Each year I make the trip from Minneapolis to Elkhart Lake, WI for the big vintage sports car race weekend at Road America. This year I made that trip in high style… read on… lots of race car photos from the event at the bottom of this post.
If you’re not familiar with Road America, it is a 4 mile long sports car racing course, with 14 turns, up hill, down hill… built in the early 1950s. Everyone who is anyone in sports car racing over the past 60 years has raced there from Mario Andretti and Al Unser to Carrol Shelby and Phil Hill. Each July Road America hosts the largest gathering of vintage race cars in the Midwest… think Monterey Historics in the middle of Wisconsin farm country. More than 600 race cars generally participate, racers come from all over the country with their cars… most arriving as very well funded race teams in semi trailers. There is no prize money, nobody does this for a living, this is a leisure sport for gentleman racers and quite a few ex-pro racers. There are cars worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, even worth millions of dollars, going wheel to wheel around the track, some cars were clocked this weekend at over 220mph! Imagine doing that in a 30 year old car!
As any good Dave Knows Cars Blog reader will remember, I recently re-acquired my old 1982 Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia, I was planning on taking that on the 6 1/2 hour road trip to the track… but when the opportunity presented itself to take a lightly used 2010 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Based Pleasure Way Camper with just about 14,000 miles on its odometer, I jumped at the chance.
I felt bad, looking at my little Westfalia sitting behind this shiny new Mercedes based rig… for about two minutes, then figured the Sprinter was a much more comfortable vehicle. It has a powerful Mercedes-Benz diesel engine which allowed me to set the cruise control at about 74mph and get over 20 mpg. I could keep up with traffic and stay cool with the A/C blasting all the way down to Elkhart Lake in 90+ degree temperatures in mid July.
I packed up the Sprinter Friday morning with clothes, a few pairs of shoes, real bed sheets and a pillow… no sleeping bag, as I would simply press a button to electrically fold the ultra soft leather rear sofa down into a queen sized bed once I arrived at the campground at the track. I loaded the fridge up with a 12 pack of Sam Adams bottles, a bottle of orange juice and a few bottles of water and switched it over to propane power, the LP powered refrigerator kept everything cold all weekend.
This particular Sprinter is the short wheel based model, the smallest Sprinter RV you can buy. It has two front seats, a galley kitchen complete with a two burner electric stove top, microwave, sink and enough cabinet space to hold everything you’d need for quite a while. Moving towards the back there is a bathroom with toilet and stand up shower. All the way in the back there is a large sofa that can be used as regular seating while driving that folds down into a queen sized bed when you’re ready to sleep. There is a flat screen TV in back along with a DVD payer and remotes for both… so you can watch a movie while on the sofa or in bed. I kind of felt like Robin Leach as I pressed the button to fold down the electric sofa bed… ‘Champagne wishes and Caviar Dreams’.
The drive down was great. I set the cruise control between 70mph and 74mph depending upon traffic turned on the A/C and just cruised. I don’t drive large vehicles very often and, I must say, I don’t generally care for them… things like Escalades and Suburbans, they just don’t appeal to me, they feel truck like and big, I feel like I can’t see around me. While the Sprinter doesn’t have any rear windows on the driver’s side, the passenger’s side is full of them and you can actually look back there to see if there is anyone on that side of the vehicle when you’re changing lanes. The exterior mirrors were great, plenty big, and they had there were integrated blind spot mirrors on both sides which made for a great field of vision. It was so easy to drive and maneuver, you’d never know that you were in such a big vehicle. I parked in a regular parking space when I stopped at a Culver’s for lunch… right next to all the other regular cars.
Once I arrived at the race track I pulled into the camp ground and pulled up to my SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) worker buddies… they were surprised to see me in this rig, they climbed up and walked through to have a look. It was pretty much decided that we all need one of these things. Once in the camp ground I opened the roof vent and turned on the small roof fan.. with the fold out windows open plenty of air circulates throughout the camper. In fact, when I went to sleep I just left two small, screened windows open and left the fan on. At about 4:00am I woke up and got another blanket because I was actually cold!
Saturday night I drove it into town for the downtown Elkhart Lake street car Concours d’Elegance, as always, it was packed with people, a big street party where the crowd mingles around the cars. I was able to park a couple of blocks away from downtown and I actually parallel parked the Sprinter… I found a big space, so I didn’t have to work very hard, but there it sat, parallel parked on a residential street.
Saturday night was as nice as Friday night sleeping in the camper, again, I just used the roof top vent fan with a few open screened windows, it kept me plenty cool. There is a roof top air conditioner that runs off the Onan generator, but I never even used it.
Sunday was a full day of working the false grid with race cars and my SCCA friends, we’re the course workers who arrange and line up all the race cars in their qualifying positions on the starting grid. We make the last safety checks of the drivers, watch for leaking gas, oil and whatever else coming out from under the cars, adjust mirrors, attach window nets, etc. It’s a great, fun way to be as close to the cars as you can imagine, touch every one of them if you want… talk to the drivers, it’s a great part of the track to work.
By late afternoon on Sunday the weekend I look forward to all year long was drawing to a close. I said my good byes until next year, hopped in the Sprinter and headed back towards Minneapolis. It is about a 6 1/2 hour drive one way… the first two and a half hours are on rural Wisconsin County roads, then it’s three hours up I-94 to Minneapolis. It was a great weekend, with an excellent vehicle that was fun and easy to drive, got a lot of looks from people along the way and acted as very comfortable accommodations… how can I ever go back to my vintage Volkswagen Westfalia after a great weekend with this luxo cruiser? That’s a good question… one I will have to try to figure out how to answer… or I’ll just have to come up with the $80,000 needed to buy this used Sprinter Pleasure Way!