So you’re going to the USGP

The McLaren follow-up piece languishes, almost-but-not-quite there. In the meantime, I was asked by friends to provide some sort of column describing what to pack for the quickly approaching United States Grand Prix (USGP). I’ve been to three grand prix weekends (2005, 2006, and 2007) and I have a planning streak a mile wide. While not intended as a comprehensive list, this should give you a good idea of what to expect and how best to enjoy a Formula 1 weekend.


This is a story about a cooler.

A well-prepared journey can be better than its end. As someone who cannot be without music, my iPhone is jacked into the cigarette lighter to keep charged, the radio transmitter on standby for those barren wastelands of endless old country stations, talk radio, and Jesus. When we cross into Texas, we’ll stop to pick up a map from the state tourism bureau. There’s something cool about being able to study a map and plan a route, exploring different ways to get from Point A to Point B. I also slightly mistrust Apple Maps, honestly.

For us the drive is over twice as long as the Indianapolis adventure. For a trip like this we’ll stash a cooler with ice and drinks in the back seat. This cooler is an important part of the adventure — unassuming, nondescript, yet essential to overall road trip success. I’ll also make sure we’re stocked with snacks — salty, delicious pioneer food. The emergency battery charger/starter goes in the trunk, next to the toolkit and suitcases. Oil’s changed; tires look excellent. . . well, good enough to get through 1,200 miles.

Ensuring access to power for your various electronic devices is essential. Earlier this year, when Chris and I crashed Indianapolis 500 Pole Day, I destroyed my iPhone’s battery in four hours. Until tracks and sponsors figure out how to incorporate charging stations into their displays (captive audiences, HELLO) you will need to prepare. Armed with a battery extender and a small portable charger, the phone should be able to make it through massive amounts of on-track tweets and pictures.

Four hours, for the record, is not even a half-day on track. . . and you need to plan on being on-track all day. Every day.

I recognize many choose to attend on race day only, or cannot get away from work or obligations to attend a full three-day race weekend. With that said, I strongly encourage everyone to try to attend a full race weekend at least once in their life. (Yes, everyone — even non-Formula 1 fans.) There’s something magical about being on track, something I’ve not witnessed at other events.

I have several logical reasons for asking you to drag your tired bones out of bed at ohgodthirty to open the gates. The most obvious reason concerns crowds. There are generally fewer people on the Friday and Saturday of a race weekend. This is often the best time to get pictures, particularly of the cars in the pits.

At least, this used to be the case: I am not sure if fans will be able to move around to different seats during Friday and Saturday sessions in Austin. At the Indianapolis track, you purchased a general admission ticket for Friday and Saturday — seats were only assigned for Sunday, and only if you didn’t purchase general admission. You could also move to other seats once the race started, provided you weren’t displacing others. I am not sure if this will hold true in Texas.

Traffic will also be an issue at this race. This is not Indianapolis; the road system around the Austin track is not prepared for an onslaught of vehicles. It’s going to be an unholy mess. Accept this and prepare accordingly. Leave early. Anticipate delays. Remember that cooler, in this column about a cooler? It gets filled with beer and water and left in the car. After a long day on track, spend a little time rehydrating in the parking lot (responsibly, of course) and chatting with fellow race fans. It’s much more pleasant than fuming in a gridlocked vehicle.

If you think your phone camera will suffice, I have bad news for you. It won’t. I hope you can get your hands on a cheap SLR, unless you’re in an area of the track where the cars will be particularly slow. You’ll get a lot of beautiful pictures of the tarmac, and maybe a blurred rear wing. Bring the point-and-shoot — and extra memory cards, just in case — but don’t rely on it as your primary camera if you’re looking to get good shots of the car on track.

Another option? Forget about taking pictures. Scrape the Internet after the event and see what others post instead. Laugh at those of us with a heavy camera around our neck, too busy hunting for the next shot to appreciate the enormity of the event. Either way, you’re guaranteed to have a good time.

Bring sunscreen. I don’t care if the race is in June or November. You. Will. Need. It. Spending all day on track will mean your face is exposed, continuously, to the unforgiving Texan sun. Unless you are ensconced in one of the luxurious private boxes or, even better, in the Paddock Club, you’re not going to find overhead protection from the sun. Formula 1 is cool, but it’s not worth skin cancer and scars.

Grab a lanyard for your tickets as soon as you can. I’ve always used this as an excuse to purchase a track lanyard; sometimes sponsors hand out free lanyards at the gate.

Another track essential is cold, hard cash. While the circuit promises ATMs, fees and lines could make that a miserable experience. Chris and I keep a change bag from year to year, cashing out the change immediately before heading to the race. This is our track money — the cash we spend on food and drinks, or on souvenirs. Cash is king on track. Generally, I don’t bring anything on track other than my driver’s license and cash — no credit cards or ATM cards if I can help it. I’m hauling enough as it is; the more I leave behind the better.

More essentials to litter your bag: earplugs.  Spring for the ones that have the plastic cord between them — you can knot them to a hat or your ticket lanyard (or loop them around your neck), instead of coating them with a thin film of pocket lint. You’ll also want to bring a cheap, disposable rain poncho. Unless you’re slogging through a rainy session at Spa, chances are the flimsy clear plastic ponchos you can pick up for a dollar or two at your local mega-market will more than meet your wet-weather needs.  Throw a pack of gum in your bag, a Sharpie, too: you never know if you’ll meet someone noteworthy on track or on the way to the paddock in the morning. Make sure there’s at least one bottle of water. Keep hydrated; alcoholic beverages don’t count. Wear the most comfortable pair of shoes you own. This is not the time to break in your new cowboy boots (though I am sure they are very cute, best save them for the F1Blog party). You will walk for miles over the course of a race weekend. I’m not exaggerating.

If you’re really into the spirit of things, you might want to bring a flagpole and/or flag to the event. Just remember to be kind — don’t obstruct views; if someone tells you to lower your flag, listen. If you do carry a flag or wear team gear, prepare yourself for a lot of interactions with other fans — the opportunity for Formula 1 fans throughout the US to come together and celebrate a race on home soil creates an indescribable atmosphere.

Finally, airhorns are also (for some, at least, including me) a vital part of on-track action. How else can you provide encouragement to the stragglers during the support races, or the lone car on track during the early stages of Free Practice One? (Fingers crossed they won’t be confiscated by track workers.)

This article really isn’t about a cooler at all. It’s about the community built by and for Formula 1 fans, gathered around a small blue cooler, reliving the day’s adventures with like-minded souls with a beer and a salty snack. Be prepared to experience the unexpected, the sublime and the insane. This is a race weekend. Soak it up. Listen to the engines, to the cacophony of the fans. Feel the sun on your face. Smell the gas and oil and chemicals and beer and sausage and who knows what else as you amble around trackside. Know that, no matter what else happens in your lifetime, that you can say you were part of the 2012 United States Grand Prix.

See you in Turn 12. Find me. I’ll be the one with the blonde hair, purple glasses, black knapsack, large white-and-blue Finnish flag and even larger grin.

Doctor Erin Hansman (not that kind of doctor) is an avid enthusiast of Formula 1 motor sport. When not following “the pinnacle of international motor racing” she works for a small, private university in the middle of Missouri wrangling databases, preparing reports, and developing new ways to do things. She can also be found on Twitter via @DrHansman and at her often-neglected personal blog

6 Responses to “So you’re going to the USGP”
  1. Another very good article, Erin – somewhat cooler than the others (see what I did there?). I would also advise taking that plastic poncho to Silverstone – it’s *always* raining there.

    Enjoy the weekend everyone, It’s going to be wonderful.

  2. Robert Drummer says:

    You must have a parking spot at the track.

    For those that do not, be sure you know where your shuttle pick-up location is, how to get there and where to park. Keep in mind the earliest shuttle is at 7:00 AM and may take 45 minutes or longer to get to the track.

    I have a feeling the shuttle situation will turn into a, how you say, cluster-fugazi so get there early.

    On another note, the prohibited items list includes “horns” (which I interpret to include “air-horns”) and other “Items that may be deemed a safety hazard or annoyance to participants or guests”. See the latest list here:

    • Erin Hansman says:

      Yes, I do have a parking spot (Lot F! come say hi!) – thank you for providing more information on the shuttles. I hope they work as planned and everyone’s able to get to the track with as few hassles as possible. (Fingers crossed!)
      As for the prohibited list, I’m holding out hope the one I received with the tickets (that does not mention horns) is the most recent list…and I’ll be able to bring the horns. Otherwise, I guess there will be some track workers scaring one another at the front gates with our horns….have to at least give it a shot, right?

  3. Doug Bryan says:

    Excellent advice from a veteran for a first timer like myself. I could almost see the circuit in my mind’s eye. Hear the crowd and cars roaring. Another great article from Dr. Hansman, inspiring enthusiasm for new and old fans of F1. And I hope to meet the good doctor and her husband at COTA. Maybe get her autograph with the sharpie that just made my packing list…..

  4. Andy Baker says:

    Yes, indeed. See you at Turn 12. Also you can rent that heavy camera gear –

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