"What's your name, sir?"
"Melvin," said the man.
"I was kind of hoping we wouldn't get into that."
"Okay. Tell me where you work, then."
"Or that either."
"How about why you're here?"
If you thought John Ehrlichman and Greta Garbo were tough interviews, you'd feel right at home with students at the Washington area's one and only counter-terrorist driving school.
But if Melvin seems a little spooky, or excessively silent. consider what he may someday have to face: As the professional driver for an important government official or a ranking international businessman, Melvin may have only a split second to avoid a bomb, a barricade or a bullet.
Thus, he doesn't want potential troublemakers to know his face, his name or his counterstrokes. He asks that we forgive him his silence.
"It is all," Melvin explains, "just part of the business."
So, increasingly, is a 40-year-old man with an Abe Lincoln beard named Bill Scott.
A former Yale geophysicist and postgraduate fellow at a big-time Washington think tank, Scott used to race cars to break up the tension of academia. Soon, he was looking for a way to break up the tension of racing.
Scott gave up racing two years ago after a serious accident that cost him much of his hearing. He immediately opened the school that has become the largest, and many security people say the best, in the country for anti-terrorist driving. It is called BSR (for Bill Scott Racing).
Once a month, eight drivers, most of them professionals, gather from all over the country for four days and nights under BSR's wing. The agenda: evasive driving so violent and dangerous that the average driver won't have seem the maneuvers this side of the chase scenes in "The French Connection," much less be able to execute them.
The two chief tricks of the trade are the bootleg turn and the J turn.
The The bootleg is used if a barricade suddenly looms in one's path. By jamming the brakes and steering hard to the left about a quarter-turn at just the right moment, a car will jump up onto two wheels, spin around and suddenly be going in the opposite direction.
The J turn is used when one is, let's say, ridden off the road by a bad guy. A driver brakes hard and slams the gear shift into reverse. Going backward at about 25 miles an hour, he jerks the wheel as hard as he can to one side or the other. As the car careens up onto two wheels and makes a ferocious squeling noise, the driver straightens the wheel and shifts to a forward gear. Bye, bye, Mr. Guerrilla.
Naturally, this takes plenty of practice, and BSR rents the place for it: the two miles of asphalt at Summit Point road racing course, built here in the West Virginia panhandle a decade ago on land once owned by George Washington.
The students (or, more often, their bosses) pay the rather stiff tuition of $1,495 per person. That buys them about 50 hours - some of it film and pamphlets, but the great majority of it hot, dirty, tiring, scary lap after lap in a slightly modified white Chevy Nova at speeds of up to 90 miles an hour.
It is little wonder that BSR instructors wear helmets that list their blood types across the back. Or that some students simply run out of gumption and quit. Or that some get car sick.
Prospective students who don't like the smell of danger or burning rubber need not apply.
But the thrills and chills of fast driving only partially explain the motivation of last month's star BSR pupil, an 18-year old Reston woman named Chara, who was all of one month out of high school at the time.
Chara has known how to drive for a mere three years. She still has to ask her mother for the keys to the family Subaru. But she wants to make a career of driving for someone who can afford her evasive skills. And she is serious enough about it to have developed the same case of disappearing last name as the rest of the BSR students.
"I don't type," said Chara. "I've tried being a waitress. I've been a receptionist in a terrible office. The funny looks I get here are nothing next to the money you can make. And I can't make the money without this training.
"I'm sorry about the last name bit. But I know people are going to look at me when I apply for jobs and think, "A woman? How the hell can she get me out of a spot?" I'd rather they found that the answer to that is what you see me doing out on the track, not in the papers."
The BSR course appears just as valuable to more experienced wheelmen.
Woody No-Last-Name chased many speeders when he was a Lombard, Ill., policeman. Later, as a cross-country truck driver, he made a livelihood out of avoiding sudden hazards and dangerous swervers.
For the last few years, Woody has been the personal chauffeur to an international banker in Chicago. Although he acknowledged that he he will probably never make a bootleg turn on the Illinois Tollway - and would create quite a show if he did - the maneuver is "still good to know," Woody said.
Another thing that's good to know is who his students really are, Bill Scott said.
"I don't do business with reclusive millionaires," he said, "and I never deal with anybody from a Communist nation."
Anyone who tries to slip into a BSR class under a pseudonym, whether he can afford the tuition or not, will be carefully checked out and barred if necessary, Scott said.
He has had many government chauffeurs as students, including former FBI director Clarence Kelley's driver, Scott said. Any CIA types? "Absolutely not."
"It's hard here," said Scott. "We mean it to be. We push these drivers beyond the facade. We want to know what they'll do when they're hot and tired. The employer should know that, too."
Scott acknowledged that it's a shame his business is needed.
"But hardball is hardball," he said. "I don't have any special insights. I just try to stay aware of what's going on. I'll go whichever direction terrorism takes me." CAPTION: Picture 1, Driver pursued by another vehicle uses his car to ram open barricade.; Picture 2, Bill Scott coordinates driving practice from his van.; Picture 3, Boxed in and facing a barricaded roadway, the driver learns a J-turn maneuver to foil pursuers. By Michael Ford Parks - The Washington Post.