It’s the worst feeling in the world: You’ve planned a beautiful vacation to see neat cars going real fast in circles, only to check the weather the day before you leave and discover that it looks more like you should be preparing for a long trip on Noah’s Ark. But never fear, friends! You can still have a very fun and cool time, despite the weather!
(Welcomeback 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.)
I’ll hazard a guess here and say that I’ve experienced some sort of shit weather for 90 percent of the races I’ve gone to—and I’ve lost track of how many I’ve been to at this point. Whether it was the apocalyptic qualifying session at the 2016 Formula One US Grand Prix, the rain-delayed 2016 IndyCar race at Pocono, or an exceptionally damp F1 test session in Austria in 2015, I’ve been there. I have done that. I have endured all the bullshit Mother Nature throws at me with good humor—but I’ve also learned how to make the whole situation suck a hell of a lot less.
Get ready to get wet, race fans.
If you’re flying to a race, the last thing you want to do is stuff your bag to the brim with rain boots, a poncho, a jacket, and whatever else you bring along with you when it comes to staying dry. It takes up space that you could be using for other things, like, y’know, clothes and toiletries and all the merch you’ll inevitably buy at the track.
You can say to yourself, “yeah, okay, but it’s going to be raining and miserable the whole time anyway so why bother bringing appropriate gear?” or even “is a poncho going to make any difference if I’m sitting outside in a steady rain for eight hours?”
The answer to both is yes. Hell yes.
If you don’t show up prepared, you’re either going to end up spending money on expensive rain gear at the event itself or you might just opt for one of those flimsy plastic ponchos that track merch tents sell for at least $5 and aren’t much more than a glorified shopping bag. Those things don’t work. You don’t need to spend your money on shit that doesn’t even work when you could just as easily come prepared.
And, yes, rain boots are worth it. They’re so worth it. I’ve witnessed countless pairs of great shoes be sacrificed at the hands of Mother Nature many a temperamental weekend. My friend Sarah had to throw out a pair of Mercedes Puma shoes that ended up coated in so much mud they grew three sizes. I had to toss my favorite Eddie Van Halen Converse and a great pair of red Doc Marten knockoffs because the rain destroyed them. Rain boots will keep your good shoes from getting fucked, and they’re also designed for keeping your tootsies at least slightly drier than if you’re showing up in sneakers.
Long story short, if the forecast calls for rain, you need a jacket or poncho, boots, and an umbrella at least.
Just as there are different kinds of beer for different seasons so, too, are there different kinds of clothes appropriate for different kinds of rain. Fifty degrees and misty is very different from 80 degrees and pouring—and if you’re not dressed for it, it’s going to suck a big one.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve shown up to a race weekend with the absolutely wrong shit. At the final Watkins Glen IndyCar race, it was cold and rainy all weekend. I didn’t bring a heavy jacket or warm pants. A foolish maneuver! Bringing a single pair of jeans to the Austrian Grand Prix and to testing afterwards? Absurd!
And then there was the rain-drenched Formula One race at COTA in 2016—where I showed up wearing jeans and multiple layers and was not only ungodly hot but also perpetually damp, even long after the rain had stopped. If there’s one thing that really nips my race weekend enthusiasm in the bud, it’s having to sit around in a heavy pair of wet jeans.
Basically, what I’m saying is don’t be a fucking idiot like me. Check the damn weather just before you leave for the weekend and make sure you haven’t jammed your luggage with all the wrong kinds of clothes.
(And yes, you are going to want to bring extra socks. You might think you won’t wear them all. You will be wrong. If you can bring a whole suitcase just full of dry socks, fucking do it.)
Did you know that if you put your phone in a Ziploc bag and suck all the air out of it, you can still use the touch screen on your phone? Now you know.
I started bringing Ziploc bags to races solely just because my shampoo was prone to exploding in my luggage and soon discovered the beauty of their waterproof properties when the rain threatened to be absolutely awful.
I tend to bring a fair amout of electronics to the track with me. I generally always have my phone, an extra battery pack, a nice camera, and my Polaroid and disposable cameras. Hell, even my wallet is usually jam-packed with ticket stubs that I’d like to preserve. I usually travel with friends who bring the same stuff. These are not things you want to get drenched by a sudden rainstorm.
Stick it all in a Ziploc bag, and you’re good to go. You can still use your phone, and you can rest easy knowing that your expensive goodies aren’t getting ruined.
There aren’t any laws dictating what you’re allowed or banned from drinking in certain types of weather—but there are still some drinks that are better than others for a rainy day.
Bring yourself some cinnamon-flavored whiskey and splash it in your coffee or hot chocolate—or just drop the frills and do straight shots of it. Take the opportunity to bring your favorite stouts that you usually aren’t inclined to sip at the track. Make White Russians or pretend it’s Christmas in July and break out your favorite holiday drinks.
Personally, I like to top up my cans of cider with whiskey after I’ve taken my first few swigs. It warms up my innards in a way that straight cider doesn’t, and it also makes me care significantly less about the fact that I’m being pelted with water all day.
I am not a fan of camping on a good day, but I have also managed to camp at race tracks when it’s pouring rain. It does kinda suck. But it is still possible!
First of all, grab a drink and lower your standards. Camping is not the most luxurious form of lodging, but chances are, it’s about to get a whole hell of a lot worse now that everything is humid and wet.
Even waterproof tents can end up getting wet inside as a result of condensation. If you can, bring a pop-up or a tarp and cover your tent. This will keep the worst of the weather off your lodgings, and it also means you can crack the window or door to let out some of the humidity that’ll accumulate inside while you sleep.
An air mattress is key here. Elevation helps. Even if you manage to somehow accumulate a puddle on the tent floor, the air mattress will keep you elevated. Try to keep it centrally positioned in the tent, because any brush up against the wall will likely leave you and your blankets covered in condensation.
Everything in your entire life will probably feel wet if you’re camping all weekend and the rain refuses to let up. It’s not pleasant. If you can, store your dry clothes in the car and try to avoid opening it for long periods of time to keep the humidity out. It might be tempting to dry your wet things in the car, but this is a mistake! Pack extra clothes and put them on when you want something dry and just abandon your wet things to a damp fate.
If you can’t dry your things off before you pack them up, that’s fine! I like to bring trash bags and stuff all my wet stuff into ‘em. Just make sure you unpack everything and dry it out as soon as you can at home.
Just because it’s rainy doesn’t mean you’ll be miserable the entire weekend. Yes, it kinda blows to have your weekend tarnished by shitty weather, but try to reframe your mindset—wet races are some of the most entertaining and unforgettable! You might be plodding around with wet feet for three days, but you’re also pretty damn likely to look back on the weekend remembering the racing itself fondly (unless, of course, you’re at an oval course and all the track action is cancelled—I’ve been there, and I feel you).
If you need a few drinks to improve your mood, fine. Just try not to make yourself miserable! If qualifying is cancelled because of rain, maybe the FIA will let all the fans who stuck out the weather come wander the pit lane for free. If the race is postponed, maybe your favorite team will let you shelter in their garage.
Rainy races can be downers, yeah—but I’ve been to my fair share of them, and they’re also some of the most fun and hilarious memories of races that I have.
That said, though, sometimes things just don’t work out. Maybe you start getting a cold, or you’re prone to pneumonia, or you’re just sad and miserable, or you have a flight to catch. There’s nothing wrong with calling it quits and just going home.
I’ve stuck it out through some shitty race weekends and had the time of my life. I’ve also quit a race weekend early and been okay with that decision. If the Daytona 24 runs 12 hours under a yellow because it won’t stop pouring and you have a long drive home afterward, it’s cool to go home. If you’re getting sick before the first few laps start, it’s okay to find a bar and watch the race there. If you have to get home for work on Monday, there’s nothing wrong with missing the oval race that’s been postponed until then.
Dedication pays off, but do what’s best for you. If you’re wholeheartedly miserable, there is no point in trying to push through! You can have plenty of fun away from the track when you’re dry and comfortable. If you’re in good company, it can be nice to watch the race on TV and just laugh at all the suckers who stuck it out.
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!