This week marks the tenth season that Nascar has been coming to Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet. Though this is the second year that the Sprint Cup race is in September (previously it was the weekend after July 4th), and is the start of the playoffs in Nascar, called the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
The fact that Nascar thought enough of our track and area to be the starting line for the playoffs is meaningful and every sports fan should make a trip out to the track to see a race, it’s a experience like nothing else (even in motorsports), but really can’t match up any other local sports event.
So as a veteran spectator of many races I will give you a guide to coming out to the race and how to get the most out of an afternoon at the races.
Now I know tickets aren’t cheap, even the lower level Nationwide series (think Triple A in baseball), will run you around $ 50 a seat and the top level Sprint Cup is around $ 100 a seat. Now catch your breath and think of this, for that money, you park for free and you get a concert too, its country star Luke Bryan this year.
The best way to start a race is by tailgating in the massive parking area outside of the track. Get to the track at least 2 hours before the race starts (I believe the gates open at 7 or 8 in the morning for a 1 P.M. race), and bring a small, preferably gas grill and have something simple to cook like burgers or dogs. Have some snacks too and bring a cooler full of your favorite drinks and condiments (which should be in bottles or Tupperware to make your life easier), and you can bring a smaller 6 pack cooler (check the track rules at their webpage http://www.chicagolandspeedway.com/?homepage=true), into the track but no frozen bottles of water, just a few cans of pop or cool water.
By the way bring garbage bags for your trash, once you are done simply bag your rubbish and leave it tied up and later that afternoon the track workers will come and get it.
Also have a pop up canopy for when you are out in the parking area to keep the sun off of you, it’s worth the money. So are foldable chairs and a decent folding table to handle the food and eat on. You basically are setting up camp for time before and after the race (traffic can sometimes be bad post race, so just chill ‘till traffic dies down), to hang out. Also a set of bean bags goes a long way with a bunch of friends.
Once you go to the track (and make sure to lock all your stuff up once you are done eating and hanging out), you may be a ways out depending where you park but there are buses and trams to get you to the front of the track, take them, it will save on your feet and they are free too.
You will see a lot of portable bathrooms along the way to the track, use at your own discretion (no explanation needed), there are more bathrooms in the track (they added more a few years ago), but it’s a ways and sometimes there is a line to have your bagged checked (which is mandatory), and get into the track.
Once you reach the gates to the track you will see the Champions Park, which is an area dedicated to all of the guys who have won at the track over the last ten years.
There’s also my favorite place, the Midway with vendors from all the major drivers and sponsors. It’s the place to get the best deals on the coolest merchandise, apparel and anything else to support your favorite driver/race team. There are usually some giveaways from some of the vendors too (free pop, etc. And early in the morning there are drivers out signing autographs, usually this is when the gates open and lines can be long and or there might be a lottery to see who can get to meet the most popular drivers.
Also if you don’t own a portable scanner radio and noise protecting headphones, you can rent one in the Midway, racing electronics handles that, I believe you leave your driver’s license as collateral. Having a portable scanner (like the police use), allows you to follow your favorite driver and his/her team or just pick up the radio feed for the race. It’s a lot easier to know what is going on by listening to a race team or the broadcast.
If you have your tickets already you will see it’s bigger than any other ticket you’ve ever had for a game. But most people (myself included), wear their ticket in a clear plastic lanyard, bigger than one you use for work, you can buy them in the Midway, or often sponsors give them away (it’s how I got new ones last year), get one if you don’t have one.
And make sure to bring ear plugs, it’s very loud having 43 race cars driving around at 180 miles per hour. The best place to get them is a drug store prior to coming to the race, probably the cheapest thing you’ll buy all day.
You need a hat and shades for the races are in the afternoon and it’s bright at the track.
Bring a towel too, if it’s hot you can wipe off your sweat and if it rains you can wipe off your seat and unless you are seated in the founders seats (if you don’t know what that is, it means you aren’t), then you sit on aluminum bench bleachers. The good thing is they have backs, the bad thing is they get hot/cold and if the race is sold out you will know the people next to you really well.
And it can be cooler temperatures in the track, especially if you are sitting high up, than outside the track, the elevation alone (prepared to walk up some stairs for the better seats), not to mention those 43 cars flying around, make it a little cooler, so you might want to bring or buy a hoodie or long sleeved shirt.
Also either get a program or print out a list of the drivers, car numbers, etc before the race, makes it easier to follow the race, even us diehard fans need an update on who is driving what car because the sponsors and colors of the cars often change from week to week.
If you have binoculars or some sort of optics, that helps, the track is a mile and half in the shape of the letter D. It’s hard to see everything, especially if there is a crash on the other side of the track.
Other than that, you should be set, in the words of the champion racer and broadcaster Darrell Waltrip, boogety, boogety boogety, lets go racing!