PODCAST: Doug Herbert Turns Tragedy into a Teen Driving Program

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Doug Herbert — a four-time Top Fuel World Champion — knows the danger of top-level motorsport. In 1999, Hebert’s Top Fuel dragster blew apart in what’s generally regarded as the most violent explosion in drag racing history.

The engine simply disintegrated. A thousand feet away, a spectator had an injection barrel valve land at his feet. Despite the intensity of the explosion, Hebert wasn’t seriously injured.

Yet, on a run to a fast food joint just miles from his home, his sons Jon (17) and James (12) were killed in a car accident. With all the preparation and safety procedures he’d been used to as a Top Fuel champion, it wasn’t until that tragic day that he realized just how unprepared teens were when they acquired their freshly minted driver’s licenses.

Doug Herbert has devoted the rest of his life to changing that.

After the horrendous crash that claimed the lives of both of his sons, Doug Herbert founded B.R.A.K.E.S., an acronym for “Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe”, a teen-driving safety organization.

RELATED: More on the B.R.A.K.E.S. Teen Driving Program 

This week on the BestRide Podcast, editor Craig Fitzgerald talks with Doug Herbert about the program, and how he’s managed to train 30,000 teens in just 10 years.

The goal of the program is to “prevent injuries and save lives by training and educating teenage drivers and their parents about the importance of safe and responsible driving.”

Herbert enlisted the help of retired NASCAR driver Ricky Rudd to act as the spokesman for the group, and he’s gotten help from other racing notables, too. NHRA pro-stock motorcycle driver Steve Johnson, veteran NASCAR crew chief Barry Dodson (who also lost two children in a 1994 auto accident), Tom Cotter — author of the great The Cobra in the Barn — and Wanda Miller, former President at the Speedway Club at Charlotte Motor Speedway, have all participated in the program and encouraged teens and their parents to enroll.

Other driver training programs exist for teens, but B.R.A.K.E.S. is unique for a couple of reasons. First, the program is completely free. The organization asks that parents reserve a spot with a $100 deposit, but it’s refunded once the program is completed.

Secondly, while teens are going through one portion of the program, their parent is going through another. They both receive the same instruction throughout the day, giving parents an opportunity to reinforce that learning at home.

Kia has been the official vehicle provider, giving parents and teens an opportunity to experience the latest safety technology as they receive instruction.

On December 8, 2010, Herbert was nominated for the inaugural 2010 United Nations NGO Positive Peace Awards, in the Professional Sports Team and Professional Athlete categories, for his advocacy of B.R.A.K.E.S.

If you’d like to learn more about the program, visit the website, and find out when it’s coming to your locality. If you’ve got teens in the house, you’ll want to experience it with them.

Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald

Writer, editor, lousy guitar player, dad. Content Marketing and Publication Manager at BestRide.com.