past year I was invited to attend the AM General Hummer H1 Driving
Academy in South Bend, IN. As you might expect, I was thrilled
to get the chance to go, but somewhat skeptical of what I could
learn at a driving academy that catered to rigs that were typically
not on the trails that I frequent. The usual comments I have heard people
make included “too big”, “too heavy”,
“too wide”, “doesn’t articulate,”
I have a number of friends that have owned H1’s
for years. However, I have to be honest, and say that many of them also have
other rigs and typically use those for the harder trails.
So having said all this, I went to the Academy with excitement
about doing something new but with a little apprehension about the “driving” and “learning” aspects. After all, I spend time on some of the toughest trails around. But
to be fair, I actually prefer trail rides with all different types
of vehicles and the club I belong to is open to anything with
4 wheel drive and a 2 speed transfer case. So I went to South Bend with
an open mind and a hope that I could learn something about the
Hummers in order to help others out on the trail.
The Academy team led by Tim Bonadies treats each person like
a king from the time of your first call right thru to the time you
leave South Bend. Once you have filled out the registration form
and get set up for one of their scheduled classes the fun begins.
They seem to ask you an endless list of questions which you will
find even more intriguing when the classes actually start.
The cost of admission to the Academy is an all-inclusive fee
and includes your lodging at the South Bend Marriott, all meals,
an H1 to use during scheduled activities, a driving instructor
(usually on a 2:1 student/instructor ratio), ground transportation
to all activities and airport transfers in South Bend. Participants
really only need to find their way to South Bend with their clothes,
their camera and their sense of adventure.
The basic schedule for the Academy follows:
Arriving the first night I wandered down to the “Evening
Reception” and enjoyed the good food and the company of
people that really like to 4-wheel. I don’t really know
what I was expecting but I guess I was caught off-guard by how
pleasant all of the staff was to be around. They were all low-key
and talked about their off-highway experiences and why they came
to work for AM General. Many of them wandered around to the tables
and introduced themselves to everyone in the class and all of
them had stories to tell.
Tim gave a short speech and introduction and thanked everyone
for coming. After that, everyone shuffled tables and spent some
time getting to know the other people we would be spending the
week with. While none of the classes are huge, this one was fairly
small. It consisted of Erik, a chef from New York, Calvin, owner
of a broadcasting company in California, Steven, an Oral Surgeon
from Oregon (and Calvin’s son), Adell, a magazine editor
from California doing a story for “Rides” magazine
To Day 2