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June 2011 4Word

4word
Phil Howell | Writer
Posted March 17, 2011

Smash!

Smash!
The windshield of the H1 cracks as a branch hits it while we tear through the Baja backcountry. I’m driving as hard as I can, trying to keep up with Rod Hall, who’s driving an identical H1 and is now far ahead.

This adventure started when AM General called to ask if I wanted to go to Baja with Rod Hall and a few others from the factory. It was 1992, and Rod was going to see if he liked the H1 well enough to race them. I wasted no time saying yes; I wanted to go along. We met in San Diego, and then headed south to a point halfway between Mexicali and San Felipe that had been part of a Baja 500 racecourse. We entered the course to the west of Laguna Salada in an area that was a mixture of sandy washes, graded road, two-track, rocks, whoops, and beautiful desert backcountry.

We had four H1 Hummers. As mentioned before, Rod Hall was driving one, AM General staff were driving two others, and I was driving the fourth. I figured this was my big chance. I had driven for decades in the backcountry and was a competent Jeeper. Over the years, I had convinced myself that I was a hot driver at higher speeds, too. My friends had heard me say, If I was in a race truck, I could easily compete with anyone! They usually rolled their eyes and changed the subject (but what did they know?).

We lined up two abreast in our Hummers, Rod and me up front. At the word, we floored the H1s, not spewing gravel as these had normally aspirated 6.2L GM diesels in them, and gathered speed until we were traveling at a respectable clip through the desert. Rod immediately got into the lead. I was driving as hard as I could to keep up. The H1s we were in had a tendency to launch the rear into the air when traversing whoops. Disconcerting at first, we soon learned that nothing untoward was going to happen, so got used to it.

These vehicles were also 7 feet wide, so the creosote bushes, ironwood trees, cactus, and everything else that hung over the trail slapped the vertical windshields with a resounding whack! until the smash! that signaled the windshields were finally cracked. All four Hummers had broken windshields by the end of that day.

Anyway, we were speeding through the desert, and I was concentrating hard. I don’t remember seeing the other two Hummers behind us once we really got moving, but I saw Rod up front. For a few minutes, that is. Hot pilot Phil, who could wax anybody and was driving as hard as he could, lost sight of Rod after about eight minutes and could only see his dust at times. In 20 minutes, he was out of radio range! Alone in Baja, I had time once in a while to glance around and take in the beauty of the desert. I also had time to ponder that maybe I wasn’t quite the off-road racer I thought I was. After lunch, I told one of the AM General drivers I wanted to ride with them on the way down from Mike’s Sky Ranch to Valle Trinidad.

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