WAMPUM, Pa. (AP) — At a racetrack north of Pittsburgh, the air is thick with the smell of burning rubber and overheated brake pads. Cars hit speeds of 100 mph, then execute 180-degree, sliding turns.
But the drivers squealing around the BeaveRun Motorsports Complex aren’t risking lives in the name of speed — instead, they are speeding to save lives, teaching people leaving for Iraq the skills they may need while driving in a war zone.
As government agencies and private security teams prepare people for deployment, business is booming at racetracks offering instruction on driving through roadblocks, past roadside bombs and away from fiery ambushes.
Analysts say it became clear early in the conflict that U.S. troops, contractors and members of the Coalition Provisional Authority are most vulnerable while on the road.
That’s increased the demand for training facilities that can teach drivers how to drive fast, drive hard and “Get off the X” — an imaginary box where insurgents have trained their most devastating fire.
“If not unique to Iraq, it is much more important” to have highly trained drivers, said Jack Stradley, managing director at the security firm Kroll Inc. “The insurgency has realized there are so many contractors and so many Western personnel moving around Iraq, it is easy and efficient to attack them as they move.”
At BeaveRun, about 30 men, identified only as operators under the control of the U.S. State Department, were in the midst of an intense, three-day program in which mock attacks will be sprung and explosions detonated.
Later in the afternoon, they smashed through cars blocking a road — or, in the words of Don Barrack, the chief of training at BeaveRun, they “became the hammer on the nail.”
All of the men training Monday will depart for Iraq this summer.
BeaveRun and other facilities stage ambushes as part of the training, filling vehicles driven by CIA and special operations soldiers with a barrage of pellets from paintball guns.
Students get an idea of what can happen to anyone in a stationary vehicle under attack by assailants using even rudimentary weapons, Mr. Barrack said.
“You can get a bigger car, and they’ll get a bigger gun — you’ll always be the loser,” he said as he accelerated out of a turn at more than 100 mph. “We’re building a better driver, not a better car.”