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CATEGORIES (articles) > American Motorsport > Driving techniques > Bootleg turn (handbrake turn)

Bootleg turn (handbrake turn)

A bootleg turn is a radical type of U-turn intended to reverse the direction of travel of a forward-moving automobile by 180 degrees in a minimum amount of time while staying within the width of a two-lane road. This maneuver is also known as a handbrake turn or simply as a bootlegger.


The turn is performed by putting the vehicle quickly into a lower gear, usually the second gear, and quickly turning the wheel in the direction of the opposite lane (to the left in countries where traffic drives on the right hand side of the road, and to the right in countries where traffic drives on the left hand side of the road). If performed correctly, the vehicle will enter a controlled skid, enter the opposite lane and turn completely around. In a perfect bootleg turn, the car will be at a complete stop at the end of the maneuver and ready to accelerate and depart in the opposite direction.

Classic bootleg turns can only be performed on cars with a manual transmission and is most easily done on a rear wheel drive car, as the spinning back wheels aid in the turn. This is because the maneuver is essentially a controlled fishtail like spinout. Vehicles with an automatic transmission can be modified to make a bootleg turn possible. This is most commonly done for stunt vehicles used in motion pictures, to reduce the stress on the stunt driver to change gears while turning.

Cars with a handbrake on the rear wheels can enter a controlled turning skid by employing the handbrake, locking the wheels and turning the steering wheel sharply in either direction. This maneuver can also be called a bootleg turn.


The name of the turn originates from the Prohibition era of the United States, when bootleggers transporting illegal liquor would use the maneuver to escape from police officers. Bootleggers were notorious for using modified high-speed cars to transport their goods, and using daring driving maneuvers to escape authorities. The man credited with inventing the bootlegger turn is Robert Glenn "Junior" Johnson, who ran liquor from his father's still and went on to become an accomplished stock car racer.


Contrast the bootleg turn with a similar, and perhaps safer direction-reversing maneuver called a moonshiner's turn, or J-Turn, which begins instead with a stationary automobile accelerating straight backward for a few seconds before the steering wheel is turned quickly to complete a skidded 180 degree turn. The 1999 Guinness World Record for the "Narrowest J-Turn" is 172 cm.

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