It is a bright Saturday morning in April, following a full day of briefings, tech inspections, route planning, and vehicle preparation for the Best in the Desert Racing Association's Silver State Series Terrible Town 250 and I am sitting in the co-driver's seat of Team Hummer's prized No. 4101 Stock Class H2 race truck. About 30 minutes from the starting line, I am mentally preparing for the start when driver Josh Hall reminds me, "OK, you have to go three more times before we get to the starting line, so keep drinking water. That way I'll know you are hydrated."
He has a point. It is going to be close to 100 degrees and I am belted into the race truck, just outside of Pahrump, Nevada, wearing a Sparco three-piece flame-retardant suit and gloves, along with a full-face helmet with the Parker Pumper fresh-air breathing system. It's going to be hot and there aren't going to be many opportunities to keep hydrated or to cool off. So down goes another bottle of water and I am getting used to urinating through a catheter, a trick used by many racers for years. You can imagine where one end is attached, and the tube, taped to my leg, comes out just behind my boot on to the floorboard of the H2, where strategically placed holes allow it to water the Nevada desert at 90 mph, a tricky maneuver that requires lifting oneself up out of the deep-pocket MasterCraft G3 race seats (while belted) and straightening a leg to remove any kinks in the line.
Just a month before, I had received a call from a friend at Hummer asking me if I was interested in co-driving a race for Team Hummer, and without hesitation I agreed. But now, strapped in tight, looking like an astronaut and only a few cars from the start, I began to wonder just what in the world I had agreed to do.
As we neared the start line, I had gone my requisite number of times and then some. With the starting flag waving, it was wide-open throttle from the start, and the 2005 Best in the Desert SUV Class Points Champion H2 was off, bounding and crashing through the desert over and around obstacles. Josh is locked in, the dominating competitor in him coming through to me loud and clear. Up to this race, he had won 9 of his last 10 races, with only an internal transmission part's demise the race before keeping him from chasing 11 consecutive victories. This was a man on a mission, with incentive to start a new streak.
Also in this race are Josh's brother and championship racer Chad Hall, in the inaugural race of a newly minted H1 Alpha race truck, and their legendary father, Rod Hall, the only man in history to have raced in every Baja 1000 to date, the winner of the very first Baja 1000 in 1967 and the only driver to ever win the Baja 1000 overall in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Co-driving for Rod in Team Hummer's H3, is our very own Four Wheeler TV host, Bob Bower, well-regarded in racing circles in his own right.
The precision at which Josh pilots the H2 amazes me. Truck-destroying whoops sections are conquered in stride. He seemingly knows every curve, dip, and boulder on the course. And he isn't afraid of any of them, he knows just where to place the vehicle, and the Hummer never feels loose or top heavy, the four-wheel-drive system working overtime and doing its job well. One second, we are flying over the tops of rocks, the next barreling through them. The H2 knows no bounds, it dutifully responds to every input, and I am along for one helluva ride.
However, it isn't a free ride, and I am expected to do my share of work. While Josh manipulates the on/off switch, known outside the racing community as a gas pedal, my job was to monitor the vitals on the truck through a diagnostic readout, alert Josh to upcoming obstacles from a sheet of known hazards, check our mirrors for any competitors gaining on us, spot obstacles or wrecks on the course, work the GPS system, blast the freight-train horn, split duty on the radio, and call in what pits we were arriving at and if we needed assistance, such as fuel or tires-or water-and handle anything else needed by the driver.
When Josh Hall gets into his zone, it is all business with only necessary communications being shared between us on the in-car intercom, and his focus isn't unlike a sniper zeroing in on his target. In fact, in his spare time he teaches military Special Forces advanced tactical driving techniques in Humvees; he even used to build special Humvees with increased performance envelopes for the military. It is obvious that he knows exactly what he is doing and is executing his plan.
It isn't long before we pass our first competitor, and one by one, Josh reels them in. A friendly blast, and then a not-so-friendly blast of the train horn moves them over, clearing the way for the imposing H2. Near the silt beds, we catch up to another truck and a race breaks out. Blowing through the nasty silt, Josh veers to the side of the road where it is harder packed and passes yet another racer in a flurry of dust and exploding bushes. This ride is amazing; the H2 is much faster than I expected. It isn't the fastest I've ever gone, but dodging obstacles at speed, yet respecting the limits of the machine (which are quite high) give me new respect for Hummer's H2. I have rockcrawled in Jeeps, I have taken our Power Wagon over Hell's Gate-stock-and I have wheeled in the backcountry of Africa, but I have never enjoyed dirt the way I was experiencing it today.
What makes this even more remarkable is that all of Team Hummer's vehicles compete in the stock class, meaning that they have to remain as close to stock as possible, with modifications limited to things like tires, shocks, and springs-things that don't fundamentally change the design of the vehicle and can be had from your local dealer. The H2 is mostly stock, including the frame, wheels, and body. Even the control arms, CV axles, e-Locker, transfer case, power steering, and braking system are all stock. The rules do allow for axle reinforcements, but the H2 didn't require any and still has the stock axlehousings and gearing. Shocks are special Fox reservoir units that better deal with the extreme temperatures of racing and do increase travel a bit over stock, with one shock per corner up front and four in the rear. Torsion bars are sourced from a GM HD truck, but the rear springs are factory pieces. The engine is a stock 6.0L block, but has a bump in compression, bringing horsepower up to 345, 20 more than stock, which helps to offset the larger 37-inch BFGoodrich racing tires. The radiator has more cooling capacity than stock, but the oil and tranny coolers both came from the factory.
It is surprising to me at the amount of abuse the 7,200-pound race truck can take, and it rides smoother than expected. That's not to say smooth, mind you, as the H2 only has 9 inches of front travel and 11 inches of rear travel, but the several hours of racing are akin to a 250-mile car crash, yet the adrenaline is pumping and we hardly feel a thing.
After swapping out somewhere around the halfway point with one of the regular co-drivers-Crew Chief Sam Cothrun (the other co-driver is GM project engineer Thad Stump, who can also be considered the mad scientist behind the H2 and apparently knows the ins and outs of this truck, and the H3, better than his own toolbox)-I join the chase team in mildly modified Hummers, listening to the progress of all three vehicles on the radio, before heading to the finish line to rejoin Josh and Sam, who have once again crossed it as winners of their class, earning me a BFGoodrich tires "Winner" hat. This is good since Josh has absconded with my recently acquired Four Wheeler hat.
It wasn't all about the H2, though, as Chad and the H1 Alpha race truck completed their first race, and Rod Hall crossed the finish line for the third win in the new H3 race truck. All in all it was a great showing for Team Hummer.
Despite popular belief, racing isn't just for marketing purposes; there is some real value in what the race program brings to the Hummer brand. With all of the data that comes from Team Hummer, the brand has instituted many running changes to the production vehicles, ranging from bushings to driveline components, ensuring that Hummer consumers directly benefit from the knowledge learned from racing.
I must express my appreciation to Team Hummer for the experience, and take my hat off to all of the people it takes to make a race team possible. I also want to thank the Halls for their hospitality and allowing me to be a member of the team. If they ever need help co-driving again, they know I'll be ready.