The tracks I usually go to are anywhere from 1.5 to 6 hours away. None of them are really “drive home that night” range, so some sort of lodging is essential. You may be lucky enough to have a “Home Track” very close to home, but in reality, having a long haul to most tracks is standard in this hobby. Participants at a track weekend use many methods of lodging: Hotels, AirB&B’s, RV’s, Trailers, Tents… even sleeping in cars.
I still remember my first weekend at the track like it was yesterday. A friend brought me along to volunteer with NASA in exchange for free track time, a deal that seemed so good I didn’t believe it at the time. Until then, I had only been to the (Then still quite new) New Jersey Motorsports Park to Go Kart and spectate a Pro Race. As I rolled into the paddock on Friday Night I was shocked at the amount of people hanging out, messing with their cars, and generally having a good time… Most of all, they were all so friendly and welcoming from rookie HPDE drivers to seasoned Racers. It was my first day, but we were welcomed as if it was a family reunion. That weekend changed my life.
Sure, many argue that track day performance is too important to sacrifice any sleep, and they run back to their hotel rooms to review data (And if they’re anything like me, still sleep like crap in an unfamiliar bed). What I love about the full track experience is way more than that time and performance in the driver seat. There are endless reasons why you should stay and camp at the racetrack, whether you sleep across a back seat, in a Tent, or RV. Here are 11 of the my favorites:
11) Tracks usually have good camping facilities:
There is a broad range in “finish” that you will see at road race tracks. Some facilities are very fancy and go for the Country Club vibe, others are NASCAR tracks that are prepped for huge crowds where camping is common. While it’s certainly not a rule, most have nice shower and restroom facilities. In my experience they have been better than most camp sites you’ll stay at.
Yes there is the occasional track that isn’t very well set up for camping. Lime Rock’s temporary showers (That are really just modified porta-potties) still aren’t too big of an issue. After a long day at the track I usually feel so gross I don’t care how I hose myself off, just glad I have somewhere to do it… plus the portable showers were still cleaner than some campsites I’ve been to.
You aren’t setting up a tent in a serene national park campsite, but having a home base in your paddock spot, next to your car is cool too.
10) Get to stay and party without driving to hotel
Once the track goes cold for the night, the race paddock transitions straight into a BBQ party. Some of the stuffier clubs may have deserted paddocks by 8pm, but groups like LeMons and Gridlife party HARD all night long. I personally prefer something in the middle. Into the evening, groups gather around campfires (Or broken Hondas) and share beers, replacing the day’s spent adrenaline with alcohol. Everyone is welcome; people wander around the paddock sharing coolers and stories from the day. When it’s time for bed, stumbling across the paddock back to your tent is a much more responsible choice than driving (sometimes very far) to a hotel. Just please remember to not get too carried away: You’ll likely be driving on track again at some point the next morning.
9) Build camaraderie with friends at the track
Some of my best memories of the track have come from around the campfire. A laid back evening with friends (Both new and old) is a great way to download after a stressful day. I’ve both taught and learned a ton of maintenance techniques and tricks overnight in the paddock garages. If you leave the track to eat, shower and watch TV in a hotel… you’ll have the comforts of home, but who needs that at a track weekend? Some of the connections made overnight in the paddock will last a lifetime.
Some racing classes coordinate to do a particularly fine job at providing entertainment. Our local Spec E30 crew have done such things as projecting the day’s races onto the side of a big trailer, brought a band to the track, and thrown giant lobster boils.
8) The cookouts
I mentioned the BBQ/camp atmosphere earlier but I can’t downplay just how much time and energy goes into the BBQ. The Phrase “BBQ Club with a car hobby” is appropriate for many people at the track.
At my local club events, NASA Northeast throws a huge Saturday night Barbecue and invites everyone at the track, These dinners often feed well over 100 very hungry people (Yes, these have been paused for Covid safety reasons). Many clubs do similar meals, some do lunches, dinners, or both.
For the other meals at the track, individual groups of drivers/crew throw their own barbecues. Often it’s specific race classes or groups of friends. The one thing for sure: The smell of food around the paddock is nearly as strong as burnt rubber and gasoline.
Whether you take part in a club sponsored BBQ, or even bring something for a potluck, you’ll be saving a good chunk of money vs going out for a restaurant dinner.
7) Sleep in extra late: Wake up and go. no long drive to track
Racetracks are often built in remote areas. Depending on the track (And hotel availability) you may end up staying 30+ minutes from the track. With track operations often starting at the crack of dawn, the ability to sleep that extra half hour+ before you roll out of your tent can be very helpful. If you have a truck you can unhook and drive easily… but if you are driving to the hotel in your track car, an extra long drive can be a pain.
6) Get to wake up at a race track
There are few places more pleasant to wake up than at your favorite race track. Nature’s finest alarm clock is the sound of cold race brakes squealing as the hotel crew drives back in from their night of opulence at the Hilton. Crawling out of my tent to the sights of Watkins Glen is one of my favorite things to do. It’s like living the early campground scene in Steve McQueen’s movie LeMans… except you get to drive too!
5) Have all your stuff in one spot, a “home base”
When you commit to camping at the track for the weekend, you don’t need to worry about spreading yourself between your hotel room and paddock spot. No worries about leaving a helmet in your room, or your clean underwear at the track. Having a tent at the track gives you a nice home base to keep everything organized, together, secure, and dry.
4) Get to actually use that fancy camping stuff from your wedding registry 10 year ago.
I wonder how many times the average tent is actually used. I can’t imagine it’s more than a couple times. Raise your hand if you have a pile of camping gear that never gets used. We’re not kids anymore, wearing out sleeping bags lugging them back and forth between each other’s houses. It may take camping at the track to actually dig out the bags and other gear that’s been collecting dust in the closet for a decade.
3) Excuse to buy a Camper, RV, or even Enclosed Trailer
Sleeping in a tent gets the job done. It has some disadvantages, but is cheap and everything packs up into a Miata for the drive home with no drama. If you want to really make the track a second home you may want to look at a Camper or RV. There is certainly a HUGE logistic and financial jump from driving to the track in your Miata vs a RV+Trailer… but if you are someone already considering an RV for your own vacations, why not plan it out so both can work?
There are many different options for which type of RV/Camper you choose, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Small RV’s pulling a car trailer are popular, the occasional person has a slide-in camper in their truck. Many people with Enclosed trailers create their own homes and set up some comfortable way to sleep in the trailer, from a cot on the floor, to full toy-hauler living quarters.
Make no mistake, a RV, slide-in camper, or converted Enclosed Trailer is not really a low-budget scenario… but if you have special requirements like bringing a young family to the track it could end up being very valuable.
3-B) RENT an RV or Camper
Since my Initial writing, the popularity of RV and camper Rentals (Think Airbnb but for mobile sleeping) has exploded. While you used to be mostly limited to one rental company’s RV’s, sites like Rvshare and Outdoorsy make it simple to rent a camper from a local host. Most campers also offer delivery and pickup, so you don’t need to worry about logistics of towing a racecar AND a camper. Prices vary wildly, but usually end up being on par with grabbing a local hotel room for the weekend… but you get to stay at the track and enjoy the after-dark festivities.
2) Or just sleep in your car/truck
If you don’t have a pile of camping equipment, many cars are actually way comfier to sleep in than they get credit for (Miatas excluded). Fold down the back seat of most cars and you can sleep between the trunk/back seat. I hear C5 Corvettes are particularly pleasant. Sleeping across the seats in most full-size trucks is nice (especially on a single-width air mattress to flatten out seat and make it a bit wider). SUV’s are practically luxury hotels for track sleeping, many prefer them over trucks for hauler duty for this reason.
1) SAVE SO MUCH MONEY
There are a bunch of reasons why Camping at the track is a fantastic choice. But for anyone on a budget, it’s a no-brainer. Depending where your track is, hotel availability may leave you paying some higher-than-expected rates, but even cheap hotel rates add up. Are you fine to tack another $400 onto the costs of a track weekend? I’m not. Even if you can find someone to split a hotel room with, track weekend hotel bills add up quickly! Sleeping in your tent/truck/trailer saves a whole lot of money for entry fees, tires, and beer.
Many track facilities have sprawling paddocks with plenty of place to spread out… but others (Lime Rock, for example) pack everyone in like Sardines. Stuck camping next to someone with a generator? There’s nothing worse than trying to sleep next to a growling generator, especially one that has a dramatic dip in RPM’s when their air-conditioner clicks on… every 15 minutes. Here’s a solution: Ask if you can get some power and run a fan to both get you fresh air and provide white noise to drown out the generator. Don’t forget to pack an extension cord.
On that note, bring a fan: While some tracks are truly roughing it, others have plenty of access to power, even in camping areas. Between the white noise and cooling on a warm night, I’ve found a fan goes a LONG way to helping me get a good night sleep in the back of a pickup truck.
If you plan on sleeping in a car, consider a window net/screen. In the summer, some fresh air is essential, but you don’t want to leave the car open for bugs to pester you all night. Cheap “over door” window nets allow you to keep the window open but won’t let bugs in. They slip on in a moment and come off just as easily when it’s time to go, I bought a set last year and wish I did it earlier.
What other reasons keep you camping at the track? Let me know in the comments!
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