What It’s Like to Drive a Tank for the First Time Ever

Outside of a select few within the military, how many people can say they drove a tank? Well, I, Riley Winn, can now proudly boast that I have joined that group of people. And it was absolutely epic.

Driving a tank turned me from a weak, man-sized toddler into a hairy-chested, red-blooded, American man. Before driving a tank, I was winless in ping pong at work and the coolest thing I had ever driven was a 1994 POS Toyota Camry.

And this is me afterward.

Drive a Tank Chieftain MK10
Courtesy of Riley Winn/The Manual

You may be asking, “Where do you even find a tank outside of an armory?” The answer: the aptly named Drive A Tank in Kasota, Minnesota. Established in 2006, Drive A Tank offers people the opportunity to, well… drive a tank. Packages vary from the “3 Star Lt. General” which allows you to drive one tank through the on-site course all the way up to the “5 Star Commander in Chief” that offers you the opportunity to helm multiple tanks, shoot automatic weapons, and even crush a car with a tank.

The Manual was invited out to Minnesota to drive tanks as part of a promotion for the video game, World of Tanks, and its new expansion WOT: Mercenaries and drive the same tanks that are featured in the game. The staff member they invited out was unable to go and asked me if I wanted to. I immediately responded with “OFYB!” (Oh fuck yeah, bro) Hey, this is the one-time sloppy seconds is a good thing. Who wouldn’t want to drive a frickin’ tank?!

Preparation

Before getting into the driver seat of a tank, there are some things you need to know. At Drive A Tank, you are required to wear long pants and closed toed shoes. That seems like a no-brainer since you’re driving a machine that is meant to kill people.

Tanks are cramped, rugged, and dirty. Don’t bring any clothes you care about too much; with all the mud and oil, you’re going to ruin whatever you’re wearing. Bring ibuprofen — you’re going to be sore and you’ll probably walk away with a couple of bumps and bruises. There is very little padding and almost all the edges inside a tank are rough and unfinished. Actually, it’s funny how much the inside of a tank can harm you without even considering what it was designed to do. If you’re a bigger guy like myself (6’2, 210 lbs. a straight-up beefcake), it’s going to be even more uncomfortable for you. Tank drivers are usually among the shortest people in the infantry. Also, you look like a dufus when half of your upper body is exposed outside of the tank.

You will also want to bring some Goldbond (or follow these tips) because nothing ruins the thrill of driving a tank more than chafing. Lastly, bring your best military gear. You’re going to be doing a lot of badass shit, so look the part.

What It’s Like to Drive a Tank

When arriving to Drive A Tank, you must go through the safety training with Tony the Tank Commander. I called him Crazy Tony because, damn, he was having as much fun as I was out on the course and he does this every day. After our safety training, we were carted out to the driving track in a FV432 Armoured Personnel Carrier. We were then paired into groups of three to go and get into the tanks. Our Tank Commander asked us who wanted to drive first and, letting out a noise similar to a dog’s whimper, I enthusiastically volunteered.

FV433 Abbot Self-Propelled Gun

Nothing will get your adrenaline pumping like hearing that engine roar and the cloud of diesel smoke shoot out the back. The first tank (yes, I drove multiple — be jealous.) was the FV433 Abbot Self-Propelled Gun. The hardest part about driving a tank isn’t the actual driving, it’s being able to get into it. When plopping down into the driver’s seat, I was immediately uncomfortable. My shoulders were smushed up against hard metal and my knees were hitting something no matter how I moved them.

Once I was finally settled in, my Tank Commander started instructing me on how to drive. In the driver’s seat, there are two levers located between your legs. These levers are your steering wheel; pull back the left lever to turn left, pull back the right lever to turn right, and pull them both back to stop. The gas pedal is on the right and a shifter on the left — and thank my heavens, this tank was an automatic. I didn’t want to be the guy who kept stalling because I can’t drive a stick. Make fun of me all you want; I drove a tank and you didn’t.

Drive a Tank
FV433 Abbot Self-Propelled Gun World of Tanks

At first, I was hesitant when pressing on the gas. The tanks are massively powerful and it’s quite intimidating. Also, I had two guys hanging out the back that I had just met, so I was being cautious for their sake. I slowly went into my first turn and when I came out of it, Tony yelled over the engine at me, “You’re not going to break the tank, let’s give her some gas!” When he said that, I came out of the turn with the pedal to the fucking metal. I was ripping through the course, mud flying in my face, and hit the next turn at full speed. I drifted the tank through that corner like I was auditioning for the next Fast and Furious movie. I looked back at the guys on my team and one of them had actually fallen a little bit into the tank and the other guy looked like he thought we were going to die. Did I slow down? Hell no.

“You’re not going to break the tank, let’s give her some gas!”

We were cruising through the course when we came to the midpoint, aka a stop sign right before a giant puddle the size of a pool. My Tank Commander gave me some more instruction on how to approach the puddle, followed by the green light. I slammed my foot on the pedal and went full steam ahead into the water. Boom, Free Willy! You would’ve thought you were at Sea World because there was a splash that would’ve soaked everyone in the front row. I came out of the puddle with my foot still all the way down on the gas and went into another turn, which was rockier than the others because bottomed out a little bit. The jarring completely obliterated my shoulder and I looked at the guys behind me; they were both inside the tank with their hands still hanging onto the railings on the exterior. They didn’t let me drive them around after that. Wusses.

FV432 Armoured Personnel Carrier

On my solo rise, I drove the FV432 Armoured Personnel Carrier, the same vehicle we rode out to the course in. It had the same configuration in the driver’s seat with one small twist that made it exceptionally hard to drive; a periscope. This tank was even more cramped because they close the hatch on you and you drive looking through the periscope to drive. Knees to chest looking out through a tiny periscope. When looking through the periscope it really disorients you and your surroundings, your eyes wig out and it’s hard to focus. You have no peripheral vision. My lense was fogging up and the outside of the periscope was getting covered in mud. This thing was tough to drive, but still a blast!

Chieftain MK 10 Main Battle Tank

The day was coming to an end and I thought to myself, “Man, this has been the best day of my life.” But, wait, there’s more! The kind folks at World of Tanks had arranged for us to crush cars. The tank we were using was the Chieftain MK 10 Main Battle Tank. Spoiler alert: It was cramped as well.

I settled in and my Tank Commander gave me my instructions. I didn’t have to worry about steering or anything; I just sat down, put it in gear, and slammed the pedal. I felt the first contact of the car underneath the tank and spontaneously starting singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” because ‘Merica! It surprised me how little impact you feel within a tank while going over a car. You really have no grasp whatsoever how powerful a tank is until you get in one. I exited the tank and my Tank Commander gave me the keys to the car I had just crushed. It was like opening a present on Christmas morning as a kid.

What I Learned

Well, I learned how to drive a tank. Is there a classification on drivers’ licenses for that? Driving a tank really matured me into a man. When I came back to the office, I won two games in ping pong, a thicket of hair sprouted on my chest, and I started getting traction with the ladies (maybe because I open every conversation with “I drove a tank.”).

IN all honesty, I learned a lot about tanks and their history. Most importantly, I gained an even greater respect for the men and women in the armed forces. Imagine being in one of those rugged, hot, cramped machines for 14 hours a day. Completely miserable. It’s because of the sacrifices they make that I was able to have the opportunity of a lifetime and brag about it write this article.

Tank Facts

  • Tanks shoot in a nearly straight line. It must have its target in its line of sight.
  • Self-propelled guns are artillery, meaning they shoot upwards and usually cannot visually see their targets.
  • Tank drivers are usually the smallest person in their infantry.
  • The average tank lifespan in battle is 42 minutes.
  • Most tanks get less than 1 mile per gallon.

To schedule your own epic adventure, schedule a trip to Minnesota and head on over to Drive a Tank. If you’d rather drive tanks from the safety of your home (we won’t judge), that’s what World of Tanks is for.

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