As one of the three personalities that hosts the wildly successful show Top Gear, Richard Hammond has had the opportunity to race across Europe in a supercar, dog sled through the North Pole and transform a car into a space shuttle. But, perhaps, the most impressive thing he’s ever done is crash a dragster at 288-mile-per-hour and live to tell the tale. Now, the 42-year-old Brit is hosting another show, Richard Hammond’s Crash Course, where he’ll kick off the season by learning how to drive a tank. It’s no question that he has the best job in the world.
So, what is it like having the best job in the world? Getting here was a long and tangled path. When I was a kid I was car crazy. My grandfather used to build them in the U.K., so it was in my blood. I started in radio in 1988, in a local radio station and it built and built and I’ve been doing it ever since. We’re very lucky [the guys on Top Gear] as we’d been doing small car shows and we all came together and made a big one. Talk to us about crossing the magnetic North Pole with nothing but a pack of dogs. It was incredible. It was really cold, and the dogs could only run for so long, so we’d run for seven, eight hours, stop, set up camp, sleep for a few hours and then set off again. You’ve got to be careful. I thought you just sat on the sled and the dogs pull it. You don’t. You either run behind it or ski off it. If you take your gloves off you’ll get frostbite immediately. If you sweat, the sweat will freeze and you will develop hypothermia and probably die. Waking up in the morning and chipping your way out of your sleeping bag because your breath condenses and freezes—it’s amazing. I’d love to go back.
What else did you do that really sticks out? We’re very lucky boys. In this business we get to do some really exciting stuff. In Top Gear, it probably was that drive across Botswana in that little car. In Crash Course, it was the tank. That was cool—they let me fire live rounds from an Abrams. In Crash Course you’re doing some pretty physical stuff. What do you do to stay in shape? I run a lot. I have this five-mile run that I try and do a few times a week. If I do more, I get shin splints and it drives me mad, so I have to balance it. I work out every day—I’m 42. Your 40s are the first decade where what you do has a direct impact on the decade that follows. I did get hit on the head and have brain damage. I try to keep fit because it keeps my head in a good place Did that incident push you more towards fitness? I already was [into fitness]. I was told at the time that one of the reasons I made it, because I could very easily have died, was because I’m fit. I think a basic level of fitness can help the body cope with all manner of incidents. If there is a reasonable amount of muscle and sinew holding you together, it’ll make you better equipped. It made me more determined to remain fit, but so did crossing into my 40s. What about some general tips for car maintenance? The easiest and simplest thing that any one can do to make their car safer, more gas efficient, whatever—check the tire pressure. You look at a car sometimes and realize you have different pressures all the way around, it ain’t never going to work right. If the tires are over or under inflated, it can change the way it brakes, steers, and it could affect the way your car deals with mileage, which is something that is very much on peoples minds right now. Other than that, modern engines, you don’t really need to check the oil between services. Those days are gone. They’re pretty much a sealed unit. Tires are about all we can do on a modern car. Keep it clean, because it means you can see things coming up earlier. What kind of car would you suggest for a guy who isn’t a total gear head? You can’t help but going German—BMW or Mercedes—because the things just work. If you can stretch your budget, go for a BMW 3 series. At home [in the U.K.], and I’ve seen a bunch cruising around L.A., the little FIAT 500 TwinAir [is also a suggestion]. It’s got a little two-cylinder engine, which is full of character. You can actually learn about driving, finding the sweet spot the engine has to offer. You don’t have to be a gear head to enjoy that one. Check Richard out on Richard Hammond’s Crash Course, premiering tonight, April 16th at 10/9c on BBC America.