Realizing some people may not want to read through all 35 tracks and just want to compare notes with my favorite tracks in each category, let's just do a quick summary of the Top 5 Paddocks and the tangentially similar ratings for Competitor Atmosphere. To review Paddock ratings are based on space, quality of surface, location, food and yes, bathroom facilities. Competitor Atmosphere is a purely subjective rating based on "the feels". On average, it is also probably the lowest rating in all the categories with the Number 5 track barely beating out a average "3" rating. I suspect the low ratings has a lot to do with me being a stranger at many of these tracks. Side Note - while registration is almost ALWAYS a breath of fresh air and the happiest people in the world to see a stranger showing up, the rank and file competitors are often so focused on their own weekend they rarely take notice that a new person is there. This is a key area I think our club could do better. Take this rating with a grain of salt, sometimes it is based on a singular visit to the track.
TOP 5 PADDOCKS
1) Barber Motorsports Park, AL
Up until 2022 I was positive there was no such thing as a "5" rated paddock. There were just too many areas that are not a consideration when a track is built. And then, this year I went to Barber. First off the tiered paddock setup is brilliant in both its concept and execution. Second, the landscaping is the biggest surprise and delight I have ever had at a track. The bathrooms are dreamy, there is a killer observation area above the pits. The track is easy to drive around to alternate viewing areas. The list goes on. But even the best paddock has downsides. While, the top paddock is awesome for its view, its not so awesome if you have to walk up and down several times in a day. And finally, the paddock is so nice it will make you sad to visit any other track. Put this track on your bucket list, seriously.
2) Gingerman Raceway, MI
Gingerman has several paddock areas, so my high rating is based on the fact there seems to be something for everyone. The first area is so close to the pits and tech building it is among the most convenient in the country. Then there is an area next to that with a small pond and an area behind that separated by trees that is remote enough for those people who want some seclusion. The fourth area is a small RV setup with hookups under trees that is almost park-like. But my favorite is the area outside Turn 2 which is the only paddock I have experienced where you can see more than half the track without ever leaving your paddock. Awesomeness. The onsite grill is better than average and makes killer BLTs, there is a small shop onsite, as well as a covered and walled pavilion for parties in inclement weather, and if you need something fixed or fabricated, most weekends there is someone in a garage with the equipment necessary. The downside list is small, the bathroom and shower facilities are not good but better than average for race tracks. And if you want paved paddock space it is almost non-existent. The best you can manage is to paddock on grass right next to pavement.
3) Pittsburgh, PA
Pittsburgh makes this list for having probably the best track bathrooms in the country. Seriously nice and they are not done. Every time I visit they have built another building or improved something. Paddock space from a pavement point of view is top notch, with more than enough electrical outlets for those that want to pay extra for that. They even have enough room to hold a race and autocross at the same time. A nice big room for shared meals is also available. On the downside there is really limited garage space, if that's your jam. By the way, best on track pulled-pork in the country.
4) Road Atlanta, GA
Road Atlanta is a tale of two cities. On the outside of the track is a meandering combination of pavement which is in many cases not exactly flat. It is at least really convenient to grid. On the inside of the track is a massive expanse of flat pavement accessible by a bridge, that is unfortunately remote from grid. But along with that are numerous small paved and grassy paddock spots on the side of the hill that would give the best RV parks in the country a run for their money in terms of view. The onsite grill is average at best, and while the bathroom facilities are above average, they are just not enough of them. Garages? We don't need no stinking garages. Still, the RV parking opportunity is enough to put this on the list of top 5.
5) Blackhawk Farms, IL
Similar to Gingerman, Blackhawk gets its high marks for having paddock space close to the action, where you can actually watch what is going on from your spot. The bathrooms are very similar to Road Atlanta, just not as remote. But this track at night is just plain awesome - just add a bonfire! But like many other tracks I have been at, if you want pavement or garages your options are extremely limited.
HONORABLE MENTION: SEBRING, FL
Sebring makes the list for having plenty of paddock space regardless of your preference for pavement or grass. And alot of them have electrical hookups which is a nice bonus. They also have plenty of bathrooms and showers, and its a nice touch never having to wait for either. And the viewing platforms at either end on top of the pits is killer. But one thing keeps Sebring from making the top 5 - they have absolutely the WORST paddock sign in process of any track I have ever been to.
TOP 5 COMPETITOR ATMOSPHERE
1) VIR, VA
No matter when I have been to VIR, either for a Majors or a Runoffs, there is ALWAYS a party in the grass. Maybe its because of the fact that it is close to where I started my racing career, but VIR gets the prize for the facility where the most people visit my paddock. And at the end of the day, its ALL about the people. So VIR, take a bow, you have the friendliest paddock I have experienced in the SCCA time and time again.
2) Lime Rock, CT
My first paddock crawl was awesome. And I can't wait to return.
3) Blackhawk Farms, IL
The only downside to Blackhawk is the fact the paddock splits into three distinct camps, the ones at the entry, the ones by the facilities and then my favorite, tho ones out by the Turn 3 deadend. Count me in as a deadend fan! Lets make t-shirts!
4) Waterford Hills, MI
Being right on top of each other has benefits and very real downsides. The lack of space in the paddock inside the track means I typically paddock outside the track. And since Waterford allows spectators, that means I get to interact with race fans. Woohoo!
5) Hallett, OK (3.5)
I have only been to Hallet once, and it was in the beginning of my B-Spec career where no one really knew me. And it was cold so I spent a lot of time in the main building that had the grille, the counter for swag sales and tables with a view of the front straight. It reminded me of Germany where small restaurants have group table seating. I have never had more people talk to me during a meal than Hallet. So it gets a slight bump for average and a 3.5 rating.
Honorable Mention: AMP/Gridlife, GA
AMP actually had the best competitor atmosphere of any track I have been to, but I am going to put it down as an honorable mention becauyse it was not an SCCA event. The competitors at gridlife AMP were more welcoming than any of the other 200+ times I have been to a race track. maybe its because it was the first SCCA person to show up in SundaeCup, or perhaps it is normal. But so many people spent time in my paddock I had a hard time keeping up on tire pressures and wheel torques. Yeah, it was that awesome.