My job on the race team is to drive, but it’s not what you think. My job isn’t to drive racecars — that is my reward. My actual job is to drive the motorhome. The motorhome is where the team eats, sleeps and makes the bathroom smell. Our motorhome has been the hub for our team for a lot of years and it is where the drivers can get away from the hustle and bustle of a race weekend and concentrate for a bit. For the NASA Championships the last few years, these races have been so far from our home base in California we didn’t take the motorhome with us. We shipped our cars and flew in, which meant we wouldn’t have the comforts — or the private bathroom —of our motorhome. What would we do? No problem, solution: a driver lounge.
Luckily for me, I had family in Austin, Texas, for the 2018 NASA Championships. I gave them a budget and said, “Go crazy, build a driver’s lounge that we can all chill out in while we are at the track.” My cousins were on it. They sourced a futon from Craigslist, brought in a mini refrigerator, had a table, lights, and added some Feng Shui with some plants. It was awesome. They set the bar for what a driver’s lounge should be, and I am forever grateful for their efforts and creativity.
The Double Nickel Nine Motorsports driver’s lounge in Garage 18 at the Circuit of the Americas in 2018 was the talk of the paddock. Plenty of people stopped by to check it out, and we all enjoyed drinking Tactical Ops Brewing Double Nickel Nine IPA as we bench raced and exaggerated about our latest sessions on the track. For 2019, I knew I wanted to do another driver’s lounge at Mid-Ohio but I didn’t have the luxury of my Texas cousins to make it all happen. New plan: Walmart and Amazon.
I found an inexpensive futon, a carpet, some small tables, plants, lights and other cool amenities, and ordered it all online. I had everything shipped directly to the track. In reality, everything I purchased was less than $250 and had free shipping. When we arrived at Mid-Ohio I asked the staff there, “You guys have any boxes for DNN Motorsports?” to which they answered… “Yeah, we have a lot of them.” I bribed the folks at Mid-Ohio with some Tac Ops beer and they used a golf cart to truck all of our online purchases to Garage 4. We unpacked the boxes, and after an hour of “some assembly required,” we had a proper driver’s lounge setup to rival the one we had created in Texas.
They key to a good driver’s lounge is its functionality, décor, and some sense of humor. We added an Oriental rug to ours, because, well, it looked cool. The reality is it was nice to have the rug as we were changing from our dirty shop shoes into our Nomex socks and racing shoes. The futon was a great place to sit to get dressed and it also was a nice place to pass out after too many IPAs.
The driver’s lounge was a social call out to meet other teams and drivers. They would stop by our garage, make a comment about our lounge, and then we would end up shooting the breeze and making new friends. It was really fun. In our garage, we also added a few more amenities after learning what we needed in Texas. We purchased a big screen television so we could watch GoPro footage without having five guys huddled over a small laptop.
For the driver’s lounge to work effectively, we prioritized keeping it clean every night. Food wrappers, beer cans, cut zip ties, scraps of 100-mph tape, all seemed to culminate around the lounge. We policed it all up and made the driver’s lounge fresh and new so it would work well the following day. The whole point of the lounge is to have a place for the driver to relax and get ready before the race. We ensured our lounge was that type of environment by keeping it clean.
When anyone saw a driver sitting on the futon putting on his gear they knew it was time to leave the driver alone for a few minutes, just to give the driver a moment to concentrate on the big prize. Racing is just as much a mental game as it is a physical one. You could even say our driver’s lounge was a mental game to other drivers, “Yeah, this is us just sitting on a couch chilling out while you are running around the paddock panicking because you lost your a 10 mm socket.”
For fun, we brought our team mascot, Carl, along. Carl adorned our shirts at Mid-Ohio and we started treating him like a racing deity. This was all just in fun of course, no actual voodoo involved. No chickens or virgins were sacrificed. However, some Honda parts did die during the weekend and were offered to Carl as an offering for good luck, which, admittedly, he did bestow upon us.
Our driver’s lounge did its job and was a great place to get ready before each track session. It certainly beat standing barefoot in the paddock in my underwear trying to get on a sweaty Nomex driving suit as small rocks jammed into my feet. To be honest, we spoiled ourselves with our little driver’s lounge. I can’t see racing again without one.
I’ll pass the torch along to another team to do their part to step up their game and outdo our driver’s lounge with their own creative ideas. On-call masseuse? Italian chef on staff? iRacing setup? I look forward to seeing what people put together in Utah for 2020.
At the end of each championships weekend, we couldn’t get the furniture from our driver’s lounge home so we donated the furniture and bicycles to needy families in the local area. We had our fun with the parts of the lounge, but when we were done, it was our opportunity to give back to the community. If you decide to build your own lounge, then I wish you happy hunting on Craigslist for the perfect trackside couch!
Rob Krider is a NASA Honda Challenge 4 National Champion and the author of the novel, Cadet Blues.