NASCAR drivers may be going upwards of 200 miles per hour on any given straightaway, but the sport still has made safety a priority. With roll bars, 5-point harnesses, advancements in head-and-neck protection and padded walls, to name a few, racing officials obviously have made avoiding danger a top priority.

“Basically these drivers that are racing around this track are the safest drivers in the world,” said Janet Brooking, executive director for DRIVE SMART Virginia. “This track is set up to be safe as well to protect the fans and protect the drivers, so I think that anyone can get a great example from NASCAR and taking on their super intense safety focus.”

DRIVE SMART Virginia partnered with NASCAR several years ago, Brooking said, and on Wednesday the group came to the Martinsville Speedway to conduct an event to teach local high school students how to become better, safer drivers.

The event brought drivers education students from Bassett, Carlisle, Magna Vista and Martinsville to the Speedway to participate in nine interactive stations, ranging from virtual-reality games to teach the dangers of texting and driving, wearing drunk goggles while driving bikes and golf carts, seat-belt and roll-over simulators and a talk with a victim’s advocate.

Students were also taught the basics of what to do to should they become stranded, how to dress a wound in a car accident and about the Move Over Law.

“You get to actually see the things instead of them just telling you or instead of watching a video,” Martinsville High School sophomore Savannah Brown said.

“I now know what to do and what not to do,” Magna Vista sophomore Cansas Hairston said.

“It helped me know real experiences, what goes on in the real world,” Magna Vista sophomore Rachel Hairston said.

Brooking said Martinsville and Henry County are a “target area for high crashes,” which is why the group has made this region a priority and why they wanted to work with the Speedway to bring their event to local students.

The organization goes around the state putting on similar events at schools on a much smaller scale. Brooking said Wednesday’s program is much larger than they typically stage.

DRIVE SMART Virginia conducted focus groups several years ago, when the organization started working with teens, to see what types of driver’s education young drivers found most impactful. Brooking said the group learned that students want to be doing and interacting in order to learn best practices on the road.

“They said, ‘We want to interact; we want to engage and learn firsthand about it,’” Brooking said.

And the lessons Wednesday were about much more than just how to drive.

“The seat belt, I knew a seat belt could cut you, but I didn’t know how severe it could be if there was a crash,” Brown said. “And that you could adjust it.”

Said Magna Vista sophomore Markyta Becker: “So far we learned different parts of the car, if we’re stuck out in the world or whatever. It helps us remember it better.”

Some students at the event already had their learner’s permits, but some didn’t, and they said learning by doing can help them when the time comes to take their driver’s tests.

“They’re going to remember more than just sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher,” Magna Vista sophomore Jeffrey Medley said.

The event was put on in part by a grant from Community Foundation Serving Western Virginia. Eastman Performance Films sent more than a dozen volunteers, and representatives from Virginia State Police in Virginia Beach, YOVASO, the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office, Carilion Health, the Henry County Public Health Department, and the Henry County Sheriff’s Office were on hand to help with the event.

“This shows you the level of commitment of these public servants,” Brooking said. “People that are wanting to make change in the community and working to serve the public. It’s just amazing.”

Drive Safe Virginia and have sponsored spring races at Martinsville Speedway, and Brooking said it’s obvious by Wednesday’s event the track officials want to make safety outside of their walls just as big of a priority as safety inside them.

“Clearly they’re very interested in the local community and giving back and partnering with us in order to do so,” Brooking said.

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