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What is a Bootlegger's Turn?

Michael Pollick
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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A bootlegger's turn, occasionally called a handbrake turn or bootlegger, is an evasive driving maneuver characterized by a quick 180° change in direction. According to legend, this maneuver was invented by a legendary moonshine runner turned stock car racer named "Junior" Johnson sometime in the 1930s. Since the production and distribution of homemade whiskey was highly illegal, producers would employ local drivers to carry the finished products in souped-up vehicles. The bootlegger's turn allowed these drivers to change direction quickly to evade tax revenue agents or local police.

The classic bootlegger's turn is best performed in a car with manual transmission, but a version of the maneuver is still possible with an automatic transmission. It is very rough on tires, suspension systems and steering gears, so some experts suggest using less-than-pristine cars for practice sessions. Cars similar to a primary vehicle can also be rented, although declaring your intentions to the rental agent is not suggested. To perform the turn, you should have a clear stretch of flat asphalt or dirt track available. Some stunt drivers recommend overinflating the rear tires slightly for better results, somewhere around 45-50 pounds per square inch (PSI).

To begin the bootlegger's turn, decide which direction to turn the steering wheel. In general, it's best to turn in the direction of the opposite driving lane. In the United States, a driver should ideally steer to the left. When performed perfectly, this maneuver allows the car to reverse direction within the space of a two-lane highway.

Accelerate the vehicle until you reach a minimum speed of 40 mph (approximately 55 kph). Some experts suggest slower speeds will suffice, but you must generate significant forward momentum at this point. Once you've reached your desired speed, you'll need to make a series of aggressive maneuvers in a very short amount of time.

While maintaining your speed, pull up or step on the car's emergency brake. This will cause the wheels to lock up suddenly, creating a controlled skid. At the same time, turn the wheel sharply to the left at least a quarter or half-turn. The front of the car should turn into the opposite lane and the rear should slide to a stop. Release the emergency brake quickly and punch the accelerator in order to evade your pursuers.

A bootlegger's turn is a very aggressive maneuver, but it allows the driver to reverse directions in an emergency. It is an essential evasive maneuver used by security agencies around the world. It is also a popular stunt during chase sequences in movies and television shows. Professional security drivers and stunt drivers practice these maneuvers on closed tracks with modified cars.

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Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick , Writer
As a frequent contributor to WikiMotors, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Discussion Comments

By anon8102 — On Feb 07, 2008

QUOTE: "While maintaining your speed, pull up or step on the car's emergency brake. This will cause the wheels to lock up suddenly, creating a controlled skid. At the same time, turn the wheel sharply to the left at least a quarter or half-turn."

I reckon it's better to turn the steering wheel a fraction of a second before pulling the handbrake. But indeed make this fraction of a second as short as a blink of an eye.

Michael Pollick

Michael Pollick

Writer

As a frequent contributor to WikiMotors, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range...
Learn more
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