Hotel Airstream

We spend a weekend in a $180,000 Airstream Interstate to race $500 cars, and hope the dissonance doesn't explode our heads.

By Blake Z. Rong | Photos By Blake Z. Rong | February 13, 2013
Eight hours to Thunderhill Raceway -- an hour and a half north of Sacramento -- was a daunting, foolhardy task, but not impossible. That's what the man in the service department at Airstream Los Angeles insinuated when I returned the Interstate motorhome -- blanketed in dust and evaporated Windex, a bug-strewn morasses across its 6-foot windshield -- after a sweat-filled weekend of liquefied dinosaurs, of searing heat and shivering mornings. I hadn't taken a shower since the morning before. My deodorant ran out around the time my toothpaste did. "Sacramento, huh?" he said, struggling to convey the proper intonation. "Hot damn! That's what, like...nine hours? You must've been in there all day. Course, the people that had this before, these two girls from some blog, they drove it all the way from Jackson Center" -- Ohio, where Airstream calls its home -- "down here across the country." Here, his voice lowered. "5,000 miles." "They spent 30 days in it," he finished, beaming.
Thirty days may as well be a mission to Mars, and under such an extended stay the choice of company you keep becomes a matter of life and death. The Airstream Interstate luxury touring coach is no finer a partner for such cross-country escapades; a damn sight more comfortable, spacious, and grandiose than the Mazda Miata upon which I embarked on my own Winning of the West (though my lithe sports car eked out better mileage. Barely). Within its high-roof, 23-foot long, stretched Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis, the Interstate has an electrically-folding queen-sized bed, cream-leatherette upholstery -- buttery soft as to be damn near edible -- across four swiveling captain's chairs, a removable stone table that can be fitted in two locations, a propane generator powering a minifridge as well as two gas burners and a microwave, two 19-inch flatscreen televisions with digital satellite connections, a roof-mounted air conditioner that mostly converted hot air into noise, a 3.0-liter Mercedes-Benz BlueEfficiency diesel V-6 with 128 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque at a near-instant 1,200 rpm, a Kenwood touchscreen navigation system ripped from a 1990s Hot Import Nights show, and six tires with a full-sized spare in back. Its dark Onyx paneling is real wood, its faux-granite countertops nicer than my last 3 apartments. Its electric retracting awning unfolds with the glittering breadth and awe of the wings on Darth Vader's Imperial Shuttle, with gentle retracting arms elegantly locking into simple aluminum latches on the side. This is a state-of-the-art Airstream, after all, not a Boy Scout tent. The fresh water tank holds 26 gallons of San Gabriel's finest tap water; its filling process consists of jamming a garden-variety hose into the side and holding it "until it spills out and you get wet," said the service manager. "Oh, you don't want to fill it up here," the Airstream man kept explaining, "this water isn't exactly what we'd call 'clean.' You wouldn't want to do anything with it." Twenty gallons, incidentally, is about how much low-sulfur diesel fuel the Interstate can also hold, mercifully stored in a different tank. Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters toured the country in a 1934 International Harvester bus that he picked up for $1,500 and subsequently painted under the influence of hallucinogens. Our Interstate cost $121,274 and was finished in Jet Black, which made me feel like voting Republican. At that price, it is one of the most expensive and most lavish vehicles I have ever piloted. Which is exactly why I drove it to an endurance race for $500 cars.
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