Off-track bedding (and cooking, and partying) at Chicagoland Speedway
BY TINA AKOURIS firstname.lastname@example.org September 14, 2013 10:06PM
The NASBUS! group includes (from left) Mark Schuur of Jefferson, S.D.; Mike VanPelt of Marion, Iowa; Mike Schuur of Sioux City, Iowa; Curtis Deckert of Merrill, Iowa; and Ron Andreasen of West Branch, Iowa. | Tina Akouris~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 16, 2013 6:42AM
The NASBUS is pretty hard to miss among the vehicles that have been parked at a camping area for the races this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet.
It’s a converted school bus, circa 1984, that has all the comforts of home on the inside: tour-bus-style seating for 12, a fridge, 12 bunk beds and plenty of accoutrements for cooking.
Mike Schuur of Sioux City, Iowa, bought the bus on eBay for $2,300. It took him two years to convert it to include the amenities he wanted, and the total cost was about $8,000.
Schuur travels to Joliet with a group that includes his brother, Mark, of South Dakota.
Over at the GEICO Lakeside park camping area, Terry Hoffmann of Winsted, Minn., was playing bean bags with her husband and daughter, along with her brother, who is from Clarksville, Ind.
Hoffmann said Chicagoland Speedway is the second NASCAR track she’s camped at, with Kentucky being the first.
“A couple years ago, we went to Kentucky for the inaugural (Sprint Cup) race,” Hoffmann said. “That was my first race, and that hooked me (on NASCAR).
“We got here at 4 in the morning (Friday) and woke our neighbors up in the tent next door,” Hoffmann said. “They let us know this morning exactly when we got in.”
Hoffmann said she booked two camping spots in March for $510 and was able to get an electric hook-up — a huge plus in the camping areas.
The nuts and bolts
Most campers don’t need to contact the speedway months in advance. But for campers like those in the NASBUS, the longer you camp at the Speedway, the better the spot you will eventually get.
Because Mike Schuur and his group have camped in Joliet for nearly a decade, they have a primo spot in the infield and have access to electricity.
“We just upgraded our spot every year until we got into the electric (lot),” Schuur said. “The place where we’re at, we have electricity, the showers are close and so is the shuttle.”
The speedway charges anywhere from $125 to $1,900 per camping spot. The price depends on whether or not electricity is available and where the spot is in relation to the track. Spots on the outskirts of the property are cheaper.
There are four different camping locations, one of which is a family campground area.
The camp cost doesn’t just include the spot where fans can park their trailers. There are complimentary showers, access to shuttles and free ice and firewood.
Speedway president Scott Paddock said Joliet police patrol the camping areas, as does track security. Each campground also has quiet hours typically starting about midnight, Paddock said.
Like the Hoffmanns from Minnesota and Schuur’s group from Iowa, many of the campers are from the Midwest. Speedway spokeswoman Nicole Meagher said most campers are from Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan. She added that there also are campers from Florida, Texas, Arizona and California.
Paddock said the biggest changes he’s made to the Speedway’s camping experience are allowing pets in the facility, more signage in the camping areas and improved shuttle service.
Camping at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama is on the to-do list for many campers.
Grant Lynch, the chairman of Talladega Superspeedway, said his track has 2,700 acres and can provide hundreds of acres of camping. Lynch estimates there are about 14,000 reserved camping spots.
Since Talladega’s infield has a reputation for being “lively,” it adds to the track’s luster and allure for many campers.
“It’s a track that has had a reputation, and rightly so, of being one of the wildest places in NASCAR,” Lynch said. “And we’re the only race track that has a jail on site, and we’ve had one since I got there 20-some years ago. It’s still rowdy at night, but not as much as it used to be.”
Lynch has been around NASCAR for a long time, and when Paddock took over at Chicagoland Speedway, Lynch helped out the new president with some issues related to camping.
“I’ve almost been involved with Chicagoland from the start because I helped set up with the operations team (when the track was being built),” Lynch said. “Scott being new, he bounces questions off of us.”
Rodney Friedrichs, Hoffmann’s brother, experienced Talladega firsthand and knows how different it is than the speedway experience in Joliet.
“This is one of the better campgrounds we’ve been in,” Friedrichs said. “(Talladega) is pretty wild partying. We found a group from New Orleans and had the set-up. They had DJs and speaker towers and all kinds of Cajun food. It was one of the better party experiences.”