Welcome back to the Race Organizer Review series, in which I put new vehicles through their paces as I do my job as an organizer for the 24 Hours of Lemons race series. Last time, I took a soulful-yet-impractical machine -- the Fiat 124 Spider Lusso -- to a brain-boilingly hot weekend at Thunderhill Raceway in California, where I stayed at a crime-scene motel and ate the fare of an interstate-oasis choke-n-puke. For the B.F.E. GP 24 Hours of Lemons, held in Kansas eastern Colorado, I drove a soulless-yet-practical machine and used it as my office and home for all three days of work.
High Plains Raceway, located near the first town in the United States to issue drone-hunting licenses, is very remote and very beautiful. Since I love car-camping and I live about 90 minutes from the track, I decided that a minivan would be ideal for hauling all the supplies I'd need and providing a place to sleep in the event that the weather got a bit too crazy for tent comfort.
Before each race, the organizers must make a run for supplies -- stuff like bottles of water, sunscreen, sandwich fixings, snacks, spray paint for the BRIBED stencils, and so on. The Sienna probably had enough room for a Costco trip with just the third-row seats folded down, but I opted to remove one of the second-row seats to make my task easier.
The seat-arranging process is simple and the second-row seats are light enough to be moved around painlessly. The second-row seat and cargo organizer went onto my garage floor.
Loading up a big-box shopping cart full of heavy race supplies was laughably easy with the Sienna. Having done this task using the full range of full-sized sedans and SUVs, I'll say that the Sienna beats every motor vehicle available (with the exception of, say, a full-sized cargo van) in this department.
It drives, turns, stops, and parks like a car. Not like a top-heavy, bouncy truck, though it holds more cargo and passengers than most trucks. I didn't push it very hard, mostly because it was always full of not-very-well-secured cargo while I had it, but the 296-horse V6 offered power enough to keep driving from being tedious. I was half-hoping for one of the crazy rainstorms we get in summertime in high-plains Colorado, so I could test out the all-wheel-drive in a gooey, muddy field, but the weather stayed sunny all weekend.
Normally, when I pack for a car-camping trip, it's a maddening monkey-puzzle game to fit everything inside the car. Remove the second-row seats and fold the third row in the Sienna, however, and I could just shove stuff in more or less at random. The pre-race stress level was at record lows, getting ready for this race.
Once at the racetrack, I set up my campsite in a field a few hundred yards from the paddock. Racers were very impressed with this vehicle, and the more hardcore a track-nerd was, with a brace of track cars at home, the more he or she approved of the Sienna. It was at this point that I learned that many -- maybe even most -- of the most serious racers at this event already own Siennas (and, sometimes, a Previa or two, maybe even a LiteAce, as well). In fact, the Sienna got more attention from fast-driving racing addicts than most of the allegedly sporty machines I drive to these events.
A minivan, particularly this minivan, will meet just about any conceivable transportation-machine need, because the minivan is the perfect utilitarian motor vehicle. Get a Sienna, rely on it for moving people and goods, and then add one frivolously quick car plus one ridiculous old car and you'll have met all your vehicular requirements for a full life. A Sienna, a ludicrously overboosted Volvo 240 Turbo rally car, and a Renault Caravelle, for example— what more do you need? This is how racers view minivans, and this is the reason that racers feel no shame, no "I have given up on life" depression when driving a Sienna.
Racetracks tend to be sprawling facilities, and I'll use a review vehicle to get around while I'm working at a race. In this case, though, the Sienna stayed parked in my campsite because I felt much cooler riding this century-old, made-in-Boston bicycle. Sometimes you just need to be cool, not practical.
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