Good Ol' Boys - NASCAR

A Weekend of Camping at The Glen
By Doug Belliveau
August 21, 2000

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The scene was a rain-drenched open field in upstate New York. There was an ocean of multi-colored tents as far as the eye could see. There were thousands of people mulling about and having a good time. Is this Woodstock 1969? No - it's the experience of a NASCAR camping weekend at The Glen.

Family Camping at The Glen

Every year, people from all over the country descend upon this little town to enjoy a weekend of NASCAR Winston Cup road racing. AutoRacing1.com decided to participate and experience life amongst the masses. It's one thing to cover a race from a press box and a fancy hotel room. It's quite another to be out and live amongst hard-core racing fans for a three-day extravaganza.

So we packed up the pop-up camper and headed out Friday morning for the five-hour journey north to the scenic town of Watkins Glen. We arrived at around 1:00 pm to find that the camping areas were mostly filled. Many people had already been there since Wednesday when the camping facilities opened. A site near one of the main gravel roads and across from the bathrooms was a good place to set up our camp. >From there we would be able to observe many of the inhabitants of this temporary "town".

Camping areas were located both within the 2.45-mile racetrack and just outside an unused portion of the road course. Sites within the track were labeled reserved, while some of those outside were considered family camping areas. The only difference in the family areas was the 11:00 p.m. quiet time versus 1:00 a.m. in the other areas. We decided to camp in the family area because we would need some amount of sleep in order to cover the Winston Cup events. These quiet times were strictly yet politely enforced by the ubiquitous local police officers patrolling the campground. Everybody in our area complied with the rules.

NASCAR camps are everywhere!

Far from the large motor homes in the VIP infield area, these camping areas consisted of large grassed areas, some flat and some rather hilly. Although the sites were not expansive, there was enough room to set up your tent or trailer with space left over to set up a campfire and chairs. A few dirt and gravel roads that traversed through the large fields provided access to camping sites. Several primitive bathrooms scattered the countryside. Next year The Glen will invest millions of dollars and begin installing the water and sanitary sewer facilities necessary to provide complete bathhouses. But the lack of plumbing did not deter anyone; many sites had makeshift showers consisting of a suspended water bag with a shower curtain hung on a frame. The Glen did provide temporary shower units in the camping area inside the track.

Living quarters consisted of tents, popup campers, travel trailers and motor homes. Many people were from New York State, but we noticed license plates from at least a dozen other states. One of our next-door neighbors was from Oregon. Of particular uniqueness was an older Winnebago with an exact scale replica of itself prominently displayed on the dashboard. Another neighbor drove up in his grandfather's 1975 Class C motor home and parked for the weekend. He couldn't get the vehicle completely level, but that didn't seem to faze him, he just parked the vehicle at an angle across the site and made the best of it. Sites accommodated groups of guys, family units and couples. Some groups created common areas covered by a maze of tarps and awnings, creating their own towns. These common areas came in handy on a weekend when the weather refused to cooperate.

During our interaction with dozens of people, we found out two things. First of all, casual fans need not apply here! These fans know their stuff. They are knowledgeable about the drivers, the tracks, the cars, the sponsors and everything in between. One guy told me about how Rusty Wallace performed at The Glen 12 years ago. Almost every site had a flag displaying their affiliation to a favorite driver or auto manufacturer. Many sites had three or four different flags raised high for all to see. Also very popular were banners announcing "Race Fans Welcome". Scattered throughout were blue and red rotating beacon lights sitting atop tall poles.

Second, these fans know how to have a good time. And they know how to do it while respecting one another's privacy and not causing problems. Were they rowdy? Certainly some of them were. One guy across the road amusingly blew a horn every few minutes. This prompted nearly every other site within earshot to yell back "Wazzzz Uuuuuup", made infamous by the Budweiser beer commercial. But this was not the type of behavior that required police intervention; after all, this was by all counts a huge celebration. Beer, and lots of it, was the beverage of choice. Coolers full of brew were carried, wheeled, pushed and pulled all over the campground. Some sites were gathering points for dozens of people, eating and drinking in a barbeque style atmosphere. Music, varying from hard rock to country, could be heard echoing through the valley all day and into the evening hours. But by Saturday evening it seemed like most of the campers had tuned their radios to a classic rock and roll station, creating a unison sound drifting across the campground like the smoke from their campfires.

As we walked through the various camping areas, we observed several amusing things. There was the one gentleman who was bathing in a large inflatable pool. That normally wouldn't be that funny, except it rained most of the weekend and was in the 60-degree range most of the time. One creative group of people used empty beer cans to spell out "Gordon Sucks" in huge letters. The rain provided for entertainment opportunities as well. When one of the dirt roads became very muddy on Saturday, an informal four-wheel drive show was initiated. Looking much like a monster truck event, several large pickups drove through the deep mud, spinning tires and tossing chunks of sod in all directions. Even a conversion van attempted the climb through the muck, eliciting cheers from the gathered crowd. But they were all second to the family who chose to make their way back to camp along that route. As the mother and older child proceeded to tip toe their way through the mud, good old dad set out to put on the best four wheeling demonstration of the night by pushing his youngest child through the mud in a stroller. Complete with wheelies and mud flying from dad's heels, the crowd went absolutely crazy and cheered him on.

Track Map & Camping Layout

When nightfall arrived, things did not slow down. Firework shows were abundant. Different areas of the campground took turns setting off everything from bottle rockets to Roman candles. One person high upon the hill pointed his powerful flashlight skyward. A second flashlight beam appeared from across the racetrack, and then another. Soon half-dozen beams of light chased each other through the thick foggy darkness for several minutes. The grand finale occurred when two flares were launched high above the campground. They bathed the area in brilliant red and yellow light, making daylight appear from within the dark cloudy skies.

All in all, this was a great experience for us. We couldn't resist joining in the festivities and had a whole bunch of fun. And that's what it is all about - watching world-class racing and enjoying yourself. When next August rolls around, can you guess where we'll be staying at The Glen? Why don't you come join us?

Make sure to visit the official Watkins Glen website at www.theglen.com for information and tickets on other events.

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