Richard-Hammond-Crash-Course-Abrams-Tank.jpgIn 2006, Richard Hammond, co-host of BBC America’s auto extravaganza “Top Gear,” suffered head injuries after a serious accident while driving a jet-powered dragster.

He recovered and has continued piloting all manner of fast vehicles
alongside co-hosts Jeremy Clarkson and James May, but to the casual
observer, it might seem like tugging on Superman’s cape to be starring
in a new show, premiering Monday, April 16, on BBC America, called
Richard Hammond’s Crash Course.”

“It is slightly awkward,” Hammond tells Zap2it, “the mention of crash
with my name next to it, but it is a crash course, in the sense that I
got to a new place and hook up with a bunch of guys doing a specific
job, using a very specific and dedicated machines.

“Then I have a crash course, because I have a few days to learn that job
and how to use the machine to do that job. Then at the end of that, we
see if I measure up.”

Over six episodes, Hammond travels across the U.S., testing his driving
skills against all manner of giant vehicles, from tanks to lumbering
equipment to a bulldozer to a trackhoe, wrecking ball and the mega-sized
version of the tiny claw people use to grab stuffed animals out of the
machine at the arcade, only Hammond uses it to lift tons of recyclable
material at a landfill.

“These aren’t things that people play with,” he says. “These are
machines with a job to do. That way, you have to talk to people about
the job they do with the machines, so it’s as much about people, the
American worker, as it is about the actual machine.

“Obviously, I’m messing about, trying to learn how to drive an M1A2
Abrams tank or an enormous great fire engine at Dallas-Fort Worth
Airport, but I’ve got to get to know the people and talk to them.”

Asked what was the most terrifying vehicle he has to master, Hammond
says, “The most daunting was possibly the Striker, which was the largest
fire engine in the world. If you’re outside it, it was the Abrams M1A2
tank, which is a pretty fearsome weapon. The military were good enough
to spend a week letting me learn not only to drive it, but also to work
as driver, commander, gunner and loader.

“I ripped down a house using an absolutely huge trackhoe. Normally they
allow six months to get to do that, but I had to learn to be really
precise with it very quickly, so that I could pull down a house with
surgical precision, I like to think. It was the right house. I made sure
they labeled it clearly, so I didn’t make a terrible error.”

Not all of Hammond’s harrowing experiences were behind the wheel.

Richard-Hammond-Crash-Course-Lumberjack.jpg“I was in the woods in Oregon,” he recalls, “with the lumberjacks there,
and I was desperate to get my hands on these incredibly complicated
machines they use to process the woods. It was amazing. Before they’d
let me get near them, they made me climb a tree, because that’s how they
all started.

“You know how they use one of those belts with spikes on your boots, and
you kick into the tree trunk? They look about a thousand feet high to
me, and they just have to keep climbing up. I’ll be honest, I’m not very
good with heights, but I’m glad they made me do it.

“The lumberjack that I was talking to, he’s not the youngest of men, he
wouldn’t believe that I had a go. It was terrifying. But I was glad they
made me do it, because it gave me a better understanding of their job.
Also, from the viewers’ point of view, they got to see a tiny Brit being
brought down a peg or two.”

Hammond was even tempted to stick a vehicle or two in his back pocket.

“Yes, well,” he says, “the tank, I might get into trouble if I tried to
hide that in my backyard. Come on, it’s amazing. Yes, the Striker is a
magnificent thing. All kids love airport fire engines. I asked them,
Does it have to look this cool?’ I loved it.”