Friday, December 17, 2004

Crash Test Dummies

Those who remember my mad dash from a speeding truck last month will be surprised to hear I revisited the Great Barrier 1 Net Test. Mike Lamore and his buddies assured us we wouldn't have to run for our lives this time, so reporter Erik Liljegren and I returned to the Randolph County holler these homespun engineers call home.

The mission was the same: Ram a full size moving truck into a giant kevlar net. Last time the assembled gearheads tried to drive the truck via a remote control. Aside from a total lack of steering control, it worked just fine. Wisely, Lamore hired a stunt driver this time - a lackadaisal young hipster who looked like he should be scooping yogurt off campus somewhere instead of strapping on a crash helmet and crawling into the truck's modified cockpit.

Still, the young man earned his coin, driving the familair truck (now sporting a giant Barrier 1 website address) into the net at 52 miles per hour. A loud pop rang out when the truck smashed into the net, followed by a few muttered curses from its designers. It snapped, wrapping it's heavy corded braids around the crumpled grill and quickly flattening tires. With the dust still settling, a herd of lenses pounded down the dirt road toward the smoldering wreck, the stunt driver stumbling out of the cab with only a slightly spacier look on his face than before.

Pointing my camera this way and that, I captured twenty second segments of the crash's aftermath as Lamore and company did their best to put a spin on the net's performance.

"It stopped the truck. If this was a bomb, he's not going anywhere now," he said as blue antifreeze poured from the truck's busted radiator.

I squinted through the viewfinder and wondered how much the dirt embankment just behind the net had to do with the truck's sudden halt. Hmmmm.

Snapped net or not, Mike Lamore and his screwdriver buddies are onto something. I have no doubt they'll eventually sell their Barrier 1 system to the military, once they get all the kinks ironed out. Until then, you can find them huddled at their Randolph County outpost, perfecting their 'Dukes of Hazzard' approach to Homeland Security - and making for some pretty good photo ops in the process.

What could be more American than that?

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