DALTON, N.H. — It would seem a parent’s nightmare.

A 15-year-old without a driver’s license was gleefully sliding the car sideways through turn after turn, the gas pedal floored and the occupants straining against their seatbelts as they were thrown from side to side.

But the father, one of the back-seat passengers, nodded his approval.

“I want him to be better at everything than I am,” Alex Dunser, a lawyer from Tampa, Fla., said of his teenage son, Lech, as the instructor in the front passenger seat critiqued the controlled chaos.

The Dunsers were among the dozen students here recently for a $3,600, three-day course at the Team O’Neil Rally School in northern New Hampshire.

The school’s main purpose is to impart the integral skills of rally racing, an off-track motorsport. Rallies involve cars racing against the clock, typically down narrow, twisting dirt or snow-covered roads at day or night.

But many of the Team O’Neil school’s students take the classes for fun, or to learn crash-avoidance techniques. Or, in the case of members of the military’s Special Operations forces who have taken the course, they learn how to drive under extreme duress on rough terrain.

“We use pieces of roads that are borrowed from the United States Forest Service or a logging company,” Travis Hanson, a rally veteran and the director of training, told the group that included the Dunsers.

“It is a real road,’’ he said. “It is not designed to be driven fast on. If you fly off the road in a rally there are rocks, cliffs and trees, and everything is designed to kill you.”

Each year about 500 people take the course at this 600-acre complex. Most are seeking an automotive adventure with the additional benefit of learning to control a car in an emergency or on a slippery road, said Chris Cyr, the school’s general manager.


Lech Dunser, 15, of Tampa, Fla., attended Team O’Neil Rally School in New Hampshire this month with his father. CreditIan Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist for The New York Times

But some are intent on learning to race, and all come away with some basic skills for the sport. In North America, rally courses typically range from 10 to 20 miles on roads that are closed to the public. While speeds vary with the road conditions and the car, 70 miles per hour is not unusual, and the most powerful rally cars easily reach 100 m.p.h.

“Rally is the best form of motorsports,” Mr. Hanson told the class.

Competing on a racetrack is relatively safe, he said, because there are grassy or gravel runoff areas to slow an errant vehicle. And racetrack drivers practice lap after lap, learning what each turn looks like and how to take it. But there are no practice runs in rallying.

“In rally, either you are on the road or you crash,” Mr. Hanson told the novices. “It’s a little crazy, but I think you guys will like it.”

The promised craziness began with six Ford Fiestas, each containing two students and an instructor, all wearing helmets. They were parked on the edge of a large open area called a skid pad, which a water truck had drenched to create a brown slurp.

For the students, the foundation to rally driving is understanding how the transfer of the car’s weight between the front and rear tires affects handling.

Braking or letting up on the gas makes the front of the car dip and puts more weight on the front tires, giving them more grip. The lesser weight on the rear tires makes them more likely to slide.

Accelerating shifts weight to the back of the car, making it squat and giving the rear tires more grip.

In one of the Fiestas, the instructor, Allen Welch, explained to Amit Patel, 38, who works in finance in Des Moines, how to use his left foot to brake while still pushing down hard on the accelerator.

“We’re not trying to slow the car; we’re just trying to put weight on the front to get the car to turn,” said Mr. Welch, who previously spent more than a quarter century as a New Hampshire state trooper.


A map of the trails at the Team O’Neil Rally School in northern New Hampshire.CreditIan Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist for The New York Times

Mr. Patel began slaloming among a half-dozen orange cones placed about 75 feet apart.

“Pick up a little brake and add gas,” Mr. Welch coached. “Gas, gas. More gas. You full throttle?” he said as the high-revving 4-cylinder engine screamed over the squish of tires on mud and the click-click of stones being kicked up against the floor pan.

Throughout the course the students were urged to go ever faster. This class was all male, but 10 percent of the students each year are girls and women. One of the instructors, too, is a woman: Duffi Pratt, an elementary-school teacher who has been a motorcycle racer and learned rally driving at Team O’Neil.

The instructor’s main task, Ms. Pratt said, is to monitor students’ use of braking, acceleration and steering and try to ensure that each happens at the right time, in the right sequence.

“It’s like a puzzle, putting the puzzle together until there is some success,” she said.

As the speeds increased, orange cones were clipped, smashed and dragged under cars. There were a few spinouts. One driver thumped lightly into a ditch. But it was an enthusiastic and increasingly skilled group.

Chris Hess, a 22-year-old senior at Virginia Tech, and his father, Scott, shared one of the Fiestas and were among the fastest of the group. Their past adventures had included high-speed driving at racetracks, where they tired of driving lap after lap through the same turns.

“The track is boring,’’ said the elder Mr. Hess, a software engineer from Alexandria, Va. “This seems like it is a thrill a minute because you don’t know what is next.”

As the class progressed, there was increasing emphasis on the principle of “looking where you want to go.”

That might seem obvious. But it is not, in the context of rally driving or navigating a road in bad weather. Sometimes the car may be sliding in a direction the driver does not want to go — like toward a tree.

The idea is to focus not on that looming, scary tree, but where the driver would rather be going — even if it means looking out a side window. The brain tells the driver’s hands how to direct the car. It is a leap of faith, but it works, the instructors say.


Keval Patel and his father Vaibhav Patel, with his father’s cousins Vishal and Amit Patel, at the Team O’Neil Rally School this month. CreditIan Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist for The New York Times

By the third day the class was doing laps along a small loop of the school’s six miles of private roads.

Lech Dunser, the 15-year-old, was cornering confidently. “It’s awesome,” he said.

He learned faster than some of the adults, and the instructors were not surprised.

“I think they are at an advantage because they haven’t learned a lot of bad habits yet,” said one of Lech’s instructors, Alan Moody. “They learn the correct way to drive right off the bat.”

That is precisely what his father wanted.

“My thought is for him to have strong fundamentals of driving,” Mr. Dunser said.

There has been a debate for decades among auto safety researchers about the wisdom of teaching teens advanced driving techniques.

Critics worry that such training encourages risk taking.

Dr. Flaura Winston, the director of the Center for Child Injury Prevention Studies at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, argues that teenagers should first focus on learning to recognize and avoid dangerous situations. Learning skid control should come much later.

Advocates of advanced driver training say it makes sense to give teenagers skills that can help them prevent a crash if they make a mistake.

Mr. Hanson, the rally school’s director of training, acknowledges the debate.

“We can give them the car control skills, but judgment is something that is hard to teach,” Mr. Hanson said. “It would definitely be something that their parents would have to work with outside our instruction.”

Mr. Dunser said Lech was a long way from driving by himself. He cannot even apply for his Florida license until next year.

“I have also told him not to confuse knowledge with experience,” Mr. Dunser said.

“My focus now is to have Lech to drive with me in as many diverse situations as possible,’’ he said. “I told him he will not be allowed to drive himself until I am convinced that he does this better than the vast majority of drivers.”

A version of this article appears in print on August 19, 2016, on page B3 of the New York edition with the headline: A Driving School That Recommends Helmets and Going Fast.

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