Patrick W. Rollens/Triblocal.com Reporter
Andy Pilgrim is the first to admit that he's an odd choice to talk to driver's education students about safe driving techniques. But the car racing champion, who has competed with Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the 24 Hours of Daytona endurance race, visited the Oak Park River Forest High School recently to share some perspective on life in the fast-but safe-lane.
"I have no business being a racecar driver and talking to a bunch of high-school students," Pilgrim told the assembled group of 15- and 16-year-old students. "You have choices, and you can pay attention just like I do when I'm winning races."
Pilgrim's visit was part of the Automotive Safety Project, a venture launched recently by Chicago-based Shriners Hospital, located just north of Oak Park on Oak Park Avenue. The effort, part of the hospitalís focus on reducing spinal cord injuries, aims to educate new drivers on how to drive safely and avoid vehicle injuries.
During the day-long presentation to several different classes of students, Pilgrim, who lives in Boca Raton, FL. and still races competitively, spoke frankly about the thrill and danger of driving.
"Driver's education will get you a license, but it will not make you a driver," he said. "You are coming to the point in your life where freedom is paramount. With that freedom comes the understanding that you make the decisions. With a 3,000-pound vehicle, you can do a lot of damage."
Pilgrim's involvement with driverís education programs began in 2005, when he produced a DVD titled "The Driving Zone: Essential Techniques for New Drivers." The DVD features Pilgrim and several racing colleagues, including Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The event also featured a visit by Toshi Lukens, a representative from the Illinois Secretary of State's office. Lukens touched on some of the finer points of Illinois motor vehicle law, including the stateís graduated licensing program and the very specific restrictions on young drivers using cell phones.
In total, Pilgrim and Lukens addressed more than 300 students in five separate classes.