Race Weekend Central

Fan’s View: How I Learned to Tolerate 5-Hour Traffic Jams at NASCAR Races

It was the most galling thing in the world. We had come from not too far away, leaving plenty of time before the green flag would drop, but there was a big problem — the cars weren’t budging in any meaningful way. We listened to the traffic report for the 20th time: Route 106 would take an average of two hours from Interstate 393 to the track, about nine miles. We had already been in our car for well over two hours.

The joy and anticipation of the morning had long since vanished with the coffee and donuts. We now dreamed of restrooms, the chance to stretch our legs and yes, the possibility of actually reaching the track. Large passenger vans passed us in the grass on the edge of the road. At first we grumbled that they weren’t being patient and had decided to four-wheel it…until we noticed that everybody in the vans wore matching logoed uniforms. These were the over-the-wall-gangs for the teams, it was 11 a.m. and they were already late for their jobs.

We watched the mob at the Dunkin’ Donuts on the other side of the road. People had actually got out of their cars to run across and buy a little sustenance before resuming the race to nowhere. The sun rose higher. Our watches ticked. This was bad.

That interminable drive to the track was the good part of the commute. Later that day after we actually enjoyed the race on the track (Yes, we made it, but there were people who didn’t), we once again sat in the car with a cloud of dust and smoke surrounding us. Unlike the morning, now we were in a vast parking lot with no marked roads, nobody directing the tired fans and an impossible bottleneck just to get out of the lot only to sit for hours more on Route 106 and later on Interstate 93. For a 3-4 hour event, we spent approximately 10 hours in our car, most of it about an hour away from our house.

This sucked. But, you know, we were young and inexperienced. We figured we just did it wrong. In the years that followed, we attempted leaving earlier and earlier — cooking eggs and bacon on a hibachi out of the back of the Escort. We parked two miles from the track entrance, figuring we’d avoid the bottleneck on the grounds. We stayed late into the night, expanding the tailgating menu to include breakfast, lunch and dinner. We tried escaping to the north, the east, back roads, tricks friends whispered to us in dark taverns…

There remained a grim reality. The traffic was horrendous. Awful. As long as a two-lane “highway” remained as the single connection between New Hampshire International Speedway with the rest of the world, we couldn’t see anything improving. But you know, we did wonder…

Each race we attended there were always these people — happy, smiling people — who were comfortably ensconced in lawn chairs with a stocked cooler sitting next to them. They watched all the cars go nowhere. They chatted, carried burgers and sausages. The smoke of campfires built a heavy haze over the track property. Was there a better, less stressful way of dealing with race weekends that didn’t include endless parking lots?

Well, yes, there is. And I’ve never regretted the choice. We camp. We up and bought the RV, parking our home away from home a week before the event and arrive days ahead of time. We put up our feet, break open the Buds and watch a city rise out of the forest. All the worries of race day vanished, including the post-race rush back to where you came from. Year after year, more and more campers remained Sunday night with us, leaving in a final flurry of convoys the following morning.

Meanwhile, we started to notice patterns about the traffic in and around the track. The State Troopers with the local police force and NHIS got together and created more effective means of filling and emptying the track. Friends told me about taking a mere two hours to accomplish a normal 45-minute drive.

Things were getting better, or perhaps the way I viewed race weeks had changed. I no longer focused on those 8-10 hours of boredom and nail biting, but instead on the time spent wandering among the NASCAR haulers wasting cash on diecasts I didn’t really need and gazing adoringly at the full-sized versions as they stole my breath with their roar and rumble.

Over the years since, I’ve decided there is a common denominator among track venues, and I’ve visited many: the traffic sucks. How the individual track handles the nightmare of moving approximately 80,000 people in a couple hours on roads often developed for small town America is what makes the difference. Rockin’ racing is the most positive way to ensure happy bumper-to-bumper drivers. Post and pre-race concerts help. Controlling the additional exodus of infield traffic helps the outer lots relieve some pressure. Busses and trams that assist the weary race fan to their cars don’t hurt, either. Yes, we’re talking amenities.

There is no doubt Kentucky Speedway didn’t do itself any favors by adding seats before it added parking lots or working out a functional traffic pattern plan with the state and local authorities, but I also believe the inaugural running of the Quaker State 400 was not the complete fiasco bad traffic made it out to be. Why? Because you can rest assured that there will be ticked off fans trapped in their cars as they sweat out the jams approaching NHMS (even still), Indy, Pocono, Watkins Glen, Michigan, Bristol and Atlanta… just to finish off the summer.

Sprint Cup races are major sporting events, boasting attendance that beats out many other majo- league sports. The fact that Kentucky managed to sell as many tickets as it did speaks well for its future. After the management apologizes profusely, offers free tickets for those denied their race and works to improve its struggling infrastructure — which should include vast well-lit parking lots that welcome wayward travelers from early in the morning until the next dawn.

NASCAR fans do have a wealth of patience, which they are happy to use if only they know it will be tested before they leave their house. Kentucky Speedway has an entire year to get their stuff together as well as a year for all those fans left in gridlock to re-engineer their approach to the track, whether it be by staying at home, trying a little back road or maybe, just maybe, joining some of those happy campers who choose to drive before and after the fray.

I hope to see you around the campfire.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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