This article originally ran in the May 2, 1978 issue of the Boston Phoenix.
The car is traveling at 40 miles per hour when the left boot comes down hard—with almost enough force to penetrate the firewall—on the specially rigged emergency brake. The locked rear wheels squeal like pigs bound for bacon, and a coat of rubber lubricates the resulting skid. The steering wheel gets twisted violently to the left and a ton and a half of late-model automobile pirouettes across the track, swapping ends before startled eyes can adjust to the 180-degree change. Dressed in a quilted vest, camouflage cap and huge wrap-around sunglasses, a tough-looking guy who, for reasons of security, identifies himself simply as Joe, steps from the passenger seat, drops to his knees, throws back his head and shouts, “Love it, I love it.”
At Thompson Speedways in Connecticut, where Tony Scotti’s “anti-terrorist” driving class—grown men, aged 20 to 60—is practicing the “bootlegger turn,” it’s tempting to write the exercise off as adolescence gone mad. For Scotti, his two assistants, and the students who pay $750 for the five-day “Executive Protection” course, however, the business of bootlegger turns, J-turns, off-road recoveries, and assorted evasive driving maneuvers is deadly serious.
The recent wave of kidnappings and assassinations in Germany and Italy has produced in the American business community a demand for levels of security once reserved for James Bond and the man from U.N.C.L.E. Despite such notable exceptions as the SLA abduction of Patty Hearst and the Weather Underground bombing of the Capitol, the United States generally has not experienced the kind of political terrorism that dominates the news abroad. Nevertheless, American businessman—particularly those with holdings in South America, the Mideast and volatile European countries—are enlisting the professional services of hostage negotiators, kidnap-insurance underwriters, bodyguards trained in anti-guerilla tactics, and chauffeurs who can put a fancy limousine through the paces of a halfback on a broken-field run.
Tony Scotti’s anti-terrorist driving school is one of four in this country, and the effusive, 37-year-old Somerville resident and one-time race car driver boasts a list of graduates—mostly chauffeurs, although some executives have themselves requested “hands-on” training—from the top 15 corporations of the Fortune 500. Scotti says he restricts enrollment to those clients with “a valid need to know,” which, it turns out, means being listed with the Washington, DC-based American Society of Industrial Security. To date, his students have come from oil companies, banks, utilities, and multi-national corporations who consider themselves the likely targets of attack.
In 1974, Scotti opened his School of Defensive Driving, teaching safe motoring techniques for racetrack and other high-performance conditions. Shortly thereafter, he added a course for police officers (three days for $260), to train them to respond to situations they are likely to encounter on the beat. In Massachusetts, MDC police recruits get Scotti’s course in basic training; he has traveled to Utah, New Mexico, Mississippi, Florida, and Georgia to train entire forces.