Public asphalt for insane driving
June 28, 2007 3:04 PM   Subscribe

Looking for an abandoned/public military base or old airstrip, for crazy driving experiences and to teach a friend some things

My stepfather used to talk about how, living in Colorado when he was young, he and his friends would go to old/abandoned military bases and drive around on the smooth asphalt, learning things like how to recover from an out-of-control skid, how much distance is covered when braking from 60mph, etc.

I've always thought that would be fun and, living in SoCal, I know there's gotta be plenty of bases (and the like) around here that I might use for such a purpose. I'd also like to teach a friend of mine how to drive stick (beyond just trolling through parking lots late at night).

This is somewhat similar to this question, and it yielded a great link to the Center for Land Use Interpretation, but nothing specifically says "you can drive like a jackass around here, and no one will bother you".

Sure, there's racetracks and driving courses for this kind of thing - but they're like $600+ a day and they take the fun out of me going all renegade and just learning it on my own.

So, it's a 3-part question.

1. Does anyone know of a place where I could just go nuts and drive around with enough room to skid, swerve, etc. that's close to Los Angeles/Hollywood? (I'm thinking, for instance, of the kinds of places that the Mythbusters use in their driving/car myths)

2. Is there a way to do this for free (or with very little cash), provided I'm doing it on public/unused land?

3. Would I be better served calling places like this and saying "can I come out there and drive all crazy, heavy-braking, skidding, etc. on your airstrip?"

If I find a place like this, I'd be more than happy to grab video of my driving fun and post details for anyone looking to do something similar.
posted by revmitcz to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
In the early days of drag racing, afficionados used to go east from LA and do their racing on dry lakebeds near the Nevada border, such as Lake Muroc.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:17 PM on June 28, 2007

Durrr... I forgot to add that I'm likely using my own car - since it's a manual, and it's a real bitch to find a manual-transmission rental car.

Other than tire and brake wear-and-tear, what else should I be worried about?
posted by revmitcz at 3:18 PM on June 28, 2007

Mythbusters pay a good deal for the use of that strip, I believe. That base, along with all the closed/little used military bases that I know of have been repurposed and are full of businesses, parks, storage, etc.
I think a better bet would be to find dead malls and use their parking lots.
Another idea would be to look for higher end car clubs (BMW type riding clubs, not show clubs) and ask what they do. There used to be a few BMW and Honda clubs in the SF area that would rent out big parking lots for purposes similar to what you want to do. Find out where they go.
posted by gally99 at 3:19 PM on June 28, 2007

I was wrong about the position of that particular one; Muroc Dry Lake is in Edwards Air Force Base, which is much closer to LA than the Nevada Border.

Some googling suggests that they hold races there periodically.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:22 PM on June 28, 2007

El Mirage is more accessible than Muroc and I've enjoyed my many visits.
posted by buggzzee23 at 3:34 PM on June 28, 2007

There is probably an SCCA chapter in your area. Their events are not very expensive, and there is plenty of opportunity to drive all crazy.
posted by Quonab at 3:40 PM on June 28, 2007

gally99's suggestion of dead/closed malls is a good idea...I don't live in your area, but New Jersey's blue laws make for good drivin' on Sunday mornings. Maybe something similar, where the place and time of day makes it such that presence of any kind (including police) is highly unlikely, will be your best bet.
posted by invitapriore at 3:44 PM on June 28, 2007

I practiced all sorts of crazy winter driving on the unplowed parking lot of an abandoned Wal-Mart once.

Might want to check out for some ideas, or just keep an eye out for parking lots that are empty and out of sight.

Of course, people might take a much dimmer view of you actually doing stuff on their pavement that leaves skidmarks, and I could see possible arrest possibilities for vandalism (in addition to trespassing, which is usually a bit harder to make stick if the place isn't specifically posted, at least until you're warned, depending on the state) if you're leaving a lot of rubber around.

Safest bet might be the SCCA.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:28 PM on June 28, 2007

the abandoned base near where i grew up was very well patrolled -- we didn't find this out until we tried to throw an outdoor party there, and the folks bringing the truck of sound equipment got pulled over by some pretty jumpy police. Turns out, in this situation, they were experiencing a lot of copper theft -- I imagine many old bases are rather attractive to criminals (or should it be gleaners?) and are thus usually stocked up with cops.

additionally, i wouldn't recommend illegal or quasi-legal activities on decommisioned bases because often these places are considered federal property, and may in some cases result in being subject to greater punishment than an equivalent offense on state land.

anyways, this is all anecdotal from hanging out/throwing parties (which, for those we threw in the daytime, were rarely interrupted) on an old air force base as a kid in the late ninties. so, grain of salt.
posted by fishfucker at 4:39 PM on June 28, 2007

go for a dry lake bed. you won't get in trouble, and it's much better driving.

Malls, even in off hours, aren't that good because there is normally very little completely open, flat, space. I've spent many a good time spinning donuts and practicing hand-brake turns (you know, just in case) on snow covered mall parking lots. but on bare, or even wet, pavement there just isn't enough room. You need much more speed to make things fun.
posted by nazca at 6:37 PM on June 28, 2007

"... Other than tire and brake wear-and-tear, what else should I be worried about?"
posted by revmitcz at 6:18 PM on June 28

Roll over, for one thing. Most production cars have massive understeer engineered into their handling, and will tend to scrub tires pretty badly at stock suspension settings if you try to "drift" them. That's so the unwary driver getting into a tight corner too fast has as much 'break away' warning as possible, before the vehicle starts oversteer, or worse, oscillation. But providing all that understeer also means that if there is a sudden loss of adhesion, due to a bump, or suspension failure, or tire failure, roll over is emminent. In a roll over accident in a standard production vehicle, you're quite likely to be injured, since you don't typically have additional protections of a 4 or 5 point competition seat harness, competition seat, helmet with head and face protection, and head movement restraint. More and more SCCA classes require real roll bars, and 4 point safety harnesses, plus helments, at a minimum, for these reasons.

Unusual tire failures are another hazard with catastophic potential, if you "just go nuts and drive around with enough room to skid, swerve, etc." Street tires aren't designed with carcasses intended to absorb the considerable heat even a stock passenger car can generate if pushed skillfully for any length of time over a few minutes. In particular, the layer of rubber between the carcass reinforcing belts and the tread layers in road tires is an intentional compromize in most road tires biased towards tread noise control and ride comfort, whereas track tires will be made of substantially different compounds, that are designed to work 70 to 120 degrees hotter than most passenger car tires should ever get. So, if you push street tires hard for any length of time, expect tread delamination, "de-treading," and the sudden onset of unpredictable vehicle behavior.

Generally, you don't want to be exploring the limits of your vehicle's handling in isolated circumstances by yourself. You definitely should have out of the car observers, good 911 communications, and reasonable access to trauma medical support. You may think that you'll never get to a point of needing any of that, but that's what tens of thousands of dead folks doing what you're now asking about thought, too. Learn from their bad examples, rather than become another headstone recipient.

You may void vehicle warranties. You may void your insurance while subjecting your vehicle to such use, and if you have an accident in such a situation, you may find that it is hard to get insurance thereafter.

If you're driving the vehicle to the "public asphalt," and you do some damage to it, it may not be street legal to get you home. Driving flat airport courses with no brakes is one thing, but you shouldn't be planning to drive home with burned brakes, afterwards.

Agreed you should look for SCCA chapters in your area, and for people looking to put together SCCA Solo events in your area, of which, for SoCal at present, there don't appear to be any. But why not ask, and see who's interested out there?
posted by paulsc at 6:42 PM on June 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Seconding El Mirage. It's large, flat, no obstacles, easy to get to, close to LA, populated by people who also like driving, and free. Also, it's accessible any time of day or night--night driving is fun, too, or you can camp on the lake edge if you want to make a weekend out of it. It's an excellent place to drive, or learn to drive, and plus you can head off the lakebed and go off-roading, too, if that's your thing. I suspect this will be your best choice.

Be sure to check in advance to see if it's flooded, though--it's a lake bed, it happens occasionally, and you're not allowed on it so you don't make ruts and ruin the surface. You can call (760) 388-4411 to get a recorded update.
posted by Upton O'Good at 10:29 PM on June 28, 2007

Learn from my mistakes (well, okay, the mistakes of my teenage buddies): the problem with dead malls, for these purposes, is light poles.
posted by box at 5:20 AM on June 29, 2007

No property owner with half a brain would knowingly let you do this on their abandoned property. All it would take is some jerk flipping their car over and then suing the owner claiming the condition of the asphalt was in disrepair, and they have a huge costly bodily injury lawsuit.

So I would lose the idea that you're going to be doing this legitimately for free. Those TV shows like Mythbusters have safety supervisors and all kinds of insurance requirements that must be met before they do anything resembling crazy, precisely so that they can get away with convincing all those various property owners that it's not insane to let them do insane things on their property.

I'm not saying you can't find abandoned lots, but just remove the idea from your head that you'd ever do this with the blessing of the owner without also having the backing of some professional organization and/or supervising authority.
posted by Rhomboid at 5:02 PM on June 29, 2007

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