By Justin Boron
Diane and Danny O'Brien have loaded up their recreational vehicle each year for race day since 1992, leaving behind the chill of their Canadian home for warmer weather and a week of camping outside the Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton.
Making the 870-mile trek from St. Thomas, Ontario across provincial route 401 to Interstate 75, the couple takes a straight shot south, only stopping in Kentucky for an overnight breather, before they meet up with their longtime friends from Missouri at the speedway campgrounds.
Cheryl and Frank Brocato and Carol and Paul Gooch of Owensville, Mo., met the O'Briens and their friend Charlie Rewbotham through racing and have forged a long distance friendship that has lasted over a decade.
They usually arrive mid-day Monday and spend the week grilling chicken, trading stories, and catching up on old times.
The group of die-hard race fans makes up seven of the 4,500 campers, speedway officials say, will dig into the gravel landscape sprawling from the track by the end of this weekend.
The O'Briens boast their passion for stockcar racing, saying they have traveled through two feet of snow to get to the race.
"How bad have you got it?" Ms. O'Brien asked.
Bad enough to fight through the poor exchange rate between the Canadian and American dollar, she said.
Other campers may have had to travel a shorter distance, but share the passion of their fellow Canadian race fans.
Robert Bray of Woodstock arrived Wednesday to haul firewood and set up his grill for the dozens of friends he expected to show up at his camp.
Over the course of the week, he and his friends said they go through three to four cases of beer per person.
When asked how they drink so quickly, Bray and his friend Kevin Bryan of Chicago said it would be easy.
"You start drinking in the morning as soon as your coffee's done," said Kevin Bryan, who comes down from Chicago for the race.
Food vendors also have flooded the area around the track, hitting nearby gas stations for heavy loads of essentials like ice, water and paper towels.
Phil Tolleson picked up a dozen bags of ice, saying his stand, Philco's Peanuts and Lemonade, uses almost 1,000 bags of ice during the course of the weekend.
The hullabaloo of race week can create a lifetime of stories, Bray said, looking forward to more memorable moments.
Once his friend's father hopped on the back of an all-terrain vehicle and disappeared for four hours, he said.
Bryan remembers saying, "They stole my daddy."