All Of The Terrible Ways I've Camped At A Race Track: A Timeline

All Of The Terrible Ways I've Camped At A Race Track: A Timeline

From Formula One to IndyCar, I've camped at them all

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It took two years of camping to finally invest in something to store and cook food
It took two years of camping to finally invest in something to store and cook food
Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

I’ve made many poor decisions at race tracks around the world, but camping is generally the start of all those problems. Today, I’m going to walk you through the evolution of my terrible, horrible race track camping experiences.

I’d like to start by saying that my camping experiences prior to becoming a race fan were extremely minimal, by which I mean that I camped in my grandparents’ backyard once every few years and generally ended up going inside to sleep. I’d never packed for a camping trip. I’d never set up my own tent. I’d never even heard about what it was like to camp at a race track.

But it was a choice of necessity. When my friends and I decided we wanted to attend the Austrian Grand Prix in 2015, there really weren’t many places to stay that were vaguely close and inexpensive unless you were camping. So, my friend Remy said they had a tent, and we decided to just send it and see what would happen.

Folks: Please learn from my mistakes.

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2015 Austrian Grand Prix

2015 Austrian Grand Prix

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

When I say we had no idea what we were doing when we camped in Austria, I would be understating things. Not a single person I was going with had ever actually camped before. No one had any idea what it would be like to camp at a track. We also didn’t speak German, so we really had no idea what we were doing.

For this event, we flew into Munich and rented a car that we drove to Spielberg, Austria for the most cost savings. However, we also brought four people along, and Austria only allows three people per campsite. That meant that, to enter the site, one of us had to be smuggled underneath all the luggage in the backseat. As the resident Short Shit, that someone was me. We quickly learned, though, that Austria was a lawless land; not a single person ever checked our wristbands when we entered or left the campsite, which was a good thing, since we (i.e. I) also lost one of the wristbands on the very first day.

To illustrate how ill-prepared we were, I present the following:

  • No one brought anything to sleep on aside from fleece blankets. After the first miserable night where even four people couldn’t manage to generate a little heat in a two-person tent, we had to buy yoga mats to insulate us from the ground.
  • We brought one case of German beer and one bottle of Campari. They were both gross, but walking around with a German beer did get us a lot of free beer from Austrians who wanted to prove that they brewed a superior lager.
  • For some reason, we stocked up on canned soup. We were, apparently, going to eat it cold. We never did because it was gross, so for the whole weekend, we thrived on bread and peanut butter (which quickly became a staple food for us) and trackside concessions because Magnum ice creams and bread rolls were one single Euro.
  • I packed exactly one pair of jeans to spend a week in the cold, damp Austrian mountains. On the first night, my friend spilled beer on those jeans. I had to walk around smelling like a brewery for the rest of the weekend, which somehow included a van ride with Alexander Rossi and Richie Stanaway into the GP2 paddock.
  • We did not realize that grown Austrian men would be blaring Avril Lavigne’s entire discography every night, so I don’t know that any of us slept.

Small victories? We made great friends with the Austrians, got raucously drunk, and met Natalie Pinkham in our campsite:

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

I’ll never forget the extended Austrian family that literally built their own bar, brought their own home-brewed beer, and adopted us for the weekend because we had no idea what we were doing. Only one of the people there spoke English well enough to communicate with us.

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2015 British Grand Prix

2015 British Grand Prix

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

After my friends and I departed Austria, Remy and I headed to London for the first Formula E race in Battersea Park and then trucked off to Silverstone.

There was just one problem: We arrived by train and taxi, which meant we had to walk into the campground with all of our shit and then somehow figure out how to store everything — and two human beings — inside a single tent. I don’t really remember how we did it, but I do remember that Remy ripped off their toenail as we walked to the subway to get from London to Milton-Keynes, which meant we took a ride to the infield care center before we did anything else!

Camping in Silverstone was kind of awful. It was almost twice as expensive as Austria, and the vibe was totally different. People weren’t as inclined to hang out like we did with our Austrian pals, so Remy and I literally walked into town every day to drink at a pub we found. On our last day, as we battled icy wind as the sun set, a fine pair of gentlemen invited us into their RV and gave us hot drinks.

It was, however, the July 4th weekend, for which we turned up decked out in our best Americana. Which, in retrospect, may be why we didn’t make many friends.

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2015 IndyCar at Pocono

2015 IndyCar at Pocono

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

Oh, Pocono. After realizing how much fun going to races was, Remy and I decided to try out that whole IndyCar thing here in the United States after we won free tickets to the event.

Talk about a vibe shift. For the first time, we got to camp inside a race track, which meant we had a five minute walk to the paddock, which we could also enter. Remy and I absolutely lost our minds over the accessibility, which kicked off a year of going to as many races as humanly possible.

That was also the best year for camping at Pocono. There was, for some reason, a band playing to all 50 of us campers, but it also meant we got a massive frozen piña colada to share after dark. It was my very first piña; unfortunately, it was probably 50 degrees, so the whole “drinking” thing was not as enjoyable.

Horrifyingly, Pocono was also the first time we brought a cooler to the race track. Did that stop us from eating anything more than dry cereal, chips, and peanut butter and bread? It did not.

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2016 Indy 500 (Coke Lot)

2016 Indy 500 (Coke Lot)

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

This was, without a doubt, the most offensive and horrible race track camping experience I have ever had — one that I’m going to be writing about in depth now that we’re firmly entrenched in the Month of May. I will, however, provide you with this: By the time we rolled into the Coke Lot on the Friday of the race weekend, the Port-a-Potties (the only bathroom option available) had overflowed and created a fetid poop swamp that extended about five feet in every direction. There was little consolation in watching the dudebros ride around with a truck in the back of their pickup:

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

The lack of showers — and long nights spent drinking gin that had been dumped in a mop bucket and deposited into my mouth via turkey baster — resulted in me looking and feeling like an absolute fucking disaster by Saturday.

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We did not bring any food or drinks. I had to brush my teeth in the race track. It was without a doubt the very worst time I have ever had at a race track.

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2016 IndyCar at Pocono

2016 IndyCar at Pocono

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

In 2016, Remy and I discovered a luxury that stemmed from necessity. They had just had shoulder surgery but insisted upon camping anyway. When I disclosed this fact to my mom, she gifted us a self-inflating air mattress: You turn a switch, and a motor inside fills the thing with air.

It was, without a doubt, the smartest thing we had ever done at a race track. When we laid down on that inflated dream, angels wept and Jesus sang a little tune.

Unfortunately, the race was rained out, so we had to spend an extra night in Pocono. The tent assembly, which took a mere 10 minutes, was eclipsed by a hungover teardown that bested me.

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2016 IndyCar at Watkins Glen

2016 IndyCar at Watkins Glen

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After realizing the sheer beauty that came from an air mattress in a tent, my friends and I started to get fancy. For the first modern IndyCar race at Watkins Glen, we purchased a charcoal grill and a nice cooler so we could actually make our own hot food. My god, what a game changer. We had pancakes for breakfast. We made my specialty, pizza grilled cheese, for dinner. We had finally graduated beyond our previous racetrack camping fare, which was literally nothing other than peanut butter on bread.

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

We even managed to score some hot tea courtesy of a few British members of the now-defunct KVSH team, who were camping in an RV next door. I thought I’d discovered the lap of luxury.

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2017 IMSA at Watkins Glen

2017 IMSA at Watkins Glen

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

In 2017, I first discovered how real race track camping was done. I accepted an invitation to head to the 6 Hours of the Glen IMSA race for the first time to join Camp Hooligan, a bunch of folks who camp out in the Boot. While I turned up with my usual — a tent and an air mattress and nothing else — I realized what it was like to camp alongside people who made an event of this.

Allow me to explain: Camp Hooligan literally builds a bar. They come with countless campers, many of which have air conditioning. They smoked meat, grilled pizzas, and deep fried wings. There were so many coolers that I didn’t know what to do with myself. Hell, I had a mixed drink on a race weekend that wasn’t a mimosa for the first time ever. It was astounding. So astounding that I failed to take a single photo of anything that weekend.

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2017 IndyCar at Watkins Glen

2017 IndyCar at Watkins Glen

The second IndyCar race at Watkins Glen was awful. It rained all weekend long, so all the campers (i.e. me) were just left with a damp chill that never left. I have also very few pictures of this weekend for the simple fact that I was miserable. At one point, I brought a camping chair into the women’s shower building to escape the biting wind.

This here was a turning point for me — one where I realized that I was perhaps over the whole “camping” thing because hot showers and a non-damp bed were kind of nice luxuries to have after a long day at the race track.

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2018 IMSA at Watkins Glen

2018 IMSA at Watkins Glen

It was the year I truly learned what Camp Hooligan meant because I showed up with a boyfriend and left with a different dude. And that’s the story of how I met my husband!

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2019 Daytona Rolex 24

2019 Daytona Rolex 24

I never knew 55 degrees could feel so damn cold, but that’ll happen when it literally never stops raining. We packed up and left on race day because we just couldn’t cut it anymore.

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2021 IMSA at Watkins Glen

2021 IMSA at Watkins Glen

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

As the years have passed and the times have changed, I’ve become what the kids would call a “bougie bitch” (or perhaps that’s just aging). After avoiding a tent during COVID, my husband and I decided that the best way to camp in the future would be to continue avoiding tents. So, we bought a 1996 Chevy Suburban, drove it 30 straight hours, and decided to camp at Watkins Glen.

Folks: It was the best camping decision I’ve made to this date. With the rear seats removed or folded down, there was space for a twin-size mattress pad that I loaded up with blankets and pillows to create a formidable nest. We slid mesh screens over the windows for privacy and to be able to roll them down for cool air at night. We even had a battery-powered fan for those nights when it was truly hot.

It was divine. I have never been less miserable while camping. For the first time, we managed to avoid the unfortunate pool of water that always seems to end up on the bottom of a tent, no matter how hard you try to avoid it. The ‘Burb kept the temperature pretty well regulated, so we were never too cold or too hot. And when it inevitably poured rain, I finally didn’t feel like I was about to wash away.

We’re planning on repeating this whole get-up for our yearly trek — though we’re actually going to, y’know, figure out some storage solutions this year.

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

2021's organization admittedly left a lot to be desired.

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