Car enthusiasts open drivers ed school in Old Lyme
A host of diecast model cars, helmets and racing gear, car-themed posters and various other forms of automobilia are on display at APC Driving at 19 Halls Road in Old Lyme.
For car enthusiasts Brent Thompson of Old Lyme and Christopher Robson of Hebron, who opened the driver education school, a passion for driving runs deep.
The two said they now are applying that enthusiasm to take an engaging and relevant approach to teaching students how to drive — with the goal of helping people learn to drive safely and be prepared for the realities of the road.
Robson, a fourth-generation race driver who has spent 25 years racing full-time with teams, said his first race was actually two months before he was born, as his mother drove at Lime Rock when she was pregnant with him. He joked that he learned how to read not from “Dick and Jane,” but “Road & Track” and “Autoweek,” and he knew how to pronounce Mario Andretti before he could say “block” or “cat.”
Thompson, with a background in sales and marketing, also has a lifelong love of cars, his uncle having run an auto museum in the Midwest. Thompson, who has a competition license with the Sports Car Club of America, has done recreational race car driving and understands what it takes to be safe.
When Robson and Thompson, both in their 50s, met at a business networking group in West Hartford in 2016, the conversation naturally turned to cars. In addition to sharing a love of automobiles, they both had daughters — one of Robson’s two daughters had just gone through driver’s education, and Thompson’s two daughters are coming of age — so they had a vested interest in safe driving and asked “what can we do here?”
Their answer was to become licensed and certified driving instructors and open a driving school that focuses on the needs of the individual learning to drive, Thompson said. He said that while there are many great driving schools out there, APC Driving offers a boutique environment in which students really participate and classes are small.
“We really focus on the individual,” said Thompson, managing director. “We literally want to make sure that they learn how to drive first and get their license second.”
Thompson said they are concerned about the high fatality rate among teenage drivers and want to do what they can to mitigate that.
Rather than use out-of-date driving videos, the two scoured the internet for relevant teaching materials and eventually plan to produce their own videos and anticipate rolling out an app.
“We wanted to bring drivers ed into the 21st century,” said Robson, chief driving instructor.
Robson said their approach is about ensuring students are trained and retaining information. While instructors cover all the specific drivers education aspects required by the state, they are not simply taking a textbook approach, but are presenting their life experiences in a captivating way that draws students’ interest.
“We need to educate the student on the realities of driving, not the textbook of driving,” Robson said.
Thompson and Robson said that while there are driving principles that can be transferred from the racetrack to the real world, the two stressed that they are different and they keep racing on the track, not the street.
They have developed a trademarked approach “S.A.F.E. Behind the Wheel,” which stands for Situational Awareness Facilitates Excellence.
“What that means is you need to be aware of your surroundings, more than anything else that goes along,” he said. “Not just what’s in front of you, but what’s beside you, what’s behind you, what can potentially happen to you. You really need to drive globally, in 360 degrees.”
Robson emphasizes that students have to be comfortable, both physically and mentally, and be excited to drive and want to do it. In individualized driving lessons, he connects driving with whatever the student is passionate about, such as sports, or music.
“This guy is unbelievable with kids behind the wheel,” Thompson said of Robson.
According to a release, APC Driving offers required drivers ed courses as well as specialized classes for additional instruction on specific topics, such as parking, city driving or extra driving time. The school also offers programs for senior drivers and for people who want lessons in the latest car technologies, and for people wanting help on how to pick a new car.
Name: APC Driving
Address: 19 Halls Road, Old Lyme Shopping Center
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, or by appointment
Phone: (860) 598-9895
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