- The Washington Times - Friday, October 19, 2001

Finally you have that new Hummer you've wanted for so long. So, what's next? Many new Hummer owners join an increasing number of enthusiasts who want to find out what the Hummer can do, what makes it tick, how to fix it, how to take care of it, and how to get out of trouble when stranded.

One suggestion might be to join one of the many Hummer clubs across the United States. These clubs provide a chance to get together with kindred spirits, swap stories and drive a few off-road trails. These events are mostly social.

For the true Hummer enthusiast, however, there's a great alternative: the Hummer Driving Academy. It might sound a bit academic. However, it's anything but that. Think about traversing 300-plus acres of rocks, mud, streams, ponds and remote woods. Imagine trying to find a golf ball in the woods using Global Positioning System navigation. More important, consider learning how to maintain and repair a Hummer even replace a half-shaft in less than an hour.

Started three years ago, the Hummer Driving Academy was conceived of by Bill Thompson, Hummer's director of fleet sales and customer service. According to Thompson, "The whole concept is to increase the appreciation for the value of the truck."

The teaching philosophy is threefold: Tell how to do it, show how to do it, and then let the student do it. After that, Mr. Thompson says, "They know what to do."

That's what enrollees in the academy get to experience and more. Most who go through the course have nothing but praise about their experience. They get first-class treatment but have to endure a rigorous off-road training exercise involving climbing muddy hills, crossing fast-moving streams, fording deep ponds, traversing seemingly impassible rock fields, and crawling through sandy swamps.

First, there's a tour of the Hummer assembly plant to give owners a real appreciation of how their vehicle is put together. Then there's classroom instruction about the Hummer's powertrain, with a detailed description of Hummer's unique design, so drivers will know how to use its features to best advantage.

Next, one of Hummer's highly qualified instructors demonstrates how to handle rock fields, extremely contorted trails, and deep water. After that, the student gets behind the wheel to traverse some incredibly difficult terrain: muddy, rutted slopes; rock-strewn trails; fallen logs; and 30-inch deep ponds. An experienced instructor is always in the passenger seat to offer advice about how to best use Hummer's drive-by-wire throttle and its unique traction control.

Drivers also learn important safety practices, such as how to winch, what to pack for off-road travel, and how to handle emergencies. For example, students are shown how to feed the cable into the winch, as well as what kind of hand protection to wear, and how to anchor the cable to prevent personal and environmental damage. The off-road exercise focuses on programs, such as "Tread Lightly," that encourage off-roaders to stay on designated trails.

As a bonus, Hummer devotees learn from instructors with military experience how to navigate using just a map and compass, as well as the more modern GPS technology a reminder to those who venture into the wilderness that they can't always call 911. To reinforce their lessons, students get to take home a state-of-the-art GPS receiver.

Hummer owners are difficult to stereotype, but most are self-made professionals. At a recent session, participants included a computer chip manufacturing executive, a certified public accountant, and a cigar distributor from Florida. All bought their Hummers for different reasons but profess a remarkable loyalty to the Hummer brand.

Hummer Driving Academy is a 41/2four-day course available only to Hummer owners and their guests. At $5,250 the academy isn't cheap, but everything, including the driving vehicles, is furnished. All participants have to do is get to South Bend, Ind. After that, Hummer provides room, meals, a nice assortment of wearables, and a generous welcome to those who want to learn more about their Hummers.

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