I had just cracked an ice-cold Pacifico aboard my pal Kevin's Cal 35 in Avalon Harbor when it came to me: I stood up and shouted "Reno Air Races!" I had been jonesing to make this trek to see the world's fastest form of racing for years, and this time I was in. Three weeks later, Kev and I threw a couple bags into the boot of our long-term Saab, gassed up and hit the trail on good old US Highway 395. The first thing I want to point out about a trip like this is you should look at a map first and see what roads will be the most fun to drive. I didn't-and got stuck for the first four hours on mostly boring, flat, straight, very windy desert highway.
The good news is that this Saab performs like a champ in such conditions. This trip involved approximately eight-plus hours of seat time, and comfort is key. Our Saab is equipped with plush multi-position leather seats, which I must say are as comfortable as any seats in which I've parked this 200 pounds of ugly. Not too hard and not too soft-these are just right.
After plugging my iPod into the auxiliary input jack I settled in for a little Jack Johnson and some wide-open road. This was the first time I had any use for the cruise control and after locking it in, we started on the long upward grade out of the LA area. I was pleasantly surprised to see how well the car reacted to some of the more severe altitude changes. Even when I thought for sure I'd have to dip into boost, I really didn't.Considering it's turbocharged, the V6 seemed to manage itself quite well, and I really only had to show it the whip for uphill passing duties, which it also handled willingly.
As we headed across the upper Mojave with a high wind advisory in effect, I prepared myself for some dicey driving. The semi-trucks around me swayed like punch-drunk boxers, but the Saab's sleek profile kept us cutting a clean hole through the gale-force turbulence. Heading further north, we climbed even higher and were soon gliding into Bishop, California, for a much-needed pit stop and driver change, although the Saab remained cool and composed.
Lucky bastard, my buddy, because after passing the turn-off for the Mammoth Lakes ski area, the route turns into a yellow brick road: beautiful forest-lined roadways and miles and miles of twisted, well-paved highway. Hugging the mountains' edge, we skirted numerous scenic lakes including Crowley, Mono, and Topaz, the SportCombi seemingly having more fun than a kid at summer camp. For weekend warriors, the Saab seems perfectly suited for an adventurous lifestyle. Pop a mountain bike, snowboard or surfboard on top and it functions like any SUV, except you'll never feel like you're driving one. Some might not appreciate the automatic transmission, but this Saab is equipped with Sport mode, and with a simple side flip of the shifter you're there, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters at your disposal.
Rolling into Reno, we pulled off the highway and hit a 7-Eleven for a supply of cold ones. We'd decided long ago that the Saab was perfect for this kind of trip, a great mix of sporting fun and and modern technology seasoned with the right amount of style and comfort. If you're in the market for a small SUV, take a good hard look at the Saab 9-3 Aero SportCombi. You won't be sorry.
Awesome adventures that put you in the driver's seat
Reno National Championship Air Races
If you're looking for a long weekend driving adventure that mixes in a cool event, the Reno Air Races are your ticket. Stationed at Stead Field, just outside scenic Reno, Nevada, the event draws fans from all over the world and features displays of some amazing vintage aircraft, coupled with the world's fastest form of motor racing; Unlimited classes reach speeds of 500 mph. The event lasts nearly a week, but the real nitty-gritty stuff happens on the last three days, which is when I attended. Arrive early, park in one of the outer lots for $5 and walk in so you can make a quick getaway at the end of the day. Also, do yourself a favor and get a pit pass, which will get you up close and personal with all the competitors. There is a full schedule of aviation events including wing walkers, historical fly-bys and the always-popular Air Force Thunderbirds (alternating yearly with the Blue Angels). There are tons of booths selling everything from leather flying jackets to autographed WWII lithographs. Do not miss enjoying a freshly dipped corn dog and a cold frosty beer... for breakfast! The early September dates make for mild sunny weather, and we had near perfect days in the 70s. This is a fantastic event and the perfect excuse to stretch the legs on that 911.
From LA, take 14 to the 395 north and you are there. From San Francisco, the 50 looks fun, you can't miss it...
Where to Stay
Peppermill Hotel Casino
2707 S. Virginia St, Reno, NV 89502;
Reasonably priced, easy to get to, easy to get out of; 1100 comfy rooms just 20 minutes from the races.
Where to Eat
6350 S. Virginia St, Reno, NV 89502;
Fantastic early morning stick-to-your-ribs breakfast. Fast, friendly, great home fries, killer coffee. Hang a right out of the hotel parking lot, and it's two miles on your left.