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
I packed up the Airstream Interstate with my helmet, a newly-christened racing suit, my Sunday best Levi's, about 80 bucks worth of various imbibements and cased meat products, and my lovely girlfriend Rachel, who knew as little about cars as she knew as much about Doctor Who and proportionally cared as much. We were headed to Thunderhill Raceway, two hours north of Sacramento, where I would be driving a 1979 Ford Fairmont at the 24 Hours of LeMons: a specialty endurance race series designed for cars that cost no more than $500, and were cruelly shoehorned into competitive duty. The Fairmont had two things going for it: it had a newly swapped 200-horsepower, iron-block, straight six lifted from Ford's less dark days, and a brush-painted livery devoted to Billy Carter, keeping with the theme of keeping uncouth presidential relatives well within our memories. I had never driven a Ford Fairmont before. I had never driven at Thunderhill before. I had never gone there in a vehicle in which I could conceivably live. It would be racing in the grand European tradition, where young, swarthy men would hop into Citroen H-Vans with their girlfriends in tow, and trapeze across the country from racing venue to racing venue, stopping only to indulge in the finest Fume blanc and the farmer's wife. The spirit would still be there, if not the arm hair.
We left Los Angeles on a Thursday night, under cover of darkness. The Airstream drove smoothly and directly, in a manner unbefitting of its size. Despite a curb weight close to 11,000 pounds, it felt less burdensome than, say, the Meals On Wheels Ford F-150 with a dual refrigerator/heater bed that I drove for my first real job in high school. The view out the windshield is expansive, like a set piece from 2001. There's a sense of invulnerability in something of this scale; I found myself casually crossing a parking lot humming "Flight of the Valkyries," then parked across four spaces at a Safeway, merely because I could. Later, I left. When the sun fades away the denizens of the night come out to ply their way up the 5: the proud, eighteen-wheeled procession of American commerce, a noble and solitary pursuit best undertaken at dark. Rows of trucks clogged the right lane: some with Texas and New Mexico plates; some with Bible verses on the back; some that pull out for a pass and hold up our pace for a few pernicious minutes. Rachel puts on the theme song to "Convoy" to fit the mood, to which she knows all the lyrics. At 1 in the morning, bleary-eyed, we pull into the KOA Campground in Prunedale, California -- less an idyllic wooded haven of nature than a parking lot off the 101, across from a Valero and a Denny's, filled with even more lavish bus-length RVs and their corn-fed occupants. We sleep transversely in the back of the Airstream, feet pressed up against the sides.
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