I’ve gone to a fair share of races and feel like I’ve developed a somewhat reasonable game plan for almost every contingency. But this year’s Rolex 24—my first 24-hour race ever—was a whole new beast for me. I succeeded at watching the whole thing onsite, and so can you.
If you’re one of the rare breed of people who are a glutton for a full day of exhaust fumes, sunburn, and exhaustion in the name of fun, then this guide is for you.
(Welcome to the Race Car Survival Guide, a new 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.)
It doesn’t matter where you’re going—weather is a fickle beast and can change rapidly over the course of 24 hours. Whether you’re at Daytona, Le Mans, Spa, or the Nürburgring, there’s a good chance the weather is going to be significantly different at 2 a.m. than it is at 2 p.m., and if you’re not prepared, you’re going to be miserable.
Case in point: at Daytona this year, I wished I’d brought a pair of shorts on Friday. After the sun set, though, I was wearing three pairs of pants and digging out my winter jacket. When it started raining, I wished I’d brought my rain boots and poncho—which I didn’t, because I was a fool who trusted the weather forecast would be clear if I hoped hard enough.
Layers are awesome. Rain gear is great. Don’t assume that 60 degrees at night will feel nice and toasty (especially if you end up sunburned, or if it’s windy, or if it’s raining). Be ready for it all.
I feel like this one should be intuitive, but every single year I’ve gone to a race, at least one person forgets this golden rule. They think they’re an absolute brain genius—they go out and buy a great pair of walking shoes, ones that are advertised as being able to withstand the most intensive of hikes. Then they throw ‘em in their bag fresh out of the box, wear them all weekend, and come home with blisters. Bad idea!
Do not use a race weekend to break in your brand new shoes! You’re honestly better off wearing that trusty pair of sneakers that have seen better days but are the most comfortable things you’ve ever worn. You’re in it for the long haul here—the longer it takes for your feet to get sore, the more you can do and the more fun you’re going to have.
And in the event that the weather is atrocious (I’m looking at you, 2015 United States Grand Prix), you won’t feel quite as bad mucking up a pair of old kicks as you might your new ones
This is true for everyone, but especially for those wild souls who are traveling home immediately after the race, like I did. You’re going to get tired. You should listen to your body and indulge in a quick snooze—you’ll feel a million times better if you do. And, listen—you’re already getting more racing squeezed into the span of a single day than you’d get if you went to, like, the entire Formula One season. Taking a two-hour hiatus isn’t a bad idea.
My best tip? Bring earplugs. They’re a good investment for any race, but loud noises for 24 straight hours can be hell on your brain. And they have the added bonus of blocking out just enough noise to make sleep a possibility when you’re trackside. You’re not going to get pure silence, but it’ll dampen the sound just enough to make it kinda soothing. If you can find a place to sleep that’s not directly trackside, they’ll work wonders.
This one is going to sound counterintuitive at first, but you’ll get your best sleep when the cars are under green. That constant drone almost turns into a surround-sound white noise machine. It’s a lot harder to sleep when you have a minute of silence followed by a minute of cars cruising by under a safety car.
When you’re awake, you’re burning lots of calories. When you’re walking around a race track, you’re burning a lot more. The last thing you want at a long race is to get a hunger-headache or develop a bad attitude that ruins the experience. You, like the cars, will need to top up your gas tank to make it to the checkered. I went through some pretty intensive one-on-one nutrition training last year, and my nutritionist’s advice for watching a 24 hour race at home was to have a little snack every two to three hours.
If you’d bring it on a hike, bring it to the race. Granola bars and jerky are always good go-tos. A little candy is good for a quick sugar spike. I personally like having apples with me because it feels like they cut through all the other shit I’ve been putting in my body all weekend. If you’re an energy drink person, grab one without a ton of sugar so you don’t crash (too many carbs will do the same thing, but also I love carbs, so I will never tell anyone to go easy on them).
When in doubt, there will be track food—but that gets expensive if you’re stopping in to buy food there more than once a day. A hot meal can work wonders for the body, but don’t underestimate the power of a good snack.
This one is too individual-specific for me to make any sweeping suggestions. Just understand what kind of drinker you are and consume accordingly.
I knew I was going to have to drive home right after the race, so I had an obscene amount of race-day mimosas before a single car hit the track and then called it quits because I wanted to feel like a human being well before dark. Some friends I was camping with (who were doing a similar drive home) drank throughout most of the race and quit about 12 hours in.
It depends on what works for you. I mean, I can’t judge, but probably don’t drink for 24 straight hours. Just come into the weekend with a plan based on how you cope with alcohol, and you’ll be fine.
It’s really, really tempting to run around like an excited puppy on race day. There’s so much to do! Race cars! Merch! Grid walks! Midways! Friends! I gotta do it all!
Take a breather, friend. You have 24 whole entire hours to check things off your to do list. Enjoy the pre-race fun, then pick a spot in the grandstands for you and your pals to meet up, and chill. It helps to do things in two or three hour stints. Two hours in one grandstand, two hours in another, two hours in the midway, two hours to sleep, etc. Don’t overdo it before you even hit the halfway mark, and make sure you’re taking time to savor every moment.
- A portable phone charger I have this one—it’s served me well at races for three years now and can survive both me and my fiancé during an entire tweet-heavy race weekend.
- Goody’s headache powder It is far more efficient than your regular headache pill. Trust me. Three seconds after you take it, and you’ll feel like a million bucks.
- Pedialyte, Gatorade, and a refillable water bottle Stay hydrated! Pee clear!
- Compression socks. Your feet will thank you.
- Baby powder I’ve never seen a man as happy as when my friend put some baby powder on his nether regions. I want all of you to experience that joy.
- Baby wipes I can’t speak for every track, but there are a mere twenty shower stalls for the entire infield campsite at Daytona. Do yourself—and anyone who has to stand within a foot of you—a favor.
- Sunscreen You might think you won’t need it, but you’re going to need it. Pro tip: the sunscreen designed to be worn under makeup is usually better for your skin than the other kinds.
- Ziploc bags They’re great to have for your electronics if it starts raining. You can also still use most smartphones through the plastic of a sandwich bag if you suck all the air out.
- Umbrella You’ll thank me if it’s raining. You’ll also thank me with the godless, unforgiving sun is torching your skin.
- Bandaids Stick a few in your wallet. They’re great for the odd injuries you’re liable to pick up stumbling through the dark. My fiancé snapped his engagement ring in half this year, and the cut that resulted from it got real gross. Cover those owies up.
- A good sense of humor A 24 hour race is exhausting, mentally and physically. Try not to take things outside of your control personally. Laugh, be patient, and embrace whatever life throws at you. No matter what happens, you’re coming home with a damn good story.
Post-race is as important as the race itself when it comes to a 24 event. It’s really tempting to drive home immediately after the race ends and dive back into your everyday life—and it’s totally possible, I did it this year—but it freakin’ sucks. The fifteen hour drive home to get to a 7 p.m. Monday class after the 24 hour race was the only thing I regretted about going to Daytona. That, and showing up to the track on Thursday with a hangover (which is why you should be smart with your booze, kids).
Give yourself an extra day to chill if you can. Take off work, hang out in a town near the track, or drive home at a leisurely pace—but by all means, make yourself comfortable. You’re going to want to take a shower, eat a hot meal, re-hydrate, and sleep for what feels like a lifetime. It’s better if you can do that immediately after the race, not the following day because you did a mad-dash drive across the country.
And a pro tip: do some stretches, no matter what your post-race plans look like. Chances are, your body has gotten real tense after all that excitement, walking around, camping, and/or driving. Focus on big muscle groups and stretch them out one by one. You’ll feel better, I promise.
No matter what you’re doing after the race, remember: your body and brain have just experienced an endurance event! Treat them kindly.
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!