As racers, we all accept a fair amount of risk when we strap on our helmets and head out onto the racetrack. We mitigate that risk by purchasing top-of-the-line safety gear, enduring annual inspections and paying attention to flag stations. After a track session is complete, we drive slowly through the paddock, we take off our sweaty helmet, and then we often jump on a bicycle, a motorcycle, or a scooter and then ride through the paddock like a total lunatic to go to a driver’s meeting. All of the concentration regarding safety on the racetrack disappears and we zip through a busy, blind-spot-filled paddock with reckless abandon, one hand on the handlebar, one hand on a cell phone, bragging to our friends about the last track session. This isn’t safe, folks.
The insurance agents, lawyers and other people who measure liability can tell you that you have a much higher chance of being injured on a scooter in the paddock than you ever will in a caged racing car with a proper fire system while on a track. Regardless of that statistic, many racers will find themselves behaving poorly on a mobility device — pick your poison: skateboard, scooter, pit bike, bicycle, Segway, etc. — and ultimately they will find themselves with road rash or worse, a head injury.
What 10-year-old kid doesn’t want to drive a golf cart? What may appear to be a “safe place” to let your child drive you around in a golf cart or zip around on a motorbike in the paddock is not really a safe place at all, statistically. Racing paddocks have a lot going on, cars coming on and off the track with drivers with limited fields of view through their helmets who are thinking about the noise they hear under the hood and they may not be paying attention to a kid riding a scooter. This is a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, these tragic events have occurred at racetracks all across the U.S. and due to those incidents, more and more rules and policies have had to be written.
NASA Club Codes and Regulations, Section 5.5, titled “Bicycles, Skates, Moped, etc.- (PARENTS!)” states the following: “No one without a valid state driver’s license may operate any mode of transportation in the paddock. Skates, skateboards, motorized skateboards, and in-line skates are not permitted at any time.” Sure, that may sound like the fun police raining down gestapo-like rules, but these policies are in place so we can all continue to have fun on the racetrack itself, not just paddock shenanigans. Each rule usually has a broken bone attached to it.
As injuries and insurance claims continue to pile up in the paddocks, now different tracks and sanctioning bodies have created their own rules, regulations and policies. Here are just a few highlights and, as you will see, the variance of what you can and can’t do is quite broad:
Road America: Bicycles are not allowed to be ridden in the paddock or on track. All bicycles must be walked while in the paddock. Bicycle riding is allowed if conducted in a safe fashion on perimeter access roads only.
Willow Springs: Use of bicycles, skates, scooters and other non-motorized vehicles is allowed. Proper safety equipment and common sense are required.
Thunderhill Raceway Park: Unauthorized vehicles, including ATVs, golf carts, motorized bikes, scooters, or skateboards are NOT allowed on the racetrack at Thunderhill Park. No one under 16 is allowed on any ATV, golf cart, motorized bike, or scooter. People may walk or ride a bicycle on the track after hours with permission from Thunderhill Raceway Park management.
GingerMan Raceway: Paddock speed is 15 mph and that goes for pit bikes as well.
Brock Yates’ One Lap of America: Track walking is encouraged before the start of all the events depending on the track rules. There will be no motorized vehicles allowed on track. Any auxiliary vehicles are subject to the rules of the various racetracks.
NASA: Use of the following models of Segway products is permitted: i67, e67, p133, i80, XT, i2, and x2. Additionally, use of all of the following: Ninebot S, S-PRO, and S-plus; all must be used with optional handlebars, including aftermarket.
As you can see, there is no one size fits all solution for bringing something to the track to cruise around in the paddock. To know what you can and can’t do, you will need to know the rules of the sanctioning body, the rules of the specific track and the supplemental rules of the event. Yes, it is a lot to decipher, but it beats being yelled at in the paddock by an angry safety marshal. Over the years, I have been the beneficiary of plenty of whistles blown and stern lectures about “walking my scooter back to my pit stall and putting it away before it is confiscated.” To be clear, I deserved every one of those lectures. I like racing, so my goal is not to risk the opportunity to be part of the sport over using a pit bike.
The goal of this story is not to romanticize all of the stupid things I and my race team have done in the paddock over the years. We actually have a strict no-motorized-two-wheel vehicle policy at Double Nickel Nine Motorsports for good reason. We are at the track to win races and have fun. Taking someone to the hospital because they were trying to break their personal longest wheelie record on a pit bike is not my idea of a good time. For clarity, and each of you should know this, a DUI pertains to private property facilities. Yes, you can get a DUI for driving a golf cart in the middle of the night in a race track paddock.
How could this occur, you ask? The police aren’t patrolling the paddock at Daytona. Well, here is how it happens. You and your friends are enjoying some post-race adult beverages. You and your friends decide to take your Race Ramps and run the team golf cart over them to see who can jump the farthest. One of your friends falls off the back of the golf cart. The ambulance comes. Then the cops come. Then the driver of the golf cart is arrested for felony DUI, driving under the influence causing injury. It is very hard to make it to qualifying the next day when you are in jail.
Responsibility is the key component to success in the paddock. You can say, “Hey, if we all just use common sense, then skateboards are fine in the paddock.” It turns out, common sense isn’t that common, hence the additional rules. Nobody is saying you have to walk. Even though most of us could certainly benefit from a few more steps to burn some calories, this is America, baby. Even Walmart will provide you a motorized scooter with a basket so you can buy three more cases of Coors Light. Most tracks will allow you to use some form of mobility to get around the large paddock spaces. Which one works at most tracks without getting any grief? Human-powered bicycles.
I have found that I have been yelled at the least by using a bicycle at a racetrack. Bicycles are inexpensive, easy to pack, and cause the least amount of injury. I said the least amount because you can still get hurt on a bike. What I like about bikes is they are easy to get to the track — especially the foldable type — and don’t need a ton of maintenance. I have spent race weekends in the paddock fixing golf carts, pit bikes and scooter tires, instead of fixing my racecar — obviously my priorities were screwed up. Plus, I have found many tracks will let you ride a bike around them after hours. Some of the best times I have had at a NASA Championships were while riding a bike around the track with friends at sunset.
When we went to Mid-Ohio for the 2019 NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires, we ran out of space while packing up our Honda Challenge cars to be shipped across country. There was no room for our trusty paddock bicycles. When we flew into Ohio, we went to a Walmart, purchased a kid’s BMX bike for $79.95 and rode it all around the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. When the week was over, we donated the bicycle to a needy family. We got what we needed, spotters in position before the race started, and did something nice for the local community. And we didn’t get yelled at once that week by the marshals!
NASA wants its members to have a great and safe time at the racetrack. That includes what happens on the track during the race and what happens in the paddock after the race. We all enjoy our NASA weekends at the track, so please do your part to ensure we can keep the insurance costs down by being responsible in the paddock. Remember, you have a better chance of being hurt riding a mobility device to the driver’s meeting than you will while driving your car on track. Be smart, be safe, and I’ll see you cruising at a reasonable speed in the paddock.