Furnace Creek 508 Support Vehicles:
Smaller is Better

I'll be blunt: The auto industry can be truly idiotic. As recently as about a half dozen years ago, the maximum width allowed for a support vehicle at the 508 and other ultracycling events was 72". This allowed 508 entrants to use just about any minivan on the market. In the quest to burn more foreign oil, fill the skies and our lungs with more smog, and create ever more imposing vehicles, even many so-called "mini vans" have grown to wider than 72" in recent years. Thus, we were forced to extend the maximum width rule to 78" several years ago.

Subsequently, as just about every category of motor vehicle has continued to grow ever wider (read: more wasteful, more unnecessary, more ugly and more imposing on the roadway), it's become more and more difficult to rent, or buy, a "mini van" or SUV that is under 78" in width. Consequently, we're getting emails asking if "78.8 inches will be OK" when vehicles are inspected on Friday, October 5. The answer is "No, that's not OK." 78 inches means 78 inches, just like stopping at a stop sign means stopping at a stop sign. (Note that 78" is the max width at the widest part of the vehicle—not including fenders or bumpers—and is usually the number listed on auto manufacturer specifications for "width.")

Why "Smaller is Better" for a Support Vehicle

After 25 years of experience and observations on the road and out there with these types of events, here is why we encourage smaller support vehicles whenever possible:

  • Most importantly, it is significantly more difficult for motorists to see around a larger vehicle and therefore pass it safely. (This is true especially in terms of the width of the vehicle which the motorist is trying pass, but also the height and view over the vehicle.)
  • Narrower / smaller support vehicles are also generally shorter in length, which makes it easier, quicker, and safer for them to be passed.
  • Narrower / smaller support vehicles can park on a narrower shoulder more easily and more safely.
  • Narrower / smaller support vehicles "should be" more fuel efficient, both driving to and from the event and during the event. (They also, therefore, support our "GreenTeams" initiative.)
  • Narrower / smaller support vehicles "should be" less expensive to rent than larger ones.
  • Narrower / smaller support vehicles generally handle better, such as when following a rider down a twisting mountain road at night.
  • Narrower / smaller support vehicles don't take up as much of the lane and are therefore less prone to "drifting" over toward, or over, the center line, especially on curvy roads.
  • Narrower / smaller support vehicles can more easily roll with the two right wheels well onto the shoulder, allowing motorists from behind to pass more easily and more safely and with less necessity to completely stop the vehicle all the way off the road to be passed.
  • More thoughts and comments on this issue are welcome!

In our email newsletter on August 20, 2007 we posed the question as to which vehicles 508 racers are successfully finding and using for their support vehicle. The enthusiastic and positive response to this question, and its underlying commentary, was immediate and extremely supportive and helpful. Many racers wrote in to rave about their sub-78" wide support vehicle and one racer took the time to prepare a spreadsheet of all the commonly available renatl mini vans, along with cost and width, which is below. Thank you, everyone! Here's what we have learned:

Summary of Potential Rental Vans for Furnace Creek 508, prepared by David Bradley of Team Raven Lunatics

Rental period: Oct 4th to Oct 9th (Rates as of 8/20/2007)

Rates will change on a regular basis. Even after finding the best price and reserving it continue to recheck prices and rebook whenever a better price comes up. Various discounts can be applied: AAA, Costco, Union memberships, etc. It is often just a cheap (or cheaper) to rent the van for a full week as it is for a four or five days.

Most of the time the airport locations will offer the best prices but not always. To get the best price, shop as many companies and discounts as you can find, book the best one (you can cancel without penalty, no credit card number required), check back daily and rebook whenever there is a price drop. I have seen prices drop in half by doing this.

Many of the rental companies will stock more than one band of mini van. The listed van is what their website shows as normal. You usually can ask for a specific type at the time you pick up the van but can not reserve it in advance.

All of the mini vans listed fall under the 78 inch width requirement.

My personal experience with renting mini vans has been that I got the best deals consistently from Dollar at the airport. No special discount was needed. When checking the prices look for a line at the bottom of the read quote box that says click here for special rates.

Rental Company Location Listed Vehicle  Price Width: from Manufacturer's website
Budget Burbank Ford Freestar $279.00 76.4
Budget LAX Ford Freestar $291.00 76.4
Budget SFO Ford Freestar $301.00 76.4
Alamo Burbank Chevy Uplander $249.00 72
Alamo LAX Chevy Uplander $264.00 72
Alamo SFO Chevy Uplander $274.00 72
Alamo Burbank Toyota Sienna NA NA
Alamo LAX Toyota Sienna $407.00 77.4
Alamo Burbank Toyota Sienna $500.00 77.4
Avis Burbank Chevy Uplander $331.00 72
Avis LAX Chevy Uplander $391.00 72
Avis SFO Chevy Uplander $358.00 72
Hertz all locations no mini vans listed NA NA
Dollar LAX Dodge Caravan $252.00 76.9
Dollar SFO Dodge Caravan $358.00 76.9
Enterprise Burbank Dodge Caravan $310.00 76.9
Enterprise LAX Dodge Caravan $299.00 76.9
Enterprise SFO Dodge Caravan $299.00 76.9
National Burbank Chevy Uplander $330.00 72
National LAX Chevy Uplander $399.00 72
National SFO Chevy Uplander $329.00 72
National Burbank Toyota Sienna NA NA
National LAX Toyota Sienna $558.00 77.4
National SFO Toyota Sienna $644.00 77.4

Comments from Mike Beauregard of Team Addax about his 2005 and 2006 experiences:

The 2008 Dodge Caravan and Crysler Town & Country would fit within the width requirements. That being said, depending on the size of the crew, a minivan is not strictly speaking necessary. I have participated in the 508 as a 2 person team (Addax) the last two years; in 2005 we used a Honda Element and in 2006 we used a Dodge Caravan.

2005 - 2 person crew. Honda Element with a hitch mount rack. Drove the Element to the race start with the two crew and the two riders in the car. For the race we strapped the extra back seat to the roof to open up the interior of the car some and provide extra storage space. We ended up having plenty of room to fit everything in the car. If I had it to do over again I would have also built a plywood riser to lift the cooler up and make it more easily accessible from the backseat and provide an area for deep storage underneath the cooler.

2006 - 3 person crew. Minivan with the same gear as the year before. Since it was a rental we had to use a strap on bike rack which liimited access to the back of the van. However, it did work. Again if I had it to do over again I would have built a plywood lift for the cooler in the back to make it more easily accessible while in the car and to provide deep storage.

Comments from Michael Alpine Ibex Emde about his 2005 and 2006 experiences:

The Honda Odyssey is right with in the width specifications. The new 2007 model is 77.1 inches wide. The Odyssey has served me very well during the last 2 editions of FC 508, there is plenty of room to travel comfortable! However the front or rear row seats have to be removed to store all the race supplies. We own our Honda Odyssey and we just got a new one (2007) this last April. For what we do it’s the perfect vehicle as we travel about 30,000 miles a year! The gas mileage for the Odyssey is usually around 27-32mpg.

For the trip to The 508 it is lower since the van is really loaded up. I would say it drops to about 23-25mpg.