An Unexpected Experience:
AM General's
H1 Driving Academy

By Shawn Pagan

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Hummer H1 AcademyThis 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,” etc.

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:

Day 1:

  • Afternoon Arrival and check-in at the South Bend Marriott
  • Evening Reception and banquet where you will meet your instructors

Day 2:

  • Hummer Plant Tour
  • Driver Orientation Training – Basically and overview of what will happen over the next several days
  • Level 1 Off-Road Driving and Recovery Techniques (Seat time!)
  • Intro to Navigation

Day 3:

  • Level 2 & 3 Off-Road Driving
  • Off-Road Trip Preparation
  • Vehicle Field Repairs at the Hummer Technical Center

Day 4

  • Sand Operations & Highway Driving Time
  • GPS Navigation Training
  • Night Driving Operations

Day 5:

  • Off-Road Medical Awareness
  • Timed Event / Final Exercises (Team Fun!)
  • Debrief Of Timed Events
  • Final Awards (Lunch)
  • Head for Home

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 and myself.

On To Day 2   


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