It is a springtime ritual for Timothy Forest, Catherine Taylor and David Laing: Make the 50-mile drive south from Roanoke and set up their tents in a far corner of the Martinsville Speedway campground.
They were extra-excited Saturday morning. They were the first tent-campers to claim a spot for the STP 500 race week. They were unloading their van and unpacking gear minutes after the campground opened at 8 a.m.
“We put up the tents today and come back on Thursday and stay until Monday,” said Forest. “We would love to stay the whole week, but we’ve got work and children. We might try to squeeze out a little early and get back down here though.”
Taylor, known as ‘Cat’ by her friends, was doing most of construction work Saturday morning while her boyfriend Forest, Laing and Scrappy, a chubby part-Chihuahua, part-something else pup, watched.
“They don’t know how to put them up,” Taylor said, preferring to do the work herself than put up with the help of Forest and Laing.
The trio of campers is part of a larger group that will return to the site on Thursday to officially begin their race week leading up to next Sunday’s STP 500. There will be at least six, one who has been coming for 13 years, Taylor said.
The four-night Martinsville stay is a highlight of the year for the group, which has a menu planned that includes barbecue ribs, steak, hot dogs, hamburgers and cold beverages.
“We mingle with people. We play cornhole and horseshoes Way down there is a spot that has karaoke,” said Laing, pointing to a location about a quarter-mile away. “And I love karaoke. I have the best time over there with those folks.
“You wouldn’t believe the people from all over the country I’ve met and they invite me in like they have known me forever.”
Angela and Dean Pruitt arrived early on Saturday also, setting up their camper for the 13th consecutive year. They live barely 25 miles away in Danbury, N.C., but stay in the Martinsville Speedway campground for both races every year.
“Why do we do it? Oh my God, I love it,” said Angela. “It’s my sport and the campground is my place.”
The Pruitts have spent an entire week in the campground in past years, but returned home to Danbury Saturday for three days of work before the fun begins.
“There’s a group I’ve know the entire time we’ve been coming. We don’t camp side-by-side. We’re up on the hill and they’re over in the hollow,” said Angela. “But we all play cornhole together, walk laps in the campground, dance, sing karaoke and pull for Junior.”
General admission campsites in the Martinsville Speedway campground are available. Cost for the week is just $100.
Advanced ticket prices for the STP 500 start at $45.
Ticket prices increase Monday.
Tickets to the Virginia Lottery Pole Day on March 27, the Kroger 250 Camping World Truck Series race on March 28 and the STP 500 Sprint Cup Series race on March 29 can be purchased by calling 877.RACE.TIX or online at www.martinsvillespeedway.com.