SYCAMORE – If you see a heavily armored truck barreling down the road during a thunderstorm, make sure you’re driving the other way.
“Don’t follow it,” Jim Leonard said. “If you see this car in bad weather ... don’t follow the car. Don’t be within 25 miles of the car. As a matter of fact, go the opposite direction for your own safety.”
Leonard was talking about the Dominator, an 8,000-pound Chevy Tahoe outfitted with armored plating and reinforced windows that allows storm chasers such as Reed Timmer, of the Discovery Channel show “Storm Chasers” and tornadovideos.net, to get very close to tornadoes.
Leonard is an occasional backup for Timmer’s team, sometimes helping with tours as he was doing Monday at the DeKalb Sycamore Chevrolet Cadillac GMC dealership at 1925 Mercantile Drive.
Sometimes, Leonard rides in the vehicle during a storm. And when he does, he always feels the fear.
“It’ll give you gray hair when you first go in,” Leonard said. “Anybody who says they’re not afraid when they go in, or something like that, really don’t know what they’re doing. Being afraid – there’s no shame in being afraid – it’s what you do when you’re afraid that really counts.”
In addition to the armored plating and reinforced windows, the body of the vehicle is further reinforced by a protective weather coating from LINE-X.
LINE-X Protective Coatings, Inc. is sponsoring the Dominator’s tour, and is also a sponsor of www.torandovideos.net.
To demonstrate the resiliency of the armored plating coupled with LINE-X’s protective weather coating, David Yanke, president of LINE-X of Greater Illinois, pointed to a small dent in the rear passenger bumper.
“This was hit by a 2x4 they figured was going 200 mph, enough to spin this vehicle around,” Yanke said. “But it only put a small dent in it. It didn’t damage the exterior coatings of it.”
Most people know of LINE-X’s work through the protective coating that goes into the flatbeds of pickup trucks.
But the resistive coating has also been used by the Pentagon and on U.S. Navy ships, in addition to local SWAT vehicles and riot shields, Yanke said.
Leonard said Timmer’s team was currently chasing tornadoes in a newer version of the Dominator.
Some of the changes between Dominators include a more sophisticated radar system located inside the truck (as opposed to being on top of the vehicle), and an improved weather probe launcher.