Mid-Ohio Fan Guide
This year was my third year attending the ALMS and IndyCar races at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, and for the third year in a row I had a blast. Each year, I’ve picked up a little bit more insight about how to attend, what to avoid and what to enjoy. This year, it was a little different for me in that in addition to a spectator ticket I also had a photo badge which gave me great access to the track and the pits, but it also limited my spectating (and beer drinking) duties. As with most races, they’re so much better to watch live than on television, and Mid-Ohio is no exception. In fact, the Mid-Ohio event is really the perfect example that proves the case. If you’re looking for a road course event to attend next year, I can’t recommend Mid-Ohio enough and I’ll share with you some dos and don’ts we’ve figured out over the past three years.
Things to do
Infield Parking Pass
The first two years we attended the Mid-Ohio race, we parked in the standard spectator parking area outside of the straight leading to the Keyhole. While its not as bad of a walk as it can be at some tracks, and they do have a tram that can take you from the parking area to the infield, it is a good stretch of the legs. Not only that, but there’s only one piece of flat ground at Mid-Ohio and that’s where they put the garages and control tower! This year, we bought the infield parking pass and it was brilliant! We parked not 50 feet from where we set up our chairs in the Esses. This made for a MUCH less exhausting weekend. …well, except for me since I was walking all over the place looking for photos all weekend. One big advantage to parking in the infield is that you can keep a large cooler in your vehicle as a reserve and stock a small cooler from it that’s easier to carry back to your seats. There’s also plenty of shaded parking areas in the infield that many people enjoyed. You can set up a “base camp” at your vehicle and have a place in the shade where you can grill, sit, and relax as you await the next round of on-track action. At only $15, I don’t see how one can pass up an infield parking pass.
There are a variety of ticket packages that one can get for the weekend. You can purchase individual daily tickets, but given the small price differential I’d recommend either the Super Ticket or the Deluxe Ticket. Either will get you into the venue all three days, reserve a grandstand seat for you, and give you full access to the garage areas. The Super Ticket will also grant you access to Pit Lane when the track is cold. Which you choose depends on whether you want to wear shorts or long pants. One rule that is rigorously enforced, and with good reason, is that one must have long pants and closed toed shoes to be on pit lane. This year, the weather was fabulous, but we all know that Midwestern summers can be brutal. The desire for shorts may exceed the desire to be on pit lane.
Enjoy ALL The Races
One of the great things about a road course event as opposed to an oval event is the greater variety and number of support races. Traditionally, the IndyCar event at Mid-Ohio has been held in conjunction with the American LeMans Series and SCCA World Challenge events. In one weekend, you get to see five different race events featuring a total of ten different classes! Its fantastic value for the money, and if you’ve never seen touring car or GT sports car racing before, you’re in for a treat. As much as I enjoy IndyCar, typically the best racing of the weekend happens in the ALMS GT class and in the SCCA World Challenge Touring Car class. You’ve spent the money on the ticket, make sure that you enjoy all the weekend has to offer. Who knows, you may just end up with a new racing addiction!
With only one entrance to the venue for daily spectators, Gate 1, and that entrance being on a two-lane county road, traffic can get pretty nasty. This year, we arrived at the gates around 6:45am in preparation for the gates opening at 7:00am. We did that initially because I needed to make the 7:30am photographers’ meeting, but it turned out to be a great plan from a spectator aspect as well. Once we were through the gates, it was smooth sailing down to the infield and to our prime parking spot. Most days, the on-track action starts bright and early at 8:00am, and if you’ve never seen a road course early in the morning with the mist still lingering in the valleys, trust me that it is really a beautiful sight.
Walk The Track
Now that we’ve been there for three years, we’ve found what spots we like and were we enjoy the racing the most. For us, its the Esses, but many people would argue strongly with me and say that Thunder Valley, The Carousel, or The Keyhole is the best. All I can say is that you need to walk the track and see for yourself. Make sure you have some good walking shoes! I wouldn’t recommend a track walk with flip-flops. You’ll be going up and down a lot of hills.
Fried Bologna Sandwiches!
Most track food is pretty much the same. Too small, too nasty, and too expensive. If small, greasy, overpriced hamburgers and hot dogs are your thing, you can definitely find them at Mid-Ohio, but most venues have at least one stand-out local dish. At IMS, its the tenderloins, and at Mid-Ohio, its the fried bologna sandwich. Now hear me out before you jump to conclusions. The bologna here is NOT the slick-meat Oscar Meyer crap you get in the grocery store. This is genuine spicy German bologna cut thick and grilled with onions and topped with Swiss cheese. YUM! Keep an eye out for a feature about the friend bologna sandwich and the vendor that provides them later in the season.
Things to avoid
Permanent Concession Stands
Like most track, and sporting venues in general for that matter, the standard concession stand fare, especially those at the permanent stands, are outrageously expensive. Fortunately for us fans, at the top of the hill behind the esses, just past the walkover bridge, there is a collection of privateer vendor vans and trailers offering everything from the standard hot dogs, brats, and hamburgers to the fried bologna sandwich mentioned above or a rib-eye steak sandwich.
They don’t check your coolers as you enter the track, so unlike many venues one can bring in glass bottles. However, most venues have a ban on glass containers for a darn good reason. No one really intends to break a bottle of beer/wine/margaritas, but accidents can happen, and as careful as one may be in trying to pick up all the shards from the grassy ground, its difficult to know for sure if you have found them all. Mid-Ohio is a great place for kids with the abundance of grassy areas for frisbee, futbol, or any variety of other games and general goofing off. This means that there’s a lot of kids running around barefoot. The best way to avoid the accident of having a kid cut their foot on a shard of broken glass is to simply not bring a glass container in the first place.
Being an Obstacle
If you get a pit and/or paddock pass, don’t be an obstacle to the mechanics and engineers trying to do their work. We’re there to have fun, spectate, and generally have a great time seeing the teams and drivers we idolize. Remember, though, for those teams and drivers, they’re at work and usually running behind schedule. Keep your eyes open, always be aware of your surroundings, and be on the look out for golf carts, equipment trucks, and race cars. The paddock area is a workplace. We’re there at their discretion, respect their space and the fact that they’re trying to earn their wage.
Of all the things to avoid at any IndyCar event, Charles Burns is top of the list. Charles is the chief of security for the Indy Racing League and I swear he has a dozen clones. No matter where you are on the track, there he is watching over everyone trying to keep everyone safe. So long as you’re not doing anything foolish, you probably won’t even notice that he’s around, but the moment you put a foot wrong, end up somewhere you’re not supposed to be, or do something you really ought not to be doing he’ll be right there. If Charles does get onto you for something at the track, keep in mind that he’s not trying to make you mad or keep you from having an enjoyable weekend. He’s trying to keep you and those around you safe. That’s his job. If you happen to see him, tell him thanks and to keep up the good work. He has a thankless job, and often has to deal with some really crappy situations while the rest of us are having a great time.