On the outskirts of the Martinsville Speedway, which is hosting NASCAR and other races throughout the weekend, is a veritable sea of trailers.
Big, small, old and new, these trailers started arriving at the Speedway a week before Sunday’s big race as part of a tradition that is as synonymous with NASCAR as checkered flags.
“We opened on Saturday, so they’ve been here for a few days now,” said Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell about some NASCAR fans’ love of camping in the days leading up to NASCAR races.
“The speedway has a campground,” Campbell said. “You have thousands of campers that come in for the race. So many of them are here for the week and as each day goes by you get more and more.”
It’s one of NASCAR’s lesser-known quirks. While casual race watchers might be familiar with trailers on the green inside the pitch, what often isn’t shown are the legions of additional trailers within less than a quarter-mile of the stadium.
While not every NASCAR track has the option for patrons to camp out days before the big race, tracks in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina are among those who cater to this practice that dates back decades.
The Martinsville Speedway in particular is known just as much for its camping as it is the actual races, according to Ridgeway Mayor Craig O’der.
“We’re blessed to have all these campers come and stay with us,” O’der said. “Our local grocery stores benefit so we roll out the red carpet.”
O’der said the camping aspect is one of the reasons why the actual races are so popular. Calling it “a city within a city,” O’der said camping enhances the experience, particularly for younger race fans.
“It’s a tradition now,” said Steve Louder, a camper who has made the trek to Martinsville for several years.
For campers like Louder, he has seen how NASCAR camping has changed over the years, such as campers leaving their RVs for days only to come back the evening before race day.
Some things, however, haven’t changed.
Louder said the camps have remained a place of camaraderie among some of the more die-hard race fans. He describes it as a place where campers can come out and reconnect with old acquaintances and new race fans alike.
“We get to make a campfire and cook some barbecue, it’s just a good time,” Louder said.
While many are local, he describes meeting campers as far flung as Canada.
“Some of my family members from Pennsylvania come down because they love it so much,” O’Der said.
Maryland resident Josh Bussard is one of those out-of-state visitors.
“This is our second year coming to Martinsville,” Bussard said.
He and his family have been attending Richmond races for the past 20 years and only started visiting Martinsville two years ago. Bussard remembers what the races and camping were like when he was a child compared to now.
“Times change and there are less people interested in the race,” Bussard said, adding that it’s still a place to make new friends. “There’s always people to meet. Every time you come down, everybody just wants to help one another.”