As one of the three hosts of BBC’s “Top Gear,” Richard Hammond drives the world’s rarest cars in some of the most beautiful places on Earth. But his new show “Richard Hammond’s Crash Course” puts him in the driver’s seat of a different type of exotic — tanks, trucks, and specialized work machines, tested on job sites across America.
As one of the three hosts of BBC’s Top Gear, Richard Hammond drives the world’s rarest cars in some of the most beautiful places on Earth. But his new show Richard Hammond’s Crash Course puts him in the driver’s seat of a different type of exotic — tanks, trucks, and specialized work machines, tested on job sites across America.
Interviewed by Jesse Will
Break down your new show. What will we see?
It’s about a short Brit who thinks he knows everything who comes to America and tries to operate some of the most demanding work site machines around. I’ve got just a few days to pick out the basics of something that usually takes years to learn, and then as a kind of exam, we see if I can cut it on the site. But really it’s as much about the people doing the jobs as it is about the machines that are used to do the jobs.
For ten years you’ve been driving some of the fastest machines ever produced — Lamborghinis and Ferraris and cars even crazier than that. Now you’re driving stuff that goes about 1/10th the speed. Isn’t that a regression?
No. These are single-purpose machines — whether it’s a 100-ton scraper on a landfill site or an Abrams M1A1 tank, they have one job to do. Quite often, they weigh over 100 tons, and I’ve found them pretty daunting.
Did your instructors ever get annoyed?
Say they’re a firefighter in Fort Worth. Normally, the alarm goes off and they run out, suit up, jump in, and go to work without thinking. But for them to actually explain to this little idiot boy who thinks he knows everything about how a firetruck actually works… I think they enjoyed it. Everybody likes to talk about what they do, and sometimes it does you good to break it down and think about it.
You’ve now driven nearly everything on wheels, so you’re fairly qualified to give notes back to the designers of the Abrams tank on how the thing handles. What would you change? How’s the cornering?
Well, I’m a civilian, so on the M1A1 I’d just work on the interior. I’d put less sharp corners inside it. I think I’d put some leather in there, a bit of suede. There is nothing wrong with a bit of Alcantara. And there was no cup holder in the driver’s area.
Of all the vehicles in this series, which one would you bring back and put in your garage if your wife let you?
I don’t think anybody would let me bring the tank back, which is a shame. But it’d be fairly harmless, because I’d never remember how everything worked. On the show, I missed a target by half a kilometer at one point, so nobody would be in any danger.
In the tank, you fire a missile at a minivan. In a logging machine, you toss trees 50 yards through the side of a family car. What’s the problem? Is everything okay at home?
One day, you wake up and think, “oh God, it’s today, isn’t it? Today’s the day I’ve gotta have a minivan.” And then you accept your fate and shuffle into middle age and trundle about. But me, I drove a bulldozer over one. I saved some people from that awful fate, and that’s good of me. It’s a service I provide.
Soon, you’ll be back to driving Top Gear supercars. What new knowledge will you bring to that program?
It’s made me just think before I operate something. If you praise a Ferrari, that’s a single purpose vehicle. But if you’re driving an everyday, ordinary vehicle that has a much wider span of purposes, you have to judge it very differently. “What am I doing? Am I just driving to the shops, going to work, racing around a track?” If nothing else, it’s taught me to stop and think, “what is this thing for?”
NASCAR recently took a survey to figure out why young male fans are leaving the sport. One of the answers they found out is that in general, young men say they don’t have an interest in cars like previous generations did. Is car culture dying?
It’s just a trend. The operation of machinery, whether that machine is designed to help you lift, dig, carry, dominate, go fast, impress a mate — whatever it is, that’s an essential human layer that chimes with all of us, because at a primal level, whatever we’re trying to do, there’s a vehicle for it. I don’t think that fascination will ever leave us.
Richard Hammond’s Crash Course premieres Monday, April 16 on BBC America .