‘Top’ Guy Richard Hammond Shifts Gears in ‘Crash Course’

by | April 16, 2012 at 12:10 PM | Interviews, Top Gear

Richard Hammond launches 'Crash Course' (Photo: Gilles Mingasson for BBC AMERICA)

Let’s just get it out of the way up front…Richard Hammond has sold his Lamborghini.

If you know “Top Gear,” BBC’s worldwide hit automotive series, then you know for years on that show Hammond has been reviewing ridiculously expensive cars with his co-hosts Jeremy Clarkson and James May. He knows his way around exotic automobiles as much as anybody and one would expect him to have something like a Lamborghini in his garage.

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Hammond and “Top Gear” have also become famous for weird contests like racing against a car dropped from a helicopter and bizarre stunts like attempting to launch a three wheeled Reliant Robin into space. They’ve also become well known for their vehement hatred of camper caravans, ultimately destroying more caravans on their show that likely any other. If he’s sold his Lamborghini it must be for something even more crazy…right?

Wrong. Richard Hammond replaced a Lamborghini with a VW Campervan. When posed the obvious question that a Campervan is eerily close to a caravan, Hammond denies the charge. He goes on to explain that driving a Lamborghini down to the local village to get some milk made him feel like a (insert English word I can’t type here in polite company) and that the Campervan is great to use with his family. Not very “Top Gear” at all!

Preview the Premiere of “Crash Course”:

But never fear, Hammond (or Hamster as he’s affectionately known to fans) has found some amazingly crazy new machines to fill the void and he’s presenting them to us in his brand new show “Richard Hammond’s Crash Course,” debuting Monday, April 16 on BBC America at 10/9c. Filmed in the US, each episode finds him being dropped into a new work environment where he has three days to learn how to operate a large and often very dangerous vehicle. A vehicle specific to the task at hand.

DVR “Crash Course” Here

Training comes from the folks that use the machine every day. “I meet them, hang out with them, learn what they do and have lessons myself,” says Hammond. “And by the end of my stay over a few days, hopefully, I’ve learned to do what they do. Often I am terrified with these enormous machines and it’s about the machinery, but more realistically and truthfully it’s about the people who use [these machines] in their daily jobs.”

During this season Hammond will learn to operate a landfill compactor, logging machinery and even the world’s most powerful fire engine. In the first episode, he is ordered to drive a US Army Abrams tank over some of his favorite cars. They are crushed. “Sometimes you need to spice it up and I’ve got to be incentivized to learn to do what I have to do,” he says. “But that was following orders which if you are going to be part of that team, you’ve sure as hell got to be able to do.”

One of the cars he crushes is a beloved Porsche 928. “I had one of those, I loved it. They were an important car. They were supposed to replace the 911. They were significant to one of my favorite marques of car and a man was barking at me to drive over it!” Hammond pauses. “It was great fun though.”

Launching a new automotive show is tough and in recent years many have failed. Hammond though looks to his learnings from “Top Gear” to help make “Crash Course” a success. “If you’re making something very narrow, then OK there is a market but they are specialists and will always find that sort of thing,” he suggests. “If you are making something about a particular subject but broadening it to appeal to everybody then I think that’s something very different and demanding but it can be done as’ Top Gear’ has done. I think in the case of ‘Crash Course,’ because it’s the same as ‘Top Gear’ it’s mostly about people. I might be at the helm of a 100 ton scraper machine in a landfill, but it’s talking to the guy who uses it or the guy who uses a tank in a military conflict situation. It’s finding his stories out.”

Hammond also discovered that his American trainers were great on camera. “I knew Americans were bright on TV, but I did not know how much and I didn’t understand fully why. I didn’t understand this basic desire just to enjoy the business of communication. The Brits, we’re not actually sullen or ill tempered, nor even shy. It’s just, for whatever reason, we don’t embrace and relish the prospect of a chat. Working in the States, the moment you talk to someone on camera or not, they come alive and they want to communicate. Which means as a program maker it’s an absolute joy!”

So many of the vehicles he learned to use in the series were on tracks (rather than wheels with tires) that Hammond fell in love with that form of propulsion. “I actually bought a small tracked vehicle when I got back to the UK”. Sure it’s no Lamborghini, but hopefully he finds that it’s a better means of transport when the need arises to go down to the local village and get some milk.