by Paul Ruben
In the November 2002 issue of Park World I wrote about Legoland California’s Driving School, which allows “pre-teens to feel empowered as they test their driving skills on city streets complete with Lego stoplights.” Now it was time for me to test my driving skills, but not on city streets and not with stoplights. During the off-season you may wish to try this yourself.
I visited The Greenbrier, one of America’s most prestigious resort hotels, and home to its newest attraction, the Greenbrier Off-Road Driving School. The concept of an off-road driving school for Land Rovers devotees is not unique. The original version started at Gleneagles in Scotland, run by Mark Phillips, Princess Anne’s former husband. Greenbrier’s school is different. People who come here probably have no experience with a Land Rover, but have a love of the outdoors and a load of money.
After some preliminary instructions from Homer the instructor, which I promptly forgot, he led me to a shiny new black Range Rover, an $80,000 four-wheel drive vehicle that seemed too luxurious to take off-road. But it is built for just this task, with 11 computers that control complex features such as downhill braking and lifting the vehicle off the ground to avoid scraping underneath. Needless to say, I still scraped it.
We drove about two miles down the highway before turning off into the soaring Allegheny Mountains. Then I took the wheel and we shifted into off-road mode. First challenge was the Wall Of Death, a drive up and then down a 60-degree rollercoaster steep hill. I was amazed that we climbed effortlessly. I was then told to not brake going downhill. The Range Rover would brake automatically. Somehow the car’s centre of gravity stayed within the tipping point and we reached the bottom.
We then slowly drove off through the woods, up a creek bed, and over some tree stumps. I could hear the tree branches scraping on the roof and sides. Glad this wasn’t my car, but my car couldn’t get here in the first place. We paused to take the photo above, my left front wheel triumphantly lifted more than a foot off the ground.
This was great fun, but what does it have to do with amusement parks? Me thinks we should have an amusement ride that mimics off-road driving. Rob Norris of Seabreeze recently called my attention to the Flying Cars that once operated at old Riverview Park in Chicago. Flying Cars used a large revolving barrel with small cars attached to the rails inside the barrel wall. The barrel rolled and if riders held the car’s brake it would roll with the barrel. One could roll up a wall, release the brake and roll backward and forward, or even turn oneself upside-down. Flying Cars would be a Scary Fling, and an anagram, too. I’d like to try this; wouldn’t you?