I know it is called Oktoberfest “Race” Weekend and I’ll get to that in the next day or so, but first things first…..
Yes it was cold, very cold. Yes it had its fair share of rain and maybe a flurry here and there. Yes it was cloudy and yes it was windy. But somehow it always seemed like the sun was shining. That may not sound like an ideal weekend for some people, but for Fest goers, it is exactly what makes Oktoberfest Race Weekend one of the greatest weekends of the year.
Pulling into LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway for Oktoberfest Race Weekend is kind of like pulling into a gated city. It’s like once you enter the gates, you are locked in, but you don’t care because you have everything you need for the next few days.
I arrived at Fest on Thursday evening, the earliest I’ve ever gotten there. The Packers-Vikings game was being played in the pavilion, but we stayed in the camper and enjoyed the Packer domination quite immensely as the cool rain pitter-pattered on the roof.
I always say that rain is a four-letter word when it comes to racing and it is, but the funny thing about Fest is that it never hinders the experience. No one has plans to pack up and leave early, they just find new locations and sometimes new people to hang out with until the rain passes.
Growing up we always stayed at a hotel so I never really understood the complete Fest experience. I would get up, take my shower in a full-sized bathroom with no need to worry about water conservation. I would casually eat a nice continental breakfast and then head to the track. When I would pull in, I would see the smoke trails from bonfires that had been going all night long. People not concerned about stepping outside with bed head to get the new day started, and let’s be honest, some were even still sleeping…in a chair…around one of those bonfires that was still trailing off.
As I scanned the grounds back then, I was so thankful that I had a nice comfortable bed, continental breakfast and pretty much as many of the luxuries of home that a hotel could provide. I felt pretty spoiled at the time. But I have recently come to the conclusion that the definition of spoiled is all in one’s perspective.
My first Fest camping experience came about four years ago and it’s amazing how quickly I conformed to what I once thought was crazy. Quite frightening actually. Yes, I do step outside with bed head, and sometimes even wearing boots that totally don’t go with my sweatpants. I take my shower in a bathroom that isn’t even as wide as my arm span. I have to conserve as much water as humanly possible. And breakfast? That usually consists of whatever I can find in the fridge, sometimes even whatever is left over from grilling the day before. The best part is that what I once thought was being spoiled staying in a hotel, doesn’t hold a candle to staying at the track. To be able to experience Fest from the inside is an experience like no other.
It’s funny because Fest was always one of my favorite events of the season since as far back as I can remember, no matter where I stayed. But when I think about it now, I realize that it wasn’t necessarily what I was personally doing while I was there, it was because of the energy that was so alive whenever I got to the track. That may sound a little contradictory because for many, energy is the last word they would use to describe anything when they got up in the morning. I have to admit, trying to describe the feeling in words is very difficult. It’s kind of like trying to explain the color of the number nine. Yes you read that right, and yes it makes no sense. That’s exactly my point. It’s indescribable.
The campers are packed in as tight as possible, so sometimes you have no choice but to befriend your neighbors and it’s all good, because Fest is as much about relationships as it is racing. Now I’ll be honest, I haven’t developed many new friendships while at Fest, not that I don’t want to, but I’m not the most socially outgoing person in the world. Ironically though, the one or two new friendships I have gained at Fest over the past couple years have been become some of the most important ones I’ve ever had. I don’t know if it was just because of the timing or by chance, but nonetheless it adds to the memories of Oktoberfest Race Weekend.
When I say I haven’t developed many new relationships, I must interject that I have however been able to meet some Facebook friends face-to-face, which has been pretty cool. Proof to me that social media still doesn’t trump actually being there and having real, true, in-person conversations. And that’s saying a lot from someone who doesn’t always feel the most at ease doing so. Additionally some of the best moments are running into those that nowadays I only get to see at Fest. When one of those people comes up to me with a greeting and a hug, I am reminded of how much all of the friendships I have gained in racing over the years really mean to me.
For the past six years I have worked in the tower for the Midwest Tour, so I have a birds-eye view of the happenings while I am up there. I am an observer by nature, so sometimes I see things that to others may go unnoticed, or maybe they just don’t talk about it. One thing that I look for every year are the regulars. The ones that stand in the same place at the top of the grandstands. I expect to see them standing there every year and every year they are there. It’s a sense of familiarity, and for someone like me, that’s a very good feeling.
If there was ever a race that brought everyone back together, it would be Fest. If you look around, it appears that everyone seems to feel at home. Comfortable, relaxed, smiling, laughing, hanging out in groups. Even the staff seems to share in the atmosphere. The promoters have the event so well organized that to the untrained eye, you’d almost think that the event runs itself. Regardless of what goes on behind the scenes, you definitely get the feeling that we are all there for the same reason…to celebrate the season together, as a family.
And it’s possible that some of us are there for a little thing called racing, too……