A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail from a racing instructor named Ron, asking if I wanted to get some track time in my Nissan Skyline GT-R. So I pondered Ron’s question for several minutes, and I really thought about it, and then a light bulb went off in my head. And this is how I ended up on a race track with a 7,000-pound military vehicle designed to support a machine gun turret.
You’d know all about my Hummer track day if you followed me on Twitter, because I’ve been excitedly posting pictures all week that show my Hummer with a bunch of race-prepped track cars. But here, today, I’m going to actually tell you what it was like to drive my Hummer on the race track. I’ve also created a video documenting the experience, which I highly suggest you watch, because the entire thing felt like showing up to a rallycross in a dump truck.
So here’s what happened. First, I should say that I was expecting a relaxed event, given the rather casual nature of Ron’s e-mails. (At one point, he said: “I love doing stupid things with vehicles.”) But then I showed up, and I realized this event was far from casual. Although this was merely a National Auto Sport Association (NASA) practice day, there were guys with heavily modified, track-only Porsches. Guys with Corvettes that looked like LeMans race cars. Guys with trailers that cost more than a Princeton degree. One guy was using a BMW X5M as his tow vehicle. It was around this time I started to realize that I was going to die, and my place of death was going to be New Jersey Motorsports Park.
But Ron calmed my nerves by informing me that I wouldn’t be going out on the track with any of those guys. Instead, he said, I’d be going out at lunchtime. This made me happy, because it meant that a) I wouldn’t be taking away track time from anyone, and b) I wouldn’t be killed.
Unfortunately, my fears returned when I started talking to a few of the other drivers. One instructor, Jordan, gave me a brief overview of what I could expect from the course, before noting that I had picked a great track for my Hummer adventure. “Why’s that?” I asked. “Because,” he replied, “there’s a lot of runoff.”
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So there wasn’t much faith in the Hummer when we set off a few minutes later with Jordan in my passenger seat as an instructor (“I’m going to wear my fire suit”) and Ron following behind in his Subaru BRZ with a GoPro mounted to the hood. Several other drivers also decided to tag along on the track, because – let’s be honest here – you don’t turn down hot laps with a Hummer in favor of a track day sandwich and a bag of Fritos.
So how was the Hummer on the track? I think I can sum it up for you in one word: Slow. Actually, just “slow” doesn’t quite do it. Glacially slow. Pathetically slow. Insanely slow. So slow that I think we could’ve easily been passed by a 9-year-old boy with a Razor scooter and a racing helmet.
It turned out that the Hummer was going so slowly that everyone’s fears about my safety were largely unfounded. Jordan, my girlfriend, my friends – they were all worried something bad might happen. But the Hummer could hardly muster up enough speed to get into “something bad” territory. Instead, our situation would’ve been more accurately described as “residential speed limit” territory. After I maxed out at 65 miles per hour on the track’s longest straightaway, Jordan amusingly informed me that his BMW M3 race car hits 140 in the same spot.
But don’t think for a second that I wasn’t going all-out. You’re going to watch the video and you’re going to think that I slowed down, or I was easing up to protect the Hummer, or I lowered my speed so I wouldn’t die in a giant fireball shaped like a file cabinet. But this is not the case. I was absolutely, 100 percent, balls to the wall, foot on the floor, from the moment we got out on the track. It wasn’t me that was keeping speeds down. It was the fact that the Hummer has the same horsepower as a Jetta, but weighs as much as a bowling alley.
Of course, the Hummer track experience was about more than just speed. Here’s another thing I learned about driving a Hummer on a race track: it’s absolutely terrifying. You’ve got all these cars buzzing around you, but you have no idea where any of them are, because a) your mirrors are buzzing just as much as the cars, and b) you’re driving a vehicle the size of a rural school district. So you kind of fling it into corners randomly and guess where other vehicles are located based on their sound, which is not unlike how I expect a blind person would drive a Hummer around a race track.
And then there’s braking. Before we got started, I assumed the Hummer would have so much brake fade that it would only manage about two laps before the wheels began shooting flames the size of a giant redwood. But here’s the thing: when you’re only doing about 40, you don’t really jam on the brakes. You just kind of tap them, and place the Hummer in the proper line, and hope to God you aren’t about to flatten a Miata. By the last lap, Jordan had stopped telling me to brake for most of the turns.
Interestingly, however, I do have one piece of praise for the Hummer: cornering. Even though the Hummer has enough suspension travel to climb over a wood-paneled PT Cruiser, the damn thing managed to stay surprisingly flat in the corners. And I don’t mean “oh, the body roll was so mild that I only vomited twice afterwards.” I mean the thing stayed dead freakin’ flat, to the great surprise of me and Jordan. Later, I realized this is probably because we never got up enough speed to cause body roll.
Unfortunately, my excellent Hummer track day experience ended after only about five laps. Here’s what happened: initially, Jordan told me he could feel things getting hot on his side of the Hummer. At first, I wasn’t sure whether to believe him or infer that he was getting tired of driving around a race track in a vehicle the size of a school bus. But just a few minutes later, coolant started bubbling up over the hood, indicating that, indeed, the Hummer had enough. And so, like so many highly tuned, hugely expensive, track-prepped race cars before me, I steered over into pit lane. “You don’t have to put on your turn signal,” Jordan said.
When we opened the hood, we discovered there was no leak, no loose hose, no giant problem with the engine. Instead, the issue was simple: the Hummer had gotten hot after five laps at full throttle, and the coolant’s expansion tank had spit up a little coolant. I breathed a sigh of relief: the Hummer wasn’t broken. It was merely saying: Stop doing this, you giant asshole.
So we did stop. We let the NASA guys get back to their track day, and we drove home to Philadelphia on the wide open highway at full throttle; pedal to the floor; maximum Hummer velocity. Along the way, we were passed by several semi trucks.
Thank you to Ron S., Jordan L., and the entire NASA Northeast region crew and participants for letting me on the track for the five most enjoyable “hot laps” of my entire life.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn’t work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.