- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2008

When James Bond slides his Aston Martin around a corner at 80 mph, stops on a dime, throws the car in reverse and does a quick 180 to escape oncoming danger, do you ever wonder where he picked up those skills?

It certainly wasn’t in driver’s ed.

Tucked away in the mountains of West Virginia at Summit Point Motorsports Park, a dozen average Joes were given the chance to do what Bond does, courtesy of the International Spy Museum. As part of the museum’s ongoing effort to offer the public a glimpse into the lives of the intelligence community, Amanda Ohlke, the museum’s manager of adult education, designed a special anti-terrorist driving course.

“We have always wanted to do some sort of evasive driving course,” Miss Ohlke says. “Pop imagination associates that with the spy world. It is taught in the spy world, and we wondered how we could translate that from the CIA to here so it would be exciting, doable, and not kill anyone.”

Not kill anyone?

“That’s a goal for a lot of our projects,” she says with a laugh.

To meet that goal, the day’s events were broken into two parts. Before lunch, there was a condensed version of the accident-avoidance course taught by the staff of BSR Inc., the company engaged by the Spy Museum to teach the anti-terrorist driving course.

“We teach emergency car control,” says Greg Cobb, one of the instructors. “In driver’s ed, did they ever put you on a skid pad? Did they ever have you come hurtling into a turn? That’s the difference between what we do and what they do.”

Our 12-person group was divided into four subgroups and sent out to the track in four cars. My car’s instructor first took us to the skid pad, a circular road with a strip of paint on the inside edge that, when wet, reduces traction and sends cars into a slide. Learning to steer out of a skid resulted in more than a few out-of-control spins before we got the hang of things.

Next up was threshold braking. This entailed revving up the car to a high rate of speed and then applying enough braking pressure to rapidly slow the vehicle without locking the brakes. We also participated in some precision driving, slaloming in and out of cones as quickly as possible and speeding around corners while slamming on the brakes.

After lunch, the real fun started.

First up: Y turns. Imagine you come upon a roadblock; terrorists pop up, guns drawn. How do you get out of there?

Throw the car in reverse; threshold brake while cutting the wheel to the left and coming to a rest at 90 degrees; slam the car into drive and peel away.

But what if you don’t have time? What if said drawn guns are blazing away? That’s when the J turn comes in. After getting up to a high rate of speed in reverse, slam on the brakes and jerk the wheel toward the open lane while simultaneously slapping the gear shift from reverse into drive. If the turn is performed properly, you should do a full 180-degree turn and continue straight ahead without missing a beat.

Let’s say you don’t have space to perform either maneuver or that there’s a roadblock ahead and a roadblock behind. Fire’s incoming; your car can only take so much damage before the armor is compromised. What then?

Ram the roadblock, of course.

The BSR staff threw us, helmeted and goggled, into a beat-up station wagon and taught us the proper method of slamming into an obstructing car. The biggest difficulty is overcoming the mental block most drivers have when it comes to using our vehicles as weapons.

“People have so many misgivings and old wives tales about cars, especially in a culture like ours,” Mr. Cobb says. “Often we have a tough time trying to get a person to hit another car. People relate car-to-car contact with crash, death, destruction. We proved the other day that wasn’t true.”

After the lesson in barricade breaking, the BSR staff put us through a simulated attack, setting up barricades, snipers and other obstacles. I’m happy to report the imaginary VIP I was protecting (probably) survived after I rammed the roadblock in front of me.

The anti-terrorist driving course is a nice complement to other programs the Spy Museum offers, and it’s certainly the most expensive: $1,095 for museum members, $1,200 for nonmembers.

“We would do it again,” Miss Ohlke says, even though the museum barely broke even on the day. “It’s something fun and unique. The museum’s all about pushing the envelope in terms of programming.”

Not to mention the gas pedal.

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