Campers line up at a campsite near Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday. Photo by Jeff Bobo.
BRISTOL, Tenn. — John and Kandy Travis of Metropolis, Ill., epitomize the evolution of a Bristol race fan camper.
When they were younger they preferred the raucous Red Barn camping location where the most serious of race week revelers convene.
Their accommodations were primitive — a tent without electricity, running water, air conditioning, or a private toilet and shower. That was in the late 1990s.
Today, John and Kandy have two small children. The couple is a little older, and their priorities may have changed a bit.
These days they prefer their race week camping arrangements to be on the Earhart Campground hill overlooking hundreds of campers below them and the majestic Bristol Motor Speedway on the horizon.
They stay in a nice motor home with water, sewer, electricity, air conditioning, and John Travis even has his satellite TV.
Over the past decade there have been some changes in the Travis family, but one thing that hasn’t changed is their love of the August Bristol race week.
For the 10th consecutive year, they’ve made the trek from their Southern Illinois home on the banks of the Mississippi River to watch the action on the high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway.
“The first three years we camped at Red Barn, and then we had our kids, and that’s a little wild over there so we needed somewhere not as wild,” Kandy Travis said Sunday from the campsite.
John Travis added, “Red Barn is a real good time, but not if you’ve got your kids with you. We had a great time there, but it was time to move on. It’s more family oriented up here.”
Three years ago the Travises invited John’s brother Jim to join them. The first year he arrived on the Friday, and that wasn’t enough for him. The next year he arrived on a Wednesday, and that wasn’t enough for him.
This year Jim brought his own camper and is parked beside John and Kandy.
“This is our family vacation every year,” Kandy Travis said. “We take the kids out of school and come in the Sunday before (the races) and stay all week. It give us a couple of days to get settled in and rested up before the races begin Wednesday.
“Watching people come in and set up on Sunday is the best part, I think. I like the people watching.”
Hundreds of motor homes poured into the campgrounds around Bristol Motor Speedway Saturday and Sunday in preparation for the upcoming week’s races and race activities.
Usually the crowd that begins camping a week early is comprised of the grizzled veterans of of the BMS grandstands who have been camping for years, and sometimes decades.
But there was at least one group of early campers that arrived Sunday who still have their rookie status.
Rick Delph, of Columbia, S.C., bought two August BMS Nextel Cup tickets for he and his wife Ann last year on e-Bay, and made it a one-day excursion. It was their first NASCAR race.
Last year they left for Bristol around 10 a.m. of race day, hit the traffic jam on I-81 about five hours later, and finally got parked around 5 p.m.
Even then they were at least a mile away from the track. They got to their seats in time to see the jets fly overhead.
“We love watching the Bristol races on TV, but this was our first experience here in person,” Rick Delph said. “We didn’t plan it out very well, and by the time it was all over we were exhausted. We loved the race, but there was so much work involved getting to and from the race track.
“I noticed all the campers, and that was the way to go. We did some research, and now here we are.”
The Delphs arrived at Earhardt campground around noon Sunday for a full week of leisurely racing fun.
“This was a good idea,” Rick Delph said. “You’ve got to have time to take in everything, and we didn’t have that last year.”
A group of camping veterans who rendezvous at Earhart campground for the Bristol races twice a year was already settled and enjoying beverages in the shade of a motor home awning Sunday afternoon.
They are four couples: Bob and Linda Gordon, and Nancy and Brian Oullette from New York state; Herb and Sue Hawkins from South Carolina and George and Maureen Allsop from Florida via Massachusetts.
“We never miss a race,” Maureen Allsop said. “Same group, twice a year, every year. We met at the campground, enjoyed each other’s company, and now it has become our tradition.”