|SPEED DEMON: Dawn Stokes’ Texas Driving Experience is driver’s ed of a different kind.
photography by Elizabeth Lavin
Six thousand teenagers die from car crashes every year. Only four states require on-the-road driver’s education classes before issuing a license to individuals over 18. And fast cars—the 500-plus horsepower kind—are over-the-top cool.
These are the reasons why Dawn Stokes, an entrepreneur from Flower Mound, poured her energy, cash, and ambition into Texas Driving Experience (TDE), a high-performance driving school located at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
Classifying TDE as traditional is like calling a Porsche a cute car. TDE’s approach is dramatic—without the theatrics. Instead of gory testimonials or mangled car demonstrations, Stokes teaches drivers to understand the limits of a vehicle with exercises that include off-road recovery, tailgating awareness, and hydroplaning correction. With this hands-on approach, teens learn their own limits, a vital lesson in light of the astounding number killed in car accidents: “It’s like a plane going down every Friday with (teens) on it,” Stokes says.
After 18 years continent-hopping as vice president of a health care company, Stokes found herself face-to-face with a career layoff in 2003. She examined the fork in the road: She could either again take on the corporate world or venture out on her own, melding her passion for cars and her desire to help teenagers.
So she rented space at the Speedway, bought a fleet of yellow Z06 Corvettes, and opened for business in 2004. Since then, TDE has gained momentum, offering corporate retreats for team-building, as well as a monthly event called “Our Track, Your Car,” which allows anyone—such as celebrities, athletes, and vintage car aficionados—to bring their vehicle to the Speedway for a day of fast, safe, structured driving. Following professional instruction, the drivers complete courses designed to reinforce skill. And the need for speed? “They go as fast as their talent will allow them,” Stokes says.
Stokes manages a staff of eight as well as 45 professional racecar drivers, and many are former C-level executives who’ve logged plenty of “seat time,” or hours on the track.
As for her own driving preference, Stokes is less specific on what gets her engine running. “If it has horsepower and tires, I’m in.”
Teen driving classes are $550 for one day and $975 for two days.“Our Track, Your Car” starts at $475 per day.