In the pursuit of his go-fast education, Tim O’Neil has destroyed hundreds of cars. But you don’t have to. In the White Mountains of New Hampshire, where a teenage O’Neil first taught himself to dodge cops and drive like a moonshine runner, the five-time U.S. and North American rally champion can turn boring drivers into back-road demons—without having to dig your incisors out of the nearest oak tree. It’s called Team O’Neil Rally School, a 560-acre private playground carved from a reclaimed gravel pit.
The car is accelerating toward a blind curve. The man in the passenger’s seat waves his hand down, down, down, mimicking the motion of a foot on the gas pedal. If he could be heard, he would be saying “GAS, GAS, GAS, GAS, GAS,” but instead he’s pantomiming for the three people in the car, including himself. The ancient Audi Quattro, roaring like an outraged camel, hogs the conversation.
Ah, the life of a supercar. Take a look around high-roller enclaves like Miami Beach or Malibu and you’ll surely see plenty of brightly colored mid-engine lust buckets idling their way through traffic en route to the restaurant valet stand. It’s a shame, but the cars most capable of astounding feats of speed are the ones most likely to spend their days in traffic purgatory, 95 percent of their performance left in the envelope. I like to sneak the keys to cars like that and break them out of jail, put them to the glorious use that their engineers intended.
The Team O’Neil Rally School is the coolest place in New England that you probably don’t know about. Founded in 1997 by champion rally driver Tim O’Neil, the school is based at a 600-acre campus of gravel roads, carved into the craggy White Mountains not too far from where the Old Man’s face fell off. O’Neil maintains its own fleet of cars—mostly Ford Fiestas, Audi 4000s and the most abused BMWs you’ve ever seen—but today I’m upping the ante with something a little different.
Winter driving presents a unique set of challenges, but it also gives drivers opportunities to discover areas where they need improvement. We often hear students here at the driving school make comments like “I’m a great driver in the summer, but I have a lot of problems in the winter.” That should be a huge red flag for any driver; it means that your skills are not really up to par and that you are getting away with a lot of bad habits that will bite you sooner or later… especially when data suggests that most fatal crashes occur in the summer time.