Chatting with neighboring campers is essential to having a fun experience. Let’s face it, they know the track better than we do and have a lot to offer a visitor. One of the things I missed out on was checking in with the locals about the weather. Heading to the track, I noticed all kinds of folks dressed in shorts and t-shirts. It was misty and cool, but I insist on wearing my heat shield lined rain coat, long pants and boots. They knew the clouds would clear up within an hour and the glorious sun would emerge and make me miserable in my over-dressed state. Fortunately, I learned my lesson on Saturday and dressed appropriately for race day.
THE SILVERSTONE & WOODLANDS EXPERIENCE
The weekend of racing began on Friday with us being dropped on a country road near Silverstone. The taxi driver pointed to a small camping area and told us that this must be our spot. We approached a pop-up outdoor pub in the middle of a field, complete with indoor chairs cozied up around tables that were arranged all over the grass. After a pint, and a visit with the bar staff, we headed toward the main entrance of the racetrack, hoping to find our campground.
Music blasted from Silverstone, as the band ABC performed live after free-practice. Nobody seemed to know how to find Woodlands campground, so we veered to the right and kept walking.
We walked seemingly endlessly, hitched a ride from a kind woman in a golf cart, and finally made our way to a rear-entrance of the track. We looked out for the fluorescent-vested campground staff that would point us in the right direction. There were several of them grouped together, arms crossed, as they observed a group of rowdies doing tricks two-up on a rascal-type scooter in the dark. At this moment, I wondered if party-girl Roo could keep up, and if this fun-filled weekend was actually too much for me.
Not surprisingly we became lost again. I had booked a dome tent and couldn’t find it anywhere. Finally, a track assistant with a flashlight showed us to our huge, upgraded glamping-style tent, complete with a note saying “Roo, it looks like you’ve found your tent.”
So we dropped our bags, padlocked our tent, and decided to go all-out on our Friday night, 10-year wedding anniversary somewhere in the middle of England. Oh yes, we bounce right back!
Separating the lively zones and the quiet camping area is a long stretch of gravel road. In some places the grass has grown over the gravel, and it’s bordered on both sides by large trees. Huge poles stand upwards through the middle of the walkway, and long strings of light bulbs stretch between them, providing light along the pathway.
The entertainment area is exactly as described - lively entertainment. A ferris wheel, concessions stands selling food, tea, and both cold and room-temperature beer* is all you really need to create a fair-type environment. Add a grandstand with live music, and it feels like a festival. But this was even better. It was hard to find a single person not flying the colors of their favorite racer. In the states, most of us wear old shirts from previous race events, or brands of motorcycle gear.
And here we are, surrounded by fans of motorsport- all in one place, for a weekend of fun. It only took a moment before a conversation began between us and a couple of gentlemen. And then one of them said the words I’d been dreading…. “You’re American!” I had worried about this moment for months. I had considered brushing up on my Spanish, thinking maybe I could fool them. Given the current political climate in the US and knowing the reception our host country intended to give to our president, I was concerned.
But then he said “I’m so sorry about Nicky.”
This would be the first of many times this happened. As soon as anyone realized we were American, their initial response was to offer us condolences for the loss of our beloved American rider, Nicky Hayden. As if he was exclusively ours. I was beyond touched by these sentiments, and at the same time, admittedly taken-aback. Around the world, we had all waited with anticipation for news about Nicky’s condition. He was part of the racing community, not just an American legend. I realized then that motorcycle racing has a different and higher regard in other countries, and we were so fortunate to be there to experience it. We were among our people.
Early Saturday morning, I awoke to find myself in a lush grassy field, with a gentle fog settling on hundreds of sleepy tents. Having never camped in England, I was surprised to see that most everyone traveled by car or van- not by pickup truck. Most campers had adorned their tents with a colorful screened-off area (which I initially thought was for privacy and space) but turned out to be a wind-block for their tea kettles.
Because we’d arrived late the night before, I was completely unfamiliar with my surroundings and hadn’t met any of our neighbors. It only took a minute before I found the food trucks offering coffee, breakfast baps and porridge. Please note, that when I refer to coffee, I really mean Americano with milk. Brewed coffee is not readily available in this area.
Having sated my need for caffeine, it was time for the track. Because of the slight mist, we bundled into our heat-shield protected rain coats and headed off. Not knowing the area, we decided to just follow the random groups of shorts-clad folks headed towards an exit. We should have also copied their preferred apparel; within an hour we were quite overheated from the unseasonably warm weather.
Of course, we had an amazing time at Silverstone. Anyone that’s ever attended a MotoGP race knows what to expect; a good amount of walking, some breaks for refreshments, some essential souvenir purchases, motorcycle racing, etc. What surprised me most was how much other entertainment was provided. There was a section set up with stacks of pallets for children to ride trials bikes, which I can’t imagine ever being allowed in the states. They also had carnival rides, and other means of entertaining the kids during race day. Having tired of bacon baps, we ordered a jumbo dish of sweet and sour noodles for breakfast, and it had a surprising flavor of vomit about it. Near lunchtime, we finally conceded and purchased a pre-made sandwich** from the campsite grocery store. We had been fearful of these mayonnaise and meat filled rolls each time we saw them, because they reminded us of the creepy sandwiches you see at U.S. gas stations. It was pretty delicious, especially after stuffing potato chips into it to add some crunch.
That night, we were too tuckered to participate in any lively events. We stayed back at our tent, resting in the grass, drinking pints of beer. The neighbors to our right offered us chairs, which we declined (because that grass is ridiculously soft and squishy). The husband and wife duo then insisted that we at least join them. They generously shared their beverages, while remarking that they wondered why they would pack in such excess, not knowing they’d meet friendly, unprepared folks like us.
We had a lovely time and learned how much us U.S. fans miss out on important racing information. They frequently refer to what they read “in the papers” and it was so much more inclusive than what I find on twitter or the like. We exchanged contact information with this wonderful couple, and plan to take their advice for future GP events.
The night following race-day, we elected to retreat once again to our quiet, family camping area. Apprehensive about the food trucks, we shared the strangest burrito we’ve ever been served. Prepared with steamed white rice, it was the tastiest and most reminiscent of food from home we’d had, and we opted for another to share.
Sunday night we enjoyed the company of our other nearest neighbor. A really nice man and his 11-or-so year-old son. I regretfully have forgotten their names and didn’t exchange information. It was his son’s first weekend trip to Silverstone with his pops, and we were delighted to share his experiences.
We discussed books, our different holiday traditions, and accidentally gave him the opportunity to admit to his father that he no longer believed in Santa Claus. We were an 11-hour flight from home, and this sweet young child was suffering from keeping the same secrets that any older sibling in the world might have; afraid to confess to his father and ruin his younger sibling’s holiday. It was an incredibly sweet bonding moment for the two of them, and I was truly awed to be a part of it.
We slept solidly that night in the cool, English air. Exhausted from our day at the races, we slept upon our half-inflated mattresses, cozily wrapped in our rented sleeping bags, not really caring how we’d ever find our way from the track the next morning.
*We sampled many beers throughout England. While none of them were ever served flat or stale, many of them were served at room temperature, with no qualms. Sometimes a tap will state that it is cold beer.
**Pre-made sandwiches are everywhere in England, and we also saw them in IOM. Once we returned home, I did some research on this and read that 46% of the English population eat one pre-made sandwich per day and there are over 300,000 people employed in the sandwich making industry. The most popular flavor is cheese, but they offer a variety of fillings, including shrimp.
We packed a dozen beer koozies from Laguna Seca. We slipped them onto our cans at the track and several people stopped us to inquire what they were. We would pass them over as a gift and every time, the favor was returned with beverages. It was a great way to meet some people and trade some swag for some less-expensive libations.
Motorcycles were not allowed to park with their tents in the family campground. I’m not sure if the rules were the same in the lively area. Riders could find their spots, drop their things off, then had to park elsewhere for the weekend. Vans and cars were permitted to park with their tents.