Enjoy A Mini-Vacation at Texas Motor Speedway by Bonnie and Bill Neely

A day or week-end at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth is an exciting experience, and for millions who live within a couple of hour’s drive from Fort Worth, this is a great mini-vacation, for a week-end or a day of family fun. For those with campers or RV’s, Infield offers an amazing campsite, like no other!
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When we were anxiously awaiting the birth of our first grandchild, our son-in-law, who knew we love to watch races, suggested we take our RV to stay overnight within the race track and watch the NASCAR race from that vantage point. We were reluctant, thinking we might be trapped there during a race if baby decided to enter the world at that time. But we decided to take our chances because there was a way out via the tunnel. (And baby did wait a few days!)
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Camping in the Infield…What an experience! Most people make their reservations for the space many months in advance. In fact, we were told the estimate for race week-end in and near the TMS is about 40,000 RV’s and campers! The early aficionados, who set up days in advance to get a spot along the track fence, have terrific viewing places for the races. Others put lawn chairs on top of their RV’s and campers and watch from that vantage point. On race Time Trials day we awakened to the roar of engines very early in the morning. During races the noise level is tremendous and vibrates the camping vehicles. Of course, as any wise race fan knows, ear plugs are a must! Most campers there go in and out of their vehicles, alternating between the actual race and the TV broadcast of it, and partying in earnest!
Texas Motor Speedway holds about 212,000 fans, and since the track is a one and a half mile oval, every seat offers great viewing. Lots of fans bring binoculars for the far end of the runs, but the cars zoom past in about 13 seconds, so it is hard to keep up through these magnifying lens. Some of the most prestigious seats are in the glassed suites at the top of the track, owned by companies for their guests. We were fortunate at the recent SPRINT NASCAR race to be invited to have front row seats in one of these suites. What a thrill! The glass wall offers perfect viewing; the seats are plush comfort; and most of the car noise is muffled. However, we missed the VROOM sounds, which “get into your blood, pump your excitement, and addict you to racing.” The suites have private rest rooms. All day you can enjoy wonderful food and drinks at the catered buffet. On several TV monitors we could follow the various drivers up close and hear the commentary when we wanted to.

It’s fun to rent the earphones that allow you to hear the drivers talking to their pit crews as they race. You can switch from one channel to another to tune in your favorite driver, or listen on the general channel, which accesses various conversations.

But the actual race is only part of the TMS experience. I was surprised to learn some of the fans come for the souvenir shopping and may not even have tickets to the actual races. There are hundreds of vendors in a section of the general parking lot close to the gates. People line up by the scores to buy memorabilia with their favorite driver’s number or name. Each driver is represented by a separate booth, which is in the side of an 18 wheel transporter decorated with pictures of him, his car, and his sponsor logos. We thought there would be no lines if we went during the race to make the purchases we wanted, but there were still many people at every booth, waiting to give their money. And you could spend a fortune there on the various collectibles and food offerings!
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For many families, NASCAR racing is a weekly family gathering around the TV from spring through fall. And it is worth saving your money to attend a race in person because the experience is vastly different and more exciting than watching on TV. But kids will want to spend a lot of money at the vendors, so have them earn and save for it. Set spending limits in advance, or you’ll have lots of begging and whining.
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Of course, traffic is thick on race days. Some folks even spend the night in their car in the parking lot the night before in order to avoid the up-to-two-hour wait to get into the parking area. However, it is possible to pay extra for Infield Parking and place Infield Passes, and if you can afford it, the price is worth it. If you are over 18 years old you can purchase special passes to go into the Garage and Pit areas when they are COLD (no engines running.) This is the opportunity to get photos and autographs. The drivers and their crews are most gracious to spend time with the fans. Within the Infield we watched families without the COLD passes lined up outside the garage gate waiting to see drivers come and go in their golf carts the morning before races. These drivers usually stopped for a few autographs, and it was very exciting. If you get the place Garage Pass, you can actually see the crews working on the cars. Tours are available which take you into the working area and beside the Pits.
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If you arrive early on the morning of the race you will avoid the long lines and get the best parking and also have an unusual opportunity. We joined hundreds of others to support 2008 Track Walk at Texas Motor Speedway benefiting the Texas Chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities and The NASCAR Foundation by paying $35 to walk around the race track with several of the drivers. The money collected sponsors many children’s charities, and fans give generously. This year the Walk, led by Terry and Bobby LaBonte and Brad Coleman. We were able to walk along with these drivers for a little while and chat with them, which was really exciting for the kids with us.
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Many children who are sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation choose to meet one of the NASCAR drivers, and we saw several such families enjoying their experience with the driver of their choice, who gave them a lot of attention.
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If you are staying overnight, plan ahead because the nearby hotels are booked months in advance. There are many scheduled races and events at TMS throughout the year, and the next NASCAR SPRINT CUP CLASSIC and NATIONWIDE races are on the week-end of November 1, 2008. We waited till late to book a hotel and had thought it would be a disadvantage to be 18 miles away, but it turned out to be very fortuitous. We highly recommend the lovely Marriott DFW Airport South. They offer free shuttle to the airport, excellent restaurant and rooms, and the drive to the track is not the highway most used for the races, so our time from our room to our seats at the track was only 45 minutes. There are many restaurants in this hotel’s area, and one we especially liked for its delicious Southwest and Tex-Mex cuisine at a reasonable price and in a quiet atmosphere was Hacienda Ranch.
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Of course, when you are near Fort Worth you must visit the Stockyards, a National Historic Site where cattle drives and cattle sales were part of the Old West. The original street is preserved with its old saloons and shops. There are two actual long-horn cattle drives daily at 11 A.M. and 4 P.M., which are free and a real view of history. Kids will love going through the maze, which is like the cattle pens, and parents can watch from above. You can even ride an electric bull (and perhaps get thrown off!) The Stockyards Museum is really worth the time. And there are many, many shops and excellent restaurants. One of our favorites is the H3 in the historic Stockyards Hotel. During NASCAR SPRINT CUP and NATIONWIDE racing weeks there are exhibits with cars and some of the drivers make their appearance. We enjoyed the free outdoor concert at night after the NATIONWIDE race. Be sure to go into the three famous Western Stores, too, and look at the prices of the handmade boots and hats! The Stockyards in Fort Worth is a place like no other in the United States. You can stay at the century old Stockyards Hotel or the new Hyatt Place and be in easy walking distance to everything. Be sure to enjoy it!