It’s a rainy June afternoon, and All Star Driver Education instructor Dave Lamkin is giving two high school sophomores their fifth driving lesson. The girls remind him that today they’ll practice parallel parking and freeway driving. “Yay!” he says, cheering them on for the challenge.

Lamkin, fifty-eight, has been teaching teens at All Star for a dozen years–since the company was operating out of founder Tom Wall’s basement. Tom’s son, Brent, All Star’s president, says Lamkin’s “one-on-one dynamic” with the kids and “extra compassion” make him a favorite instructor.

“When they start to get it and start to have fun with it, I really enjoy it,” explains Lamkin, who’s dressed in khaki shorts and a short-sleeve button-down shirt, with his sunglasses perched atop his salt-and-pepper hair. He teaches full time for most of the summer. During the school year, he works as a teacher’s assistant in the cognitively impaired (CI) classroom at Slauson Middle School and works evenings at All Star.

As the Ford Fusion, covered with the company’s namesake stars, cruises around a west-side neighborhood, Lamkin spots a target for parallel parking practice. “See that red car, captain?” he asks the driver. “We’re gonna sink that baby.” Leading her step-by-step in what he calls his “fail-proof formula,” he guides her to a perfect parallel park. “Can we get a little love from the back seat?” he asks, encouraging the other student to join him in applause.

Not every driver does so well. Lamkin recalls students who’ve cried the entire time, as well as kids so nervous they “just can’t process.” That’s when “you use hand gestures and just the basics–no small talk.” There’ve been flying hubcaps and flat tires from potholes. Two years ago, a student at a standstill on a road abruptly turned the wheel and drove into a parked car. Lamkin files that scary experience in his memory as an example of what he calls “the random”–a rare occurrence that’s impossible to predict.

There are only a few nerve-rattling moments today. At one point Lamkin has to make one quick left-hand grab for the steering wheel to move the car into the correct lane. Another time, as the driver comes up too fast on a line of cars at a stoplight, he announces, “I’m gonna help ya a little bit here,” and hits his own brake pedal on the passenger side.

Near the end of the lesson, light rain becomes a blinding rainstorm on I-94. The lines on the road almost disappear under water. As the student grips the wheel tightly, Lamkin says, “You’re doin’ well … lookin’ ahead … keepin’ it nice and gentle.” He talks her off the freeway at the first exit.

The two teens agree they like Lamkin because, says one, “he’s funny, and he doesn’t get mad if we mess up.”

Lamkin, who married later in life and doesn’t have kids of his own, jokes he’s just “extremely immature.” One of his tips for driving success is to get parents to take kids out before lessons begin to “a huge parking lot or to the middle of nowhere and let them try it.” He believes that “a scared parent makes a scared kid.”

Lamkin’s father, Burton, was a principal at several Ann Arbor schools; his mother, Sally Ann, taught at Head Start (Brent Wall was one of her students). The eldest of three siblings, Dave went to Lakewood, Slauson, and Community High. At fourteen he started washing dishes at what’s now the Clarion Hotel. He quickly worked his way up to cook, worked at Weber’s and Stivers, and earned an associate’s degree at Washtenaw Community College.

At eighteen he hitchhiked to Wyoming, where he cooked at a dude ranch. He was startled once by a grizzly bear in his kitchen. It “could’ve taken me out with one swipe,” he says, but just ran over him on its way out the door, leaving him shaken but uninjured. He returned to Ann Arbor, but after “a bad romance” left again for Texas. His first boss on the Rio Grande greeted him with a shotgun in his hands.

Lamkin says his parents “prayed a lot” during those years. Finally, after a long stint as an Austin-area chef, he returned to Ann Arbor because he missed his young niece. “I left as a long-haired guy on a Harley and returned with short hair in a truck with a cat,” he laughs.

He taught at Pioneer High’s culinary arts program until its funding was cut in the mid-1990s–something that still upsets him. “It’s criminal … seeing all these programs dropped that taught kids basic skills and were a format for a career.” He still relishes teaching life skills to his special ed students–together, they’ve crafted birdhouses and pencil boxes, made pizzas from scratch, and gardened.

Linda Grieshaber, the head teacher in his Slauson classroom, marvels at his energy and patience. “He creates a relationship with kids,” she says. “He’s genuine with them, and the kids can sense that … They are his kids.”

Lamkin met his wife, Lynn Suits-Lamkin, a head accountant at Mechanical Simulation, after his hairstylist was “relentless” in trying to set them up. They’ve been married eighteen years. They enjoy spending time at their families’ properties up north–including his parents’ log cabin on Michigan’s west coast. A self-described “outdoor person,” Lamkin relaxes by tending his flower and vegetable gardens. “What works best for me is hard work,” he says.

At All Star, his latest challenge is the plague of texting. It’s a “hard sell,” he says, to keep the kid in the backseat off his or her phone–and he’s even caught the student at the wheel trying to check messages at stoplights. (Many adults, he adds, “set bad examples.”)

Former students sometimes honk when they see his car on the road–something he disapproves of when a nervous current student is at the wheel. But he says he understands why they’ll often “wave and shout” from stoplights: “You always remember your driver’s ed instructor, don’t you?”