I’ve been to my fair share of automobile races all around the world. I’ve been to London for Formula E and Austria for F1. I followed IndyCar for just about the entirety of one summer, and I met my husband at our yearly trek to an IMSA event. In that time, I’ve done it all: I’ve worked media, camped inside and outside the track, stayed in hostels, made questionable decisions, and undoubtedly spent too much money. And for some reason, folks just let their inhibitions go at the track.
I don’t know that I necessarily understand it, but I can appreciate that loud cars and a little too much alcohol can go a long way in creating an environment ripe with opportunity. I have, after all, imbibed some frankly awful things at the track and gotten up to my fair share of shenanigans. Today, though, I want to focus on the other legends, the people out there doing things that I could only dream of.
At the 2016 Canadian Grand Prix, a friend of a friend provided us with grandstand tickets for a single day, thus saving us from the misery that is general admission in Montreal. And I will never forget the other man in that grandstand who showed up with a cooler and a battery-powered blender intent upon whipping up some frozen drinks.
The whole grandstand was in awe of this man. Why hadn’t we thought of this before? If you can bring a cooler and some alcohol to the track, why not also bring a blender? Why not make your own margaritas and piña coladas? Why not live like kings?
Alas, it was short-lived envy for Blender Man. The security guards told him he was making too much noise, and he was asked to dispose of the blender.
Every year at the Six Hours of the Glen, some friends assemble the Sobriety Checkpoint, which is basically a few pieces of the same wood that get re-screwed together at every race. But it is nothing compared to what I saw at the 2015 Austrian Grand Prix.
I attended that event with two other Americans and one British person, so to say that we couldn’t understand anyone heckling us was a bit of an understatement. We wandered around the campsite on Thursday morning and met a family of Austrian fellas who, we somehow gathered, came to the track every year. The next day, we went to seek out our new friends, and they had assembled an entire bar.
I mean, this thing was a bar. It was probably 12 feet long with plenty of table space. It also had a frame around the top, where these men proudly displayed a line of the emptied liquor bottles from the weekend (and yes, these are the same men who provided us shots of homemade alcohol). They apparently make a brand new bar every year, then just leave it in the campsite for someone else to deal with.
I don’t know what it was about Austria that brought out the craftsmen in my fellow campers, but we watched as one group of dudes somehow constructed a hot tub with some tarp and a generator. If that wasn’t sketchy enough, this group of dudes got fully nude during their weekend soaks.
They invited us to join them, and for a moment, I truly considered it since I had only packed a single pair of jeans and it was very cold.
When my friend Remy and I decided to embark on a massive Grand Prix adventure in 2015, we knew we’d end up at Silverstone during the 4th of July weekend. We did what any good Americans would do and brought a flagpole and an American flag, which we dutifully carted through the land of the colonizers with the full expectation of making some old British men mad.
What we did not expect was running into another American duo — complete with an American flag on a flagpole and all — at Silverstone. I believe we just pointed at each other and yelled incoherently, then took a selfie.
As a longtime certified Manor Marussia fan, the ever-kind Graeme Lowdon invited me into the team’s WEC garage during Lone Star Le Mans after the team has officially left F1. While I got an up-close look at the car and a chat from an engineer, a handful of Manor mechanics slipped away to the back corner of the garage where the team had stored barrels of extra fuel and casually lit up a cigarette. Apparently, this is just A Thing because I’ve seen it many times since then, but that one really blew my mind.
At the first-ever New York ePrix, I was doing media for a Formula E fansite and found a place behind the garages to take photos. Jean-Éric Vergne walked over to the semi-permanent bathrooms, but instead of going inside a stall, he just peed under the raised bathroom platform. Okay!
I’d been telling my friends about an Austin food truck called Chi’Lantro, which made some incredible french fries topped with cilantro, kimchi, your protein of choice, sriracha, and another spicy mayo. So, I walked to one of the local food truck with my pal during the 2015 United States Grand Prix, since it was two blocks away. It was swarmed with Red Bull-shirted team personnel... because Daniel Ricciardo was inside serving up kimchi fries. Austin is great.
I didn’t understand why so many people cracked jokes about dentists being sports car drivers until I went to a Pirelli World Challenge race at the Circuit of the Americas in 2015 and saw how many drivers were actually dentists that used their dentist money to go racing and to sponsor their own car. My favorite part was walking through the paddock to find out which dentists were giving away free toothpaste samples. I didn’t have to buy toothpaste for four years.
If you know what the Coke Lot is, you’re probably already cringing. If you don’t, I’m sorry this is how you have to learn about it.
The Coke Lot is a camping lot at the Indy 500 infamous for its parties. When my friend Remy and I booked our camping tickets, we had no idea what the Coke Lot was and only learned the hard way a few months later.
The Coke Lot is where a man gave me a gin shot from a mop bucket, which he had sucked up with a turkey baster. We pulled in, and there were people straight up just sleeping on the ground because they’d gotten too drunk to put their tent together. There were mountains of beer cans, and it was only Thursday. People drove around with couches in the back of their pickup, and then we saw those couches lit on fire at the end of the night.
The worst part of it all, though, was the bathrooms, which were not bathrooms but merely a single row of porta-potties that had overflowed so impressively by Friday morning that for about 10 feet in and around them was a formidable swamp of sewage. I’ve never seen anything so horrible. Yes, I brushed my teeth at the race track.