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Motor Trend Salutes West Point

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 4/10/2015 Jonny Lieberman

We wanted to impress the cadets. After all, Motor Trend ’s editor-in-chief Ed Loh and senior features editor (me) were heading up to West Point to chat with mechanical engineering students about the current state of the world’s automotive landscape. When you’re representing the nation’s largest automotive content producer to our country’s premier military academy, you want to do your best. And we told ’em: how our Car/Truck/SUV of the Year programs work, about the good/bad stuff from the New York International Auto Show, industry trends including autonymous cars and lightweighting through advanced materials, and exactly how amazing the Dodge Hellcat is. We even brought a Dodge Challenger Scat Pack (about $40K) and a Rolls-Royce Wraith (just a tick under $400K) along with us, figuring that everyone attending our talk would be a gearhead. Turns out we were right, as the cadets were enthralled by the cars. What we didn’t count on is how much they wound up impressing us.

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West Point is our nation’s top military academy. It’s fair to argue West Point is the world’s foremost military academy, as students from other nations can and do attend before shipping back to their home countries for service deployments. Not only do you have to be intelligent and hardworking to get accepted (West Point requires a nomination from a member of Congress, the vice president, or other high-ranking officials; service-connected nominations are also available), but you must be a physical specimen, too, and athletics are mandatory. To summarize, after just a few minutes of interaction it became all too apparent that Ed and I were surrounded by 4,400 cadets who were smarter, stronger, and of course younger than us.

Dodge Challenger RT Scat Pack and Rolls Royce Wraith in West Point© Provided by MotorTrend Dodge Challenger RT Scat Pack and Rolls Royce Wraith in West Point Why were we at West Point? Because of the dogged, never-take-no-for-an-answer attitude of a fourth-year (Firstie) cadet named Sean Kealey. Cadet Kealey is an international relations major who also happens to be a major (no pun) Motor Trend fan. How big a fan? He was incredibly excited to meet our photographer, Mike Shaffer. A huge car guy, as well (Kealey just bought a C7 Corvette), the cadet has been actively trying to get Motor Trend to do something, anything, with the Army for at least a year. While I’d personally love to shoot a car with a tank (one idea), timing never worked out. But when Kealey asked if we could come up on Easter Friday after New York International Auto Show press days, it was an offer we couldn’t refuse. Cadet Lt. Kealey’s persistence got us to West Point.

Two things besides the intelligence, ambition, and character of the cadets surprised us. One is how much more interested they all were in the Wraith than the Challenger. You’d figure that a bunch of late teens, early 20s mechanical engineering students would be at least evenly split between the two, with maybe slightly more of them interested in the electric blue muscle coupe. But no. We could barely keep the cadets off, let alone out of, the Rolls-Royce. It broke my heart when I had to tell a couple cadets that they probably shouldn’t climb in the back, because their boots would tear up the leather. In retrospect, I made a mistake. However, I did have a nice chat with a cadet named Jake while we cruised the campus. He informed me he’d like to be a liaison between automotive engineers and designers. I thought back to what I wanted to be when I was Jake’s age, and I’m too embarassed to print any of it.

Dodge Challenger RT Scat Pack and Rolls Royce Wraith in West Point© Provided by MotorTrend Dodge Challenger RT Scat Pack and Rolls Royce Wraith in West Point Ed thinks that if we brought a Hellcat (“I tried, I really tried, but they were all on the show floor at the New York show,” he says), things would have been different. That being said, he had a great time showing the not insignificant amount of diehard muscle car fans the wonders of the Scat Pack Dodge. While I was cruising along and chatting with Jake in the silent Wraith, Ed and three cadets (Kat Sedy, Jeremy Matsumoto, and Terry Baggett) were cranking Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” in the Challenger and singing along -- loudly.

Our campus cruise ended at the mess hall, which really blew us away. I’ll let Ed, our full-time foodie, and part-time military geek, take over:

Dodge Challenger RT Scat Pack and Rolls Royce Wraith in West Point© Provided by MotorTrend Dodge Challenger RT Scat Pack and Rolls Royce Wraith in West Point “Years ago, I remember watching a fascinating episode of ‘60 Minutes’ on West Point. It covered the academy’s intense focus on discipline and respect, the mental and physical challenges, and the transformative effect it had on its cadets. But what I still remember to this day was the mess hall — the same gray stone fortress we used as a backdrop for the cars and cadets. Washington Hall is an enormous and impressive place. It’s a cavernous series of wood-paneled halls lined with flags of our allies, large framed portraits of various leaders, and scenes of war frozen in stained glass. On the southwestern wall is a massive, 2,450-square-foot mural depicting the 20 most significant battles in recorded history up to the founding of West Point in 1802. At the other is a “poop deck,” or balcony, large enough for special announcements, speeches by dignitaries, or rounds of carols by the West Point Glee Club. Because of its size, Washington Hall often serves as a main staging area, but its primary purpose is feeding hungry young minds and bodies. As mess halls go, Washington Hall’s size is only exceeded by its efficiency; it can seat and feed hot meals to more than 4,400 cadets in 25 minutes or less. Cadets sit 10 to a table, with the most senior cadet at the head. Meals are eaten family-style, the most junior cadets announcing what is available (as loud as possible given the din) before serving: ‘SIR/MA’AM, THE BEVERAGE FOR THIS MEAL IS PUNCH. WOULD ANYONE NOT CARE FOR SOME PUNCH?’ Cadet mess is such a fixture and focal point for the West Point experience that it has its own Facebook fan page (with 2,821 likes at last count)."

Dodge Challenger RT Scat Pack and Rolls Royce Wraith in West Point© Provided by MotorTrend Dodge Challenger RT Scat Pack and Rolls Royce Wraith in West Point Most unexpected and perhaps impressive of all was Maj. Elsa Johnson, a West Point graduate who now serves as an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and is one of the advisers to the mechanical engineering club we presented to. After graduation, cadets are obligated to serve five years active duty and three years in the reserves. After graduating in 2003, Maj. Johnson deployed to Korea and then served two combat tours in Afghanistan. What did she do there? Flew Apache attack helicopters. Suddenly, the fact that I’ve turned a dozen laps on the Nürburgring without crumpling anything shrank considerably. We (of course) let Maj. Johnson play around in the Wraith, and as Army attack helicopter pilots go, she was surprisingly excited about the opportunity. At one point I showed her the night-vision system, and we watched cadets walk toward us, the heat signatures of their faces glowing brightest. “I used to fly with this …”

If you’re looking for America’s best and the brightest, they are studying, practicing, marching, and drilling about an hour north of Manhattan. Dodge Challenger RT Scat Pack and Rolls Royce Wraith in West Point© Provided by MotorTrend Dodge Challenger RT Scat Pack and Rolls Royce Wraith in West Point Dodge Challenger RT Scat Pack and Rolls Royce Wraith in West Point© Provided by MotorTrend Dodge Challenger RT Scat Pack and Rolls Royce Wraith in West Point

Dodge Challenger RT Scat Pack and Rolls Royce Wraith in West Point© Provided by MotorTrend Dodge Challenger RT Scat Pack and Rolls Royce Wraith in West Point
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