Editor’s note: This story first published on June 22, 2021:
One of the best complementing experiences of attending a NASCAR race is camping near a race track. Both before and after a race, the interaction between fans — creating new friendships and renewing old friendships, as well — is a celebration of NASCAR, camaraderie and limitless fun.
There’s a definite joy of sitting around a campsite talking with fellow fans about memorable past races, favorite (and sometimes not-so-favorite) drivers, and swapping tales — all the while enjoying a drink or meal, maybe even toasting some marshmallows over a campfire.
While camping can run the gamut from pitching a pup tent to “roughing it” in a six-figure motor home, like with the old American Express commercials, there are certain things you just shouldn’t leave home without.
As part of NASCAR’s Summer Family Fun initiative, here are 10 helpful tips for novice campers to make the overall experience all the more enjoyable and rewarding:
1. The biggest must-have of all: bug spray! Whether you’re camping outside places like Bristol Motor Speedway, Pocono Raceway or Talladega Superspeedway, always make sure to pack bug spray to shoo away pests like mosquitos, bees, wasps and especially ants! Don’t forget: pests love camping, too! They consider it an all-you-can-eat buffet, be it your food or, in the case of “skeeters,” your blood. Keep a can of bug spray in your bag, and don’t forget the suntan lotion.
2. Practice makes perfect: If you’re a camping newbie, DO NOT wait until you get to your campsite to figure out how to pitch your tent. Even if the instructions say you can be in business in five minutes or less, don’t believe it if you have zero prior experience. Make several practice runs while still at home on learning a quick, efficient way to erect and take down your new tent. Also, put silicone treatment on both the inside and outside of your tent to make sure it’s as waterproof as possible.
3. It’s all about location, location, location: Make sure you pitch your tent on as level ground as you can find, and bring along two tarps or indoor/outdoor rugs, one that can essentially serve as your “living room” outside the tent, and another tarp for the interior of the tent to rest your sleeping bags upon and stay clean and dry. Lastly, if you can camp in locations that offer amenities including hot showers, clean restrooms, and some that even offer wi-fi connections, you’ll have nearly all the comforts of home.
4. Getting a charge out of life, Part 1: Don’t forget a portable battery-powered radio — preferably one that includes a weather band (and alarm for approaching bad weather alerts) — and plenty of batteries. A radio not only keeps you connected with the news of the world and Motor Racing Network’s or Performance Racing Network’s broadcasts of NASCAR races, but it also keeps you informed of weather in your immediate area. If a storm front is moving in, a radio will help you prepare for what’s to come, as well as allow time to seek shelter, if need be. Also, make sure you have at least a couple of flashlights (again, with plenty of backup battery power) or lanterns to show you the way in the darkness. One clever amenity we’ve seen numerous campers use is to hang glow sticks to give a more comforting ambient light atmosphere around the campsite.
5. Getting a charge out of life, Part 2: Be it talking, texting, checking email and social media, surfing the web or playing games, we love our cell phones. Unfortunately, the more we use our phones, the quicker the battery life dries up. Our best suggestion: invest in not one but two portable phone battery chargers. And like your phone, make sure they’re fully charged before you leave home because it’s easy to forget there isn’t a wall plug or power strip that’s accessible when you’re in your tent.
6. Pack extra food and snacks (and ice!): Your campsite menu plans are only limited by your imagination, from simple staples such as hamburgers and hot dogs, on up to ribs, steaks, chicken and more. Always bring more than enough non-perishables (aka canned food) in case you wind up staying an extra day or two, plus plenty of chips and other snacks to nibble on when you get the munchies (but be careful about leaving candy around, as the ants will descend upon you quicker than a mid-winter blizzard), plus plenty of water and other liquids to remain hydrated. Don’t forget your cooler and lots of ice (or ice substitutes such as freeze packs and the like) to keep drinks, meats and other perishables cool and prevent spoilage. And bring several rolls of paper towels.
7. Pack extra clothes and blankets: Even if you camp for just one night, make sure to have plenty of blankets, pillows and extra dry clothes (including a jacket) in case you get stuck in the middle of a monsoon, your tent leaks or the 90-degree mid-afternoon temperature suddenly drops to 40 degrees at night, particularly in some of the more hilly areas near tracks such as Pocono, Bristol and New Hampshire. And don’t forget one folding chair apiece for everyone in your camping party.
8. Bring extra cash, just in case: Even if you’re the most prepared camper in the world, there’s always the chance of unexpected expenses that can occur at the worst of times. Plus, what’s going camping if you can’t bring home a few racing souvenirs from the track, right? One key tip: if you take extra cash, make sure it’s in your wallet only and that the wallet never leaves your sight or possession.
9. If possible, keep your vehicle close by: Unless you’re in a motor home or trailer, having your vehicle parked close by allows an element of enhanced safety from both stormy weather as well as if a local bear or other wildlife wanders into your campsite (which admittedly is rare). And if your sleeping bag proves too hard to get some decent sleep, there’s always the comfort of your car or truck to get some zzzzz’s.
10. Don’t be a litter bug: Bring plenty of garbage bags to clean up after yourself. Leave your campsite as you found it: clean! One other important thing: make sure that if you built one, that your campfire is completely extinguished before you leave. To paraphrase a line from Smokey The Bear, only YOU can prevent campsite fires!
Oh yes, one more thing — and perhaps the most important thing to pack of all: don’t forget your race tickets!