- The Washington Times - Friday, May 27, 2005

FARMINGTON, Pa. — As the truck rolls over the muddy bank and plunges into the depths, muddy water splashes against the windows and washes over the hood in an instant. The tires are sucked into the muck.

I’m at the steering wheel and fear is running laps around my spine. It feels like my feet might break through the floorboard — but the person in the back seat won’t stop laughing.

Ten hours of steady rain have transformed the forest floor to standing water and burnt-almond mud — a perfect day for a drive in a rented Hummer, with a professional riding shotgun.

Pennsylvania is home to dozens of tracks and off-roading courses where any amateur can book a white-knuckle road trip like this and call it fun.

Anyone who believes racing or off-roading is still a spectator sport, or that only actors and millionaires can partake, has been steered wrong.

You can spend as little as $25 and bring your own wheels for Friday Night Grudge Racing before a thousand spectators at Maple Grove Raceway, in Mohnton, to determine once and for all whether you or your pal owns the fastest subcompact east of the Mississippi.

Or you can drop $1,000 at the BeaveRun MotorSports Complex, in Wampum, and round the bends at triple digits in a rented Formula One-style car.

Whether it is a Ferrari Testarossa, or a Ford Tempo, a Hummer, or a Hyundai, you can get in it and race it in Pennsylvania — no experience necessary.

Track owners have recognized that almost everyone needs the occasional adrenaline fix, so they’ve tailored packages to fit nearly every taste.

At Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa, a posh retreat tucked away in southwest Pennsylvania, visitors can buy the “Adventures in Mud” package, a two-hour romp through the woods in a Hummer, followed by a Hungarian mud facial that “remineralizes, hydrates and balances.”

At Nemacolin’s Off-Road Driving Academy, you learn just what a Hummer is capable of during training at “the Rock.” Then you and a couple of friends can attack severe terrain that, for reasons that become obvious very quickly, go by names like the “Downhill Slide,” “Awkward Descent” and the dastardly “Triple Dipper.”

Later, perhaps, you’ll recover over a serving of La Belle Farm guinea hen with buttered cabbage and poached pear at Lautrec, Nemacolin’s French bistro.

If pig roast and beers are more your speed, 90 miles to the north is BeaveRun MotorSports, where it’s pork on a spit and some suds after Hummer training and a day in the slop.

“We’ll teach you to work on pavement, gravel and dirt,” says Danny Yanda, general manager. “Then we’ll take you through the woods and a run through bogs, up steep hills, everything, and then out for the pig roast. It’s a really good time.”

The racetrack is by no means a temple of testosterone. About 35 percent of the people racing motorcycles at BeaveRun are women, Mr. Yanda says.

Steve Myers, a driving instructor at Nemacolin, says he has had children rocked to sleep in child seats as mom and dad tear it up in a Hummer H2. The Hummer H1, available for the same price, is a little rougher.

It’s $275 for the training and the Hummer. Anyone in the vehicle can take a spin during the two-hour ride. It’s $60 if you want to go “Driving Miss Daisy” style, with a professional driver taking you for a ride.

Despite gentle reminders from Mr. Myers to keep my thumbs out of the middle of the steering wheel (to avoid sprains or broken bones), a jaunt over “Rutted Out,” through “In the Trees Serpentine” and down “Awkward Descent” at Nemacolin is surprisingly nonviolent.

The Hummer H2, the type you see most often on the road with no mud on it, is a pretty smooth ride given the extreme terrain.

I only slammed the skid plate once against a rock. And the H2 has heated seats, making the wait for your turn at the wheel quite toasty as you watch mud, rocks and sticks splatter and smack off the windows.

• • •

Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Sspa, 1001 LaFayette Drive, Farmington, Pa.; visit www.nemacolin.com or call 800/422-2736. More than 600 wooded acres and 20 miles of terrain with muddy ponds, logs, rock crossings, steep inclines and vertical ledges. Nemacolin also has a mile-long training course called “The Rock,” where you learn to ford water, climb, brake and shift gears in a Hummer H1 or H2.

BeaveRun Motorsports Complex, 201 Penndale Road, Wampum, Pa.; www.beaverun.com or 724/535-1000. More than 400 acres, including two race tracks, with a third under development. Classes range from highway safety to rally driving techniques to the “007 Experience.”

Maple Grove Raceway, 30 Stauffer Park Lane, Mohnton, Pa.; www.maplegroveraceway.com or 610/856-7200. Maple Grove holds the Frank Hawley Drag Racing School in June, but you can just show up any Friday night and test how quick you are off the line during Friday Night Grudge Racing. It’s bring-your-own-car, but track technicians will give your ride a once-over, to make sure it’s safe. You’ll need a helmet and $25.

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