Standing with off-road guru Mark Smith at the break of a steep hill (70-degree descent angle), I realized this could have been one of many four-wheel-drive courses Smith has built and one of many I've seen and driven. But this was different. There were camo'ed military trucks performing maneuvers in the 100-foot-long pea-gravel pit, motoring at sharp, 45-degree hill-side angles in the figure-eight area, throttling up the 120-foot-long pyramid hillclimb, and inching through the six-foot-deep V-ditch, also with 45-degree sides. Drivers and passengers wore Army helmets, and trucks of many sizes and types had machine-gun turrets and M-16 rifle holders. This was not your average off-road playground.

Smith, who was commissioned to design this Severe Off-Road Track (SORT) and has been associated with the legendary Rubicon Trail since the start of the Jeepers Jamboree in 1952. He's built 4x4 courses for DaimlerChrysler, as well as for other purposes, including military training.

This two-mile-long track on a 20-acre plot of ground is unique in a number of ways. It'll be used by both Army and Marine Special Forces for training purposes, as well as a permanent demonstration and evaluation track for military personnel, members of Congress and the Pentagon, and representatives of Federal Government agencies. The goal: to evaluate commercial vehicles outfitted for military and other back-country duty in an area within the national capitol region. The track was built with the help of the Navy Seabees for the new COMmercially BAsed Tactical Truck (COMBATT) program.

"This unique off-road oval track features numerous challenges designed to approximate what a military vehicle might encounter on a border-patrol assignment or during a homeland-defense mission," says CWO-4 Gary Dickerson. "The variety and severity of the SORT obstacles give the services and industry an opportunity to obtain a quick assessment of real-world off-road-vehicle performance."