One of the biggest misconceptions among race fans today is that hotels are still too expensive for long-distance travel to NASCAR races.
I came to this realization recently when I polled fans about their wish list for next season. The options were mostly fantasy, but the results were still eye-opening:
What's your top NASCAR wish for 2011? (out of 1,096 votes):
• 43 percent said Dale Earnhardt Jr. starts winning again
• 34 percent said the TV networks start showing race broadcasts with an Indy Car-style "side-by-side" format
• 9 percent said Brian France decides to get rid of the Chase
• 7 percent said every fan gets one free ticket to a Sprint Cup race of their choice
• 5 percent said NASCAR bans Jimmie Johnson from winning another title
The voting totals surprised me. I figured "free race tickets for every fan" would get a large percentage, perhaps second only to Earnhardt Jr. winning again.
When I asked why more people didn't vote for that option, I was surprised at the reasoning.
Most people responded that free race tickets, while nice, did them no good. The cost of the race tickets wasn't the problem, they said; it was the cost of the hotels that was crippling.
This was interesting to me. As someone who works for a relatively new company, I couldn't afford to break SB Nation's bank while attending 30 races this year. And looking back, it honestly wasn't that hard.
With the exception of places like Bristol and Talladega, the days of hotels charging insane, outrageous rates for race weekends are gone. And minimum stay requirements are history just about everywhere.
We all know hotels abused NASCAR fans during the sport's rise to popularity, greedily scraping up every dime they could. But with attendance having dropped over the past several years, so have the hotel rates.
At 90 percent of the races I attended this year – and I visited almost every track at least once – I was able to find a hotel rate of under $100 a night within an hour of the track.
Most of the time, I stayed at very average (but decent) hotels; not some roach-infested motel that looked like it was about to fall down.
There were no special tricks or gimmicks to this, no secret media prices that fans couldn't get. I used travel web sites, hotel web sites and discount web sites to find good deals.
Sometimes, I had to stay far away. For the Bristol race, I stayed 90 minutes away in Asheville, N.C.; for the Michigan race, I stayed toward the Detroit airport (also a healthy commute).
Sure, it's a long drive back and forth to the track, but aren't NASCAR fans known as being some of the heartiest in all of sports?
If you go to Talladega, stay in Birmingham (an hour away). If you go to Daytona, stay near Orlando. And any track near a decent-sized city offers plenty of hotel options (Texas, Phoenix, Las Vegas, etc.).
Obviously, many readers are struggling right now and can't afford to go to races at all. But for those who have some spending money, it's very possible to attend races on a modest budget.
It might take some effort to find the right deal for you, but it's worth the time investment. With tracks cutting ticket prices and the travel industry feeling the effects of the economy, trips to NASCAR races are among the most affordable in years.
Take the $100 per night hotel challenge, and you might be surprised at what you find.