How To Have An Awesome Time At Your First Desert Race

Watching a live race in any league of motorsport is one of the best possible ways to spend a day, but embedding yourself in the windblown beer-spillin' sunsoaked insanity that is the desert race atmosphere can change your life. For the better, if you do it right.

So many things make desert racing a riot to watch. You've got freedom to spectate from (almost) wherever you want, pre-,post-, and during-parties are raging somewhere for the duration of the event, and there are always amazing rigs to admire on and off the course.

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Not to mention the gutteral growl of torquey engines chugging through sand and the slow-motion high-tension drama of watching competitors winch each other through obstacles.

This is a pretty righteous desert rig.

But getting involved with a race that's hundreds of miles long and in the middle of nowhere presents a unique set of challenges. Having the right gear with you helps, and the right attitude is even better.

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Here's a quick list of what you and your crew should think about packing as you head out to hang out at something like the Mint 400, King Of The Hammers, any of the other incredible off-road events we have right here in America or some of the even cooler ones down in Mexico.

(Disclosure: This is not a list of "survival gear." Just some suggestions of what you might want to pack to spectate your first desert race.)

First, your vehicle should have...

Good tires and a bit of ground clearance

Frankly, this optional. You can get a ten-year-old Honda Civic to at least some spectator spots at every large-scale off-road event I've ever been to. Matter of fact we got two of the weakest rear-wheel drive overloaded trucks through a portion of the Dakar Rally, so...

But being able to get through sand and over bumps will make your life a lot easier. Plus when you get all fired up seeing a few racers go by, you'll be able to say "hold my beer and watch this," do something ridiculous, and give us a great new video to post.

Kidding, kind of, but it is fun to be able to bush-bash between watching racers fly by.

King Of The Hammers 2015 spectator parking

Then you need to pack...

Water

Way the fuck more than you think you need. If I'm planning on camping two nights at a two-day race with catering and water handy on-site I'll probably grab three gallons. The jugs cost about a buck at any of the 500 convenience stores between downtown LA and the Johnson Valley ORV area... why buy yourself a headache for free?

Booze

I hope I don't have to remind you not to drive drunk. But there's nothing wrong with parking and partying if your truck's not going anywhere for a few days. And the dirt you're going to get covered in every time somebody drives by will taste a lot better if its mixed in with a cold beer.

Side note: beer coozies aka "stubbie holders"

Everybody I've ever met from Australia to the Mojave puts their beer can in an insulating sleeve when they're in the desert. When the sun's up you're gonna want that brewski to stay as cold as possible. At night, it's more to keep your fingertips from freezing to the aluminum.

Cooking rig and coffee-brewing gear

If you're just coming out for the afternoon to see some trucks blow by, you'll make out fine with the hot dog stand. In fact, if you're lazy and rich you can go ahead and rely on food vendors. But the lines get long, the prices are egregious, and the coffee only comes in "burnt popcorn" or "styrofoam" flavors.

It's a lot nicer to be able to eat on your own time.

Portable shade, lip balm, sunscreen and/or long sleeves

Are you bringing a big truck out? Then pack a damn cafe umbrella if you've got one. Downsize from there based on how much space you've got, but I promise you're going to want as much shade as you can possibly carry. You won't find any of naturally-forming, and there's only so much you can see from the Monster Energy tent.

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When you do leave shelter, swath every inch of your exposed skin with some kind of protectant or you're going to come home cooked.

Recovery basics

I'm talking about knowledge and equipment here. Don't worry about rocking up without a winch, but having at least a few tow straps ready will make it lot easier to elicit help from your fellow spectators when you get stuck. Knowing how to use them will keep you from looking like an asshole.

See also; jumper cables and/or portable battery pack.

Lots of Cash

Here in the US, even most pop-up vendors take cards these days. Butnot all of them, and even the ones that do are usually willing to make "cash deals" at events they're posted up at. Bigger races like The King Of The Hammers will host a whole parking lot's worth of businesses camped out and selling shocks, bumpers, lights... which you can pick up for short money if you've brought some.

Chairs

You're not going to want to sit in your truck the whole time, and you can't always find an ass-friendly rock where you camp out.

Cold-weather gear

Yeah, it's a rookie mistake to forget it gets real cold in the desert when the sun disappears... but if you've never been out there, it's an easy thing to slip your mind.

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Check the weather before you go obviously, and just don't forget to look at the nighttime temps if you're planning on camping.

Goggles

Essential if you're rocking up in a 4x4 with a retractable windshield because I knowyou want to look like the Road Warrior, but ski goggles (or more specifically, moto goggles) can actually come in handy even when you're just watching the race.

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They provide great sun protection and what gets them one-up on regular glasses is that they keep sand out of your eyes as well. You may look like a bit of a dork if you put 'em on in anything less than a dirt tornado though.

Binoculars and/or telephoto camera lens

One of the great things about desert racing is that there's always another front-row seat for you, but sometimes field marshals or the terrain just won't let you get right up on the race cars.

Protective film on all your screens, sand covers for keyboards

If you're bringing electronics into the desert, and you probably are (#selfiestick!!1!) you need to get condoms for your equipment.

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Be extremely careful with DSLR-type cameras, especially if they're not "rated" for use in the sand. A non-filter lens cover can help you avoid little chips, and I even cover my computer's keyboard in a form-fitted plastic protector. Though if you're not reporting news stories I would advise against bringing your laptop anywhere near the desert.

Now get out there and have an awesome time!

Images by the author


Andrew P. Collins is Jalopnik's off-road and adventure guy. Shoot him an email or hit him up on Twitter to talk trucks.