How To Feed Yourself At A Race Track

Welcome to race weekend. Paddock food is a meaty and often greasy wonderland of diet-wrecking treats ranging from teams' own gourmet cuisine to E. Coli burgers from a sketchy stand that was probably last given a good clean in the 1950s. Prepare your anus.

So, we've gone over the basics of getting to a crapcan endurance race: picking a car, picking a team and preparing a questionable chunk of metal to go wheel-to-wheel with other cars. But what about your most basic needs during a race weekend? Like foraging for sustenance?

How To Feed Yourself At A Race Track

Let me get this out of the way. There is no gluten-free vegan farm-to-truck stand for the partaking. Even simple vegetarian options are slim. My non-bacon-eating ways place me firmly into a Coalition of Alternative Breakfast Meats, where scrapple, sausage and other lifespan-shortening meatstuffs and meatlike substances are celebrated and encouraged. Don't expect "Lite" anything that isn't some kind of inexpensive Pißwasser.

If you've got a fancy diet because you're a special little snowflake, it's best to either bring your own munchies or toss any and all dietary concerns to the curb for a weekend. There will likely be mild indigestion, but that's why we send you people out in the car by yourselves. Unless it's a life threatening intolerance or a moral stance, it's easiest just to fart a lot in the car and go to the gym a little longer during the week following the race.

So, what are your options, exactly?

How To Feed Yourself At A Race Track

Option 1: Trackside Food Stand

  • Quality: Varies wildly by location; surely someone's Yelped or Urbanspooned it to complain about the tablecloths? Right? Okay, maybe not.
  • Quantity: If the portions aren't big enough, at least it's a short walk for seconds.
  • Cost: More than you want to spend on a greasy burger, pal. (On average.)
  • Probability of Gastrointestinal Woe: [Usually] High

If your race facilities are so equipped, the most obvious option for not dying of starvation is the one right under your nose: the track's own food stand. Many of these focus on basic American fare such as burgers and hot dogs, slightly tweaked for local taste buds.

Trackside food joints vary wildly depending on your location, from full cafeteria-style lunch rooms at larger facilities to a questionable little window under the stairs that smuggles out hot dogs every now and then.

As such, quality varies. Eagles Canyon's lunch room, for example, dished out a warm, tasty homemade omelet that was warm (mmm...warm), delightfully cheesy and surprisingly reasonable during the 24 Hours of LeMons' Great Snowstorm of March earlier this year. Portions were ample. Did I mention that it was warm? There was a small but adequate selection of hot sauces out on the counter, too. I need that for my eggs. A+, would nom again.

Some tracks even bring in area food trucks (read: people who actually feed other people as a primary source of income) for larger events. Those are usually excellent and a way to try the local cuisine without having to spend too much time away from your personal nine-hour clutch swap Hades. Plus, you're basically supporting two local businesses at once: the track itself and a rad food stand. Win-win.

Yet there are always other stories of undercooked meat, bizarre contamination, overpriced sandwiches and/or the resulting aftermath at various venues. Many of the non-outside-entity food stands are smaller operations that don't do as well coping with large crowds. Hitting the food stand at an off-hour can guarantee not only a better-cooked meal, but a lack of indigestion afterwards.

If in doubt, ask other area racers what the food's like and plan accordingly. Some stands are better able to accommodate special dietary needs and avoid slinging greasy balls of death than others.

A Note on, uh, "Maldonado's Revenge"

Avoiding too much indigestion is important when you may be stuck in the car for a couple hours. That's right. With no bathroom.

Some of you may be thinking, "I drive faster when I have to poop!" NOPE. That effect only lasts so long, and you're only "faster" because you're taking extra risks that you usually wouldn't without the imminent threat of brown trousers looming over your head like a stinky cloud of turd-water.

Taking unnecessary and often ill-advised extra risks in an endurance race is a bad idea, mmm'kay? You have to make the car last.

Furthermore, the toilet at the end of your drive is a carrot that doesn't even exist when you're driving around in funny-shaped circles. Instead, you just pass that same exit for the bathroom over and over again. It sits immobile outside of your car, watching you pass by. Luring you to stray from your gentle paved path. Taunting you.

Just don't eat overly farty or questionable food during a race weekend. It's a bad, bad idea.

How To Feed Yourself At A Race Track

Option 2: Send Someone to Fetch Food

  • Quality: It's probably going to be fast food, so not so great.

  • Quantity: Well, we thought this would be enough at the time...
  • Cost: Inexpensive (unless you count gas)
  • Probability of Gastrointestinal Woe: Medium

Point of order: box wine is not food. That is, however, one of the assorted folks who came to check out the first running of the newly-rebuilt Porschelump, and thus, one of the people we sent to fetch various tools, gas and foodstuffs. There are some who call him...Tim?

Chances are, you have friends, family, crew, extra drivers and other hangers-on somewhere near your paddock space, and at least one of them will volunteer to help or fetch things.

Going on a food run opens up whatever options are nearby. However, most racetracks are isolated from any form of civilization that might take offense to racetrack sounds emanating from a racetrack. These food runs often have limited choices in the track's immediate vicinity. If there is a town nearby with a nicer selection of grab-and-go eateries, it's often a bit of a drive.

The upside of sending someone on a food run is that you can work around various food preferences if you have a forgiving member of the team who's willing to fill sandwich orders from one pescatarian, one person who puts mayonnaise on everything, two mayonnaise haters (one of who really likes extra tomatoes) and a guy who is deathly allergic to tomatoes, fish and mayonnaise.

If all else fails and you have too many picky eaters on the team, find a food that everyone can tolerate beforehand and buy it in large quantities. On one team I was with, we all sort of/kind of didn't hate Arby's. So, there were bags upon bags of Arby's sandwiches one day...in bulk.

Food runs are also an excellent opportunity to get items from Actual Civilization without interrupting the flow of the day too much. Tools, fluids, snacks and all manner of comfort items are fair game.

The biggest downside is that food runs take a lot of time, and that's at least one less set of hands around when your car comes in barfing coolant everywhere.

How To Feed Yourself At A Race Track

Option 3: Bring Your Own Food

  • Quality: As good as you can make it or buy it
  • Quantity: How much trunk space do you have?
  • Price: How much of a food snob are you? Going to MSR-Houston via West from Austin is a bit out of the way, dude.
  • Probability of Gastrointestinal Woe: Low (exceptions: expired or undercooked food)

There are a few scenarios where this option comes into play.

First, if you have picky eaters or special dietary needs that most of the known universe doesn't cater to, this is how you actually get to eat. You know the foods that you will most be able to stomach when you're hopped up on nerves and adrenaline, anyway. Thus, you know better than anyone else what to bring.

Secondly, even if you're planning to hit up the sweet pizza trailer parked outside for the weekend, you should still probably bring some snacks.

Racing is a physical activity. Not only do you need to remember to eat, but you need to eat well and stay hydrated. Bring tons of water and some moderately healthy, non-greasy, non-fatty snacks. I tend to like nuts and fruit since they are really filling and you don't have to eat a ton to feel like you've had enough. Trail mix—the real kind without a ton of M&Ms in it—is awesome, as are the über-crunchy versions of granola bars that aren't all sugar and chocolate. Think more REI camp munchies section, and less "we put chocolate chips in this to trick kids into eating it."

Gatorade and like drinks are popular, too, particularly right after you climb out of the car. Plants aren't the only things that crave electrolytes.

Obviously, it's good to have some good ol' comfort food on hand as well. Chips, queso, Timbits (ahem, 944 owners take bribes, too, you know), you name it. That being said, if it gives you horrible indigestion (we're looking at you, Guy Who Ate Too Many Red Vines), it's probably best to eat it in moderation at most.

Finally, some teams just like to cook out. It's a better option than most of the others provided at least someone on your team is culinarily competent. While some facilities may have a grill on-site, it's not uncommon for teams to bring camping stoves, barbecues and other outdoor kitchen gear. You may need to make more runs to fetch ice to pull off cooking throughout the weekend, but at least it's not far from the car to the dinner table.

How To Feed Yourself At A Race Track

It's also surprising what some teams have cooked up in the paddock. Some of the past dishes made by LeMons racers include:

  • All manner of barbecue everything: brisket, sausage, ribs, turkey, chicken, pulled pork, etc., etc. If it fits in the genre of "BBQ," it's likely to appear. Sometimes, it's even smoked with exhaust or under the hood of one of the cars. Team Sensory Assault has been known to time their pit stops based on when the ribs are done.
  • An entire suckling pig roasted at the track
  • "Chicken CarDoneBlew Aheadgasket:" chicken with a piece of cheese on it wrapped in bacon
  • Bratwurst, kielbasa and all manner of meat in tubes, including bacon-burger dogs (hot dogs, sealed in hamburger meat and wrapped in bacon)
  • Deep-fried chicken, turkey and, well, pretty much everything if someone brings a deep fryer. (Including Twix.)
  • "Wartburgers:" burgers made to fit the Win-a-Free-Wartburg contest winner's car with bacon, mushrooms and onions cooked in bacon grease mixed right into the patty, plus cheese and Three Pedal Mafia's special blend of spices.
  • Fajitas, which are one of the easiest dishes for accommodating anyone with special dietary needs since fajitas, by definition, are build-it-yourself.
  • More gourmet fare such as shrimp, salmon, rib eyes, ham, roasted potatoes, corn on the cob and toast
  • An entire Italian smorgasbord of paddock domination: garlic bread, pasta, salad, spaghetti and meatballs
  • Homemade breakfasts: pancakes from scratch, eggs, omelets, sausage, hash browns, French toast, cinnamon rolls, grits and enough bacon to offend the entire Middle East
  • Cajun fare ranging from homemade jambalaya to alligator to huge crawfish boils
  • Chili, because you're not farting in the car enough already
  • Beer can muffins made with halved Yuengling cans in lieu of proper muffin tins
  • Lasagna. You know how to make friends with me? Bring a homemade lasagna and you're pretty much my insta-BFF.
  • Homebrew and microbrew beer, often by the keg when the track goes cold
  • Jalapeño poppers and something called a "bacon explosion"
  • Homemade desserts such as pies, cakes and cookies
  • Deep-fried chili served over mac and cheese. (I mentioned that paddock food will wreck your diet, right? Right.)

The biggest drawback is that cooking your own food takes extra time, but it's clearly worth it if your cooks know what they're doing.

How To Feed Yourself At A Race Track

Option 4: Party On, Garth

  • Quality: Usually excellent

  • Quantity: Usually ample
  • Price: Tip the cooks. Seriously.
  • Probability of Gastrointestinal Woe: Low to Medium, depending on cuisine.
  • Possibility of Hangover: High. Proceed with caution.

You know how some teams just like to cook? Some teams just like to cook for everybody, especially if there's a big break between races. As soon as the checkered flag is thrown and the track goes cold, the party starts.

How To Feed Yourself At A Race Track

Some teams don't just cook for themselves, but rather, they bring enough to share with the whole paddock. While this also happens at continuous races since there's still plenty of downtime between driving stints, the dinner party gets turned up to 11 during race weekends with a break in the evening.

How To Feed Yourself At A Race Track

One Shiner-themed car at the Eagles Canyon race didn't even wait to pull into their own paddock space to mount a keg into their LeMon's trunk and start handing out free beer.

Foodies (believe it or not) go racing, too. Those with connections to food and beverage companies tend to bring loads of samples. Beanitos, for example, make frequent appearances at Texas races—provided a certain Triumph hasn't blown up. Guys in the restaurant biz also use the evening downtime to showcase their craft.

How To Feed Yourself At A Race Track

The C4 Poorvette team, for example, had several members from Hutchins BBQ feeding the masses with absolutlely fantastic BBQ while a few other poor schmucks on their team fixed the car. That wasn't just good brisket for a LeMons race. That was just good brisket.

How To Feed Yourself At A Race Track

Party time for some means "rush to fix the car" time for less fortunate teams. As such, various drinkable painkillers are available and frequent as long as the track is cold.

(Do note: opening up a beer while the race is on will get you asked to pack up and leave.)

How To Feed Yourself At A Race Track

However, all good things must be enjoyed in moderation, particularly when a race weekend is involved. The night may settle into peace and quiet occasionally interrupted by the whirring of power tools, but eating and drinking too much the night before is a surefire way to be completely miserable once the loud drone of stressed engines and the occasional RX-7 with an inadequate muffler fires back up.

Just in case anyone's planning on going all "woo, no parents/it's my 21st birthday/I'm a LeMons judge!" at a race weekend:

  • Booze dehydrates you. Drink extra water if you want to avoid the world's most annoying noise-exacerbated headache the next day.
  • This is the worst possible place to test the limits of your alcohol tolerance.
  • This is the worst possible venue for a drinking contest ever created.
  • Nomex suits are hard to clean, requiring special care not to snag on things in the laundry and the gentlest of gentle detergents so as not to wash out the fireproof treatment of the fabric. Less expensive single-layer suits are even more particular in regards to their laundering instructions. Don't barf on yours. You've been warned.
  • Overeating is not a fun time, either. Just because there's a lot of food around doesn't mean you have to eat it all. Whatever you stick into your pie-hole, remember that you're going to be in a sweaty little metal box for long periods of time the next day.

Know your limits and stay nicely under them.

Crapcan racers tend to be generous. Share and share alike is the rule of the evening.

Most of all, tip your cooks. Yeah, they're doing this for fun, but these bigger spreads cost someone some money. If you're short on cash and/or don't see a tip jar, offer to grab them a drink or trade foodstuffs from your spread.

Regardless of how hungry you are, don't be too shy to venture into other parts of the paddock. The evening party time is an excellent time to meet other teams and even ask them to touch your monkey. Obviously, don't interrupt anyone who's working on some hopeless problem unless you're there to offer help, but crapcan teams are generally friendly and worth getting to know.

How To Feed Yourself At A Race Track

So, remember not just to eat, but to eat moderately well during a crapcan race weekend. Man cannot live on canned mystery meat and free PBR alone. Eat at least something of actual nutritional value and you'll feel a lot better during the actual race.

Photo credit: Brett85p (Bacon), trekkor (shrimp)

Special thanks to the 24 Hours of LeMons Forums for raceday menu information as well as the funniest account of farting in a Prius I've ever heard in my life.