Photo: Elizabeth Werth

Booze and race cars go together better than peanut butter and jelly. (When you’re watching them, of course, not driving them. Don’t do that.) The track is one of the only places where drinking beer at 9 a.m. is not only acceptable but a great idea. But how the hell are you supposed to bake in the sunshine all day, get appropriately lit, and not die in the process?

Great news, Jalops. Not only am I an avid race car fan, but I’m an equally avid drinker, and I’m quite fond of partaking in both at the same time. The first time I was ever drunk was at the race track. The first time I had a mimosa, it was at the track. The first time I ever drank something so horrifically awful that I immediately regretted everything that brought me to that moment in time, it was at the track.

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The downside to that is that I have suffered far too many hangovers or vomiting sessions in the name of The Race Car. The good side, however is that I can share my tips and tricks here with you on how to enjoy yourself but not die in the process. I cannot, however, speak for the quality of your liver.

(Welcome to the Race Car Survival Guide, a series where we outline all the tips and tricks that will help you make it through a race weekend intact. Whether you’re heading to your first race and are totally lost or are a veteran just checking out how other race fans do it, this is for you.)

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Pace Yourself

While the race track, like the frat house or Austin’s Sixth Street, is one of the few places where societal rules cease to exist, you should not think that you’re immune to the powers of booze. Just because you can drink your bodyweight in alcohol before the sun goes down does not necessarily mean you should.

I hate to break it to you, but the human body has limits, and race weekends can be long. I have known many a Man to retire to the nearest shady area after too many beers or an eleven-second long pull from a bottle of Jack Daniels Fire.

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Put down the red Solo cup and drink your goddamn water.

The mild dehydration I always end up with at the track combined with booze creates a very specific kind of hell that has resulted in worse dehydration, hypersensitivity to heat that bordered on heat stroke, and vomiting. Make it your mission to knock out a bottle of water first thing in the morning and again every time cars hit the track.

Otherwise you’ll end up sitting in someone’s cooler, making a fool of yourself

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If you’re camping at the track, each person should bring their own case of water or a refillable water bottle that they’re refilling every three hours. The party is very likely going to continue until some obscene hour of the morning. Do you want to be the fool who taps out before sunset, clutching their stomach under a tent?

No. You do not. Drink your water.

And make sure you’re actually eating food, you absolute fool! Real food! Good, nourishing food! Track food! It doesn’t matter, just get something else in your stomach!

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Drink Things You Like

I didn’t actually like this beer.
Photo: Elizabeth Werth

“Why would I drink things I don’t like?” I hear you ask—and I get it. However, it can be easier said than done.

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Me? I don’t like beer (unless it’s a sour beer because that barely tastes like beer at all). I don’t like gin because its taste reminds me of all the bad decisions I made on my 21st birthday. Every year, someone tries to convince me that their beer or their gin is the best. It never is. I can’t choke these things down just to make someone happy. After a half can of Busch Lite I want to vomit and swear off alcohol for the rest of my life. No one will really be happy that you drank their booze—they’ll just laugh at you as you suffer. However, I am a fiend for bagged and/or boxed wine because I am a dignified, classy woman. Other people hate it because it gives them hangovers.

For me, it’s fine. I am a champion.

You don’t have to give into peer pressure. It’s just gonna make your day suck. However, you can’t expect things you enjoy to be readily available, which leads me to...

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Bring Your Own Booze (and Mix Your Own Drinks)

For both monetary and enjoyment purposes, you’ll save money bringing your own drinks to the track, but also, you’ll also likely have picked out something that you like.

Again, this is important for people traveling in a group. Booze should not be a sole person’s duty to acquire unless everyone has exactly the same taste. Otherwise you’ll end up with a shithead like me who buys nothing but cider and wine and then has to listen to everyone bitch about how I’m trying to give them sugar hangovers.

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On top of that, mix your own drinks. You should be the one controlling your level of drunk and destiny, not someone else. Don’t trust someone else to know how much Jack you like in your Jack and Coke. Don’t assume that the track is a safe place where no one will surreptitiously slip a drug into your cup. Never take drinks from strangers.

(However, I would also like to note that, when traveling to new places, bringing a case of your own local brews and using it as currency to trade for the area’s local brews is a great way to make friends and try new things.)

If you aren’t camping and need to find a clever way to sneak your drinks into the track, refer to my guide on What to Expect on Your Cheap Race Weekend.

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And, finally—don’t buy booze from concession stands unless it’s too good to pass up or you’re just that desperate. I’ll splurge on a frozen beverage on a hot day because I can’t make that myself. But you’re better off stocking up on your own drinks if you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck.

Drink With People You Trust

This should be self-explanatory, but it’s one of those pieces of advice that can get pushed aside when you’re meeting other race fans at the track and succumbing to the pull of shots of their homemade booze. Your level of lit should correspond to how much you trust the people around you.

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Nine times out of ten, I have no problems drinking at the track or in the campground. There are those other, rare times, though, where I’ve genuinely felt scared or unsafe, where I’ve done something I regretted, or where I realize in retrospect that I could have Fucked Up Very Badly.

For example, when I attended the Austrian Grand Prix, I disappeared into the depths of the campsite with a stranger because my drunk ass thought that would be a good idea! Drunkenly disappearing into a campsite where you don’t speak the dominant language is never a good idea! I realize now that, had the fella not turned out to be a Kimi Raikkonen fan—which was for me, at the time, a real dealbreaker—and I didn’t immediately sober up and disappear back to my own campsite, that situation could have turned out very poorly!

Use the buddy system and always drink with your designated bro.

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The photo above is me with my friend Sarah, the truly wonderful human with whom I attended 90 percent of races while I was in college. They’re the one who taught me everything I now know about consuming alcohol at the track—and they’re also the reason I stayed out of trouble! The ideal pal is one who will both encourage you to live your best, most ridiculous life but who will also be there to punt you into your sleeping bag with a bottle of water and an Advil after you’ve had one too many and constantly remind you of That One Time In Austria when you get another one of your shitty ideas.

This is doubly important for my fellow female race fans. Have fun, but in environments where you know everyone is looking out for each other. And always make your drunken trips to the toilet with a friend.

Hangover Relief

Even drinking water and eating decently doesn’t always prevent a hangover. When in doubt, stock up on hangover remedies.

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There’s a joke amongst the fellas I camp with for the 6 Hours of the Glen IMSA race each year: “this campsite is sponsored by Pedialyte and Goody’s headache powder.” There are seasoned drinkers at that site who wake up each morning and reach for a beer. There are also plenty of us who crawl out of our tents like the girl from The Ring climbing out of the TV.

Start your day with an entire, giant container of Pedialyte to rehydrate all the organs that were pickled by your alcohol consumption without taking in all the sugar of a Gatorade. If you double-team your hangover with a packet of Goody’s headache powder immediately after (which is basically a crushed headache pill spiked with caffeine, so not only does it work faster than taking a pill, but it also takes care of your need for a morning coffee), you’ll be good to go in no time. Eat something if your stomach feels up to it, chew on some ginger candy if it doesn’t, and get right back into it.

When in doubt, refer back to point number one: pace yourself. As a lightweight, I try not to drink before noon, and I make sure I have plenty of inoffensive snacks on hand in the event that I feel especially shitty.

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A Note On Illicit Substances

There are often illicit substances at the track—especially if you’re camping. All of the advice here remains true for those situations, but one hundred fold. You can do whatever your heart desires, but please do so in a sane and smart manner.

Just make sure you’re safe and well taken care of! Know what you’re getting yourself into! Listen to trusted friends when they tell you that you do not need to eat an entire weed cookie to get more than sufficiently stoned! And have a game plan for these other substances before you get to the track—if you’re really not down to smoke weed, having made that determination before even leaving the house will make it easier to say no when you’re a few drinks deep.

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That’s all we have for this edition of our Race Car Survival Guide! If you have any tips of your own or an idea for a blog you’d like to see, let us know in the comments or email me at ewerth [at] jalopnik [dot] com!