Number of campers arriving early at Bristol Motor Speedway down this year

Jeff Bobo • Mar 15, 2009 at 12:00 AM

BRISTOL, Tenn. — It may have been the economy, or the soggy weather, or a combination of both, but the influx of early campers Sunday around Bristol Motor Speedway was way down compared to recent years.

The number of campers who show up a week early for the spring race is always quite a bit lower than the August race. But the Earhart Campground adjacent to the track was almost a ghost town Sunday afternoon compared to the Sunday before spring race week over the past 10 years.

“I think it’s probably around 10 percent as many people (compared to last year),” said early camper Bill Havens of Millersburg, Ind. “A lot of people aren’t working. We’re from Indiana and about 25 percent of the people aren’t working. They say it’s around 18, 19 percent, but it’s a lot more than that.

“In the spring you don’t have as many, but you have a lot more than this. I think it’s the economy, and there are going to be a whole lot less people in the grandstands.”

Havens camped on the hill overlooking a mostly vacant Earhart Campground. He and friends Jim Teske of Edwardsburg, Mich., and Tony Bishop of Erwin sat in lawn chairs watching the sparse trickle of motor homes as they entered the facility Sunday afternoon.

“A couple of years ago in August it took nine hours for the last camper to come across the road and get parked (the Sunday before race week),” Teske said. “It took about an hour this morning.”

The economy isn’t very good in Canada either, but that didn’t stop Randy Dearden of Ontario from making the 15-hour drive to Bristol. He wasn’t complaining about the small camper turnout Sunday because he had no trouble getting a perfect camping spot, albeit a bit muddy, on the lower level in the shadow of the race track.

Dearden already had his tickets paid for and had booked a camping spot at Myrtle Beach immediately after the races, so bad economy or not, he was committed to making the trip.

“I kind of wondered if it wouldn’t be like this, because of the economy of course,” Dearden said. “I imagine it will fill up though. The weather is supposed to be good for the races, and that might be what some people are waiting to see, if the weather is good.”

Canada was well represented at Earhart Campground, as Henry Clauson of Ontario also arrived at Earhart Sunday. He described economic conditions around his home as “terrible” but said he still needs a vacation, and Bristol Motor Speedway was his first choice.

“Last year was the first time we came here and we didn’t arrive until Thursday, and it was pretty busy,” Clauson said. “We didn’t really give it a second thought. We farm in the summer and have the winters off, so we planned for this.”

Mike Womack of Greeup, Ky., said he camps out for the spring race every year, and he’d never seen the camper turnout so low for the Sunday before the races.

“This year we thought we’d beat the crowd, but we don’t have to beat them this year,” Womack said. “This is very off.”

Womack is in the excavating business in Kentucky and said his business is so slow he considered not coming. A buddy convinced him he needed the break.

“Good times or bad times, you still need to have a little fun,” Womack said. “If the economy would pick up just a little bit I think people wouldn’t be so wary about spending a little money on recreation. I gave it a lot of thought and eventually gave in to peer pressure. Standing here with a cold one in my hand, I’m glad I did.

“We couldn’t believe it when we pulled in here because usually we have to zigzag back and forth to get in here. We pulled in here this morning and wow — there was nobody in here.”

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