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An Unexpected Experience:
AM General's
Hummer
H1 Driving Academy

By Shawn Pagan

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Friday morning was a little brighter but still had a slight drizzle of rain. When we arrived at the facility we were told that today would be a fun day with a friendly competition that would follow our morning Medical Awareness class.

The morning class was taught by a MD and Coroner from a nearby town. He is also a Hummer owner and avid wheeler who takes trips with his friends to various places across the country. The lecture was informative and introduced everyone to the medical supplies they should take for short trip, longer trips and what things should be attempted when lending aid to accident victims. The lecture concentrated on the types of injuries likely to be seen on the trails, including but not limited to, injuries like heat exhaustion, dehydration, animal and insect bites. The instructor was energetic, personable and would have blended into any campfire during any four-wheeling event around the country.

Tim Bonadies comes forward to address the class
Our First Aid instructor

After the lecture, the class was split up into two man teams and given a list of tasks that would use all of the skills we learned in the preceding days. The instructors call this the “Precision Driving Final Exam” and it consists of 6 mini competitions that can be found at many off-highway gatherings around the country.

(1) Hummer Totter – A timed event to see how long it takes you to balance a Hummer. Stops and backing were allowed and you must keep the totter suspended for 3 seconds to stop the clock.

(2) Egg Drop Soup – A short course where the Hummer is driven over an uneven surface and forced to make a u-turn in a small area barely big enough to fit your vehicle. Stops and one reverse are allowed without penalty.

(3) Double Slammy – A timed reverse course designed to test your ability to back up over obstacles.

(4) Log Jam – Slow time wins this one. No stopping or backing up allowed.

(5) Stevie Wonder Driving Test aka "Blind Man’s Course" – Driver wears a blindfold, passenger navigates through a maze of cones with eggs sitting on top of them.

(6) Nav-A-Gate – A GPS hide and seek game played across the entire off-road facility campus.

On obstacle 1, 2, 3 and 4, in addition to the setup of the mini-course the passenger had to lean out the window and drop a tennis ball into a tube in order for the time to be scored. Missing the tube added penalty time to your event. This ball drop ensured that the event was controlled because you could not fly through the events and give the passenger enough time to drop the ball. It was controlled chaos, to say the least, and quite entertaining.

Since we had five people in the class, I said that I would be more then happy to sit out of the competition but was told that I needed to participate. They brought in a recent graduate of the academy to team up with Adell so there was no arguing. I was teamed up with Erik and Calvin was paired with his son Stephen.

We proceeded outside to the course where we learned that each team member must drive for three of the events. Erik drove first for our team and we tackled the teeter totter. It took a little while to balance the large vehicle on the teeter totter. Once Erik figured out how it felt on the board he got comfortable and got the 3 seconds of balance required to move to the next obstacle.

Erik drove to the orienteering course and when we returned to the official with the goals collected he couldn’t believe we found them that fast, and then off to the first of the in-field course - Egg Drop Soup. We did have to back up twice (taking a penalty) to make the turn and probably could have made it through without doing that had either of us remembered to turn the Eaton locker off!

Teeter Totter
Ball Drop
Moguls
Egg Soup?

After that, we swapped seats and I drove through Double Slammy while Erik dropped a tennis ball down a chute. We then headed over to the log course where we thought the object was to go as slow as one could across the course. What they didn’t tell us was that we didn’t have to stay on the course - we could actually go off the course between the logs in order to “waste” time. The "one" team that figured this out won the event hands down with something like a 5 minute overall time for a 20 yard drive! Oh well, we got the ball in the chute and then moved on to the Blind Man’s course.

Erik did a great job navigating me thru the course and we only hit one cone and stopped on a dime without breaking the egg at the end - a feat that was much harder then it appeared to be on paper.

This “Final Exam” was a great time. It brought everyone together and once again the feeling of camaraderie, friendship and pride of accomplishment was evident in everyone involved. After the competition we spent a little longer driving around the property seeing what the Hummers could do and playing on the man-made obstacles around the park trying to get some photo ops for everyone to take with them.

Rock Hill Climb - aka "Guardrail"
Good-sized steps
From the bottom
"Golden Crack" - sort of
No articulation, but it eased through
Smooth descent
Playing on the rock path
Adell pretending with a military HMMWV
Rollers used to test the lockers
Coming out Of the Fording Basin

Once everyone filled their cameras it was off to lunch and unbeknownst to us a small award ceremony where yours truly was presented the Golden Throttle Award for my smooth driving style - and another award call the Woods High Center Award that was given to me for a feat of high-centering the Hummer more times in the woods than any of the instructors can remember. (Somehow I think the voting was rigged and my instructor was to blame! – I even heard him say once after I got stuck, “Well I knew no one had ever gone that way. I just wanted to see if it could be done. Guess not.”)

The lunch was quite tasty and the fun and sharing of the awards and the memory of things that happened throughout the week made everyone smile. Just the thought of the stories that would be told years down the road appeared to give everyone a warm feeling. It was a great note to leave on.

I said my goodbyes and headed back to Houston.

 
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