Chicago 0 16 Screenshot
The rear end steps out, and the driver naturally countersteers in turn. It’s sliding, but it’s recoverable at this point.
Mustang Crashes Leaving Cars And Coffee Chicago 0 16 Screenshot (2)
As the driver jumps off the throttle, the front end bites. The applied countersteer is now way too much. The Mustang turns almost immediately to the left.
Mustang Crashes Leaving Cars And Coffee Chicago 0 17 Screenshot (1)
The back end whips around. The driver is now fully out of control. He’s countersteering the other way, but it’s too late. On an empty skidpad, this wouldn’t matter, but this is a public road. 
Mustang Crashes Leaving Cars And Coffee Chicago 0 21 Screenshot (1)
The result: two cars are destroyed.

We asked resident race car driver Parker Kligerman to watch the above and try and explain what he sees:

“So [it’s] a little hard to tell, but mostly it seems like he mistimed the shift and when he dropped the clutch into (I’m guessing) 2nd, it lit up the rear tires, then he fell behind on the steering and it was all over from there.”

Launch It Properly

Want to launch properly without losing control? You could do a lot worse than taking a lesson from Wyatt Knox. He’s a US rally champion, a tactical driving instructor, and the guy who created Team O’Neil’s successful YouTube channel. Who better to ask!


Team O’Neil’s recent video on the topic is a great guide. It teaches basic burnouts as well as how to leave a T-intersection in a big hurry. But I wanted to get the whole scoop, so I got the lowdown from Knox himself.

As far as the classic Mustang crash goes, he’s seen it all before. “This is what we call a counterskid, when the car oversteers back and forth, usually getting worse until it spins or hits something,” he explains. “It’s caused by the driver not looking ahead far enough and not countersteering quite right.” This is where the panic comes in. “Most drivers can fix the first slide ok-ish, but when the pendulum effect happens they’re caught off guard… Then they usually look for something bad to hit, freeze up and hit it,” he says.

“Whenever you get into a skid, the weight of the back end of the car sliding around is like pulling back a pendulum and then releasing it,” Knox explains. “Just like a wrecking ball, when you release that weight it’s going to move past the center point with momentum, and you’re going to need to catch it when it gets there.”
You can relate this directly to a lot of Mustang crash videos on the Internet. You’ll see a driver holding a slide with countersteer, but as the car begins to pendulum back the other way, they fail to react quickly enough, or at all. “The corrective action is to always keep your eyes well ahead and where you want to go, and whenever you get sideways just anticipate that pendulum effect and be there with a quick correction,” says Knox. You’ve got to have quick hands, or you’ll lose it every time. “Countersteer faster and with more precision,” he says. “As always, practice on snow and ice and you can get extremely good at this at safe speeds with low consequences.”
His number one tip, though? Most people make the mistake of looking at what they’re afraid to hit. “If there’s one thing that will save 99% of emergency situations, it’s looking where you want to go,” he says. “If you get into a skid and stare at a phone pole, you will almost certainly hit the phone pole or crash very close to it.”

If you think you’re gonna crash, you probably will, but the reverse is true as well.  “Optimism and denial cannot be overstated,” says Knox. “If you look optimistically down the road for the best possible outcome, your fight or flight instinct will go into fight mode and the hand-eye coordination that you’ve developed your whole life will do its best to save your ass.”

Step By Step

If you start your slide with a reasonable amount of throttle, you probably won’t get an excessive slide angle to begin with. Don’t just go full-in on the throttle — use some of it, not all of it! Better to do a small slide or none at all rather than crash your car. Under these circumstances, minor countersteering should help you control your slide. You can exit smoothly by easing off the gas, or even left-foot braking if you’re so inclined. Keep your eyes focused on where you want the car to go, and as the rear wheels grip up, you’ll naturally reduce the countersteer to bring the car back in line.


Let’s say you do go too hard though, and your car is pointing a bit too sideways. In that case, you need to act quickly but don’t panic. Look in the direction you want the car to go, and your natural countersteer reaction should help counter the slide. Come off the gas, but do it smoothly. As you’re rolling off the gas, let the countersteer wind off as the car comes around. This should be instinctive if you’re looking where you want to go. If the front end grips up suddenly and the car rotates hard in the opposite direction, use your fast hands. You might have to quickly countersteer in the opposite direction to catch the car as it snaps back around.

Another important tip is to understand your transmission. If you’re in a manual, it’s very easy to kick out the tail by dropping the clutch with the engine at high RPM. It’s a great way to initiate a controlled slide, but if you overdo it, you’ll lose control virtually instantly. A lot of Cars and Coffee crashes happen this way. A driver shifts from first to second with too much throttle on, the rear end steps out, and it’s all over as Parker notes above.

It happens so often that Mustangs plunging into crowds has become a meme.

An automatic transmission can also catch you out. You might be holding a nice controlled slide when the gearbox suddenly decides to upshift. This might cause the rear end to suddenly grip up, flicking your car in the wrong direction. If you’re prepared for that to happen, it won’t surprise you, and you can hopefully react in time.


The Real Trick To Avoid Disaster Is Practice

Launching a car and holding a slide is a skill, and it’s one best learned on the skidpad. On the pad, you’ll quickly learn how to modulate throttle and steering to hold a slide and exit one carefully, without overcorrecting or ending up in the wall. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll learn about using a sane amount of throttle to initiate a slide, and how much room you need to do one. You’ll soon realize the folly of those people who smash the accelerator to the floor in crowded downtown environments.

Don’t let the situation get to you, either. It’s easy to give the car too much sauce when there’s a waiting crowd jiggling with sheer anticipation. Don’t forget your training, and do not attempt anything if it’s not safe to do so. If you are at a track event, though, and such tomfoolery is allowed, just keep it controllable. Better to fumble a small slide and have people laughing at you for a few seconds. If you bin the thing in the wall, the whole Internet will be laughing at you for a few days.

Some drivers can actually handle their shit.  

Seriously—drive within your limits. I’ve driven powerful rear-wheel-drive cars myself. As an auto journalist, I’m well aware that I won’t have a long career reviewing cars if I start putting them into the wall.  I never just jump in a fast car and go flat out from the get-go. I know I don’t have the experience and skill to drive like that. Instead, I take my time learning a vehicle and seeing how it responds. Then, if I decide to try anything—in a safe location, of course—I have a good idea how the throttle and steering will respond. By feeling the car out first, I’m rarely caught by surprise. You gotta work your way into these things.


Sure, you can turn the traction control off. But are you ready to handle that? Make sure you know what you’re doing.

Hopefully, this guide will help you enjoy your car without making a fool of yourself. Don’t muck around on public roads, don’t go ham, and keep the car pointing where you want it to go. And remember—that cheering crowd doesn’t actually want to see you succeed. They’re hoping you’re gonna fail as hilariously as possible. Don’t give ’em what they want.

Image credits: via YouTube Screenshot

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Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
16 days ago

The same applies to motorcycles, many years ago on slightly damp road I launched hard from a traffic light and almost immediately went into a tank slapper. Fortunately I kept control while slowing down.
I like the old traction dollar concept, you have a finite amount of grip and can allocate between acceleration, braking and steering. The main takeaway is separation of actions, gassing it while turning out of Cars & Coffee is a surefire trip to YouTube infamy.

Peter d
Peter d
17 days ago

I don’t buy that counter-steering is intuitive- if anything the instinct is to steer opposite the direction the rear wheels are drifting. Also don’t turn off the traction control. And finally every car control class: “turn first, the accelerate”.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
17 days ago

I find that avoiding having videos recorded of me using a ladder or driving has kept me from ending up on YouTube.

Well I’m on YouTube doing stuff like hanging out with Andy Warhol and Truman Capote but that’s in the 70s when nobody expected stuff like that to show up 40 years later on pocket sized televisions, and I was younger and…

Anyway, if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there with a cellphone , does it end up on YouTube?

17 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Crawford

You are very wise.

My motto: Never do anything that someone else is recording.

18 days ago

Everyone laughs at high school driver’s education. Remember when they told you to aim high in steering? That’s half the battle. The other half is not showing off for a bunch of nimrods who are hoping you’ll crash.

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