This place is enormous! Look over there! Even more RVs are parked over that way!â€ I swiveled and pointed as my husband, Bob, nodded in agreement behind the steering wheel. We had just entered the hallowed turf of racing giants like Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt: Floridaâ€™s Daytona International Speedway, now morphed into a campground for 3,500 RVs.
It was day one of our very first Good Sam Rally, held Nov. 2-4, 2012, and we werenâ€™t sure what to expect. A troop of seasoned volunteers waved us along a labyrinth of roads to the right camping location, determined by our windshield pass color. In mere minutes, our 22-foot Leisure Travel Van Sprinter was settled into a dry camping site on a speedway parking lot.
As we hopped out of the van, Patricia Babcoke from Odgen Dunes, Ind., greeted us with a location card and color code to identify trams that would serve our area. After two days on her feet, she was still smiling. â€œWe came in on Monday and started parking on Wednesday,â€ Patricia said. â€œWeâ€™ll be parking more than 500 RVs in this lot.â€
A tram whisked us through a tunnel and up into the speedway infield to check out the Rally village, already buzzing with action. The registration team noted our site location in case someone needed to find us and handed over our tote containing ID badges and a fat schedule booklet. We were ready to roll.
As a faithful fan of NASCAR races, Bob was looking forward to seeing a world-class racing venue up close for the first time. I was hoping to enjoy some camaraderie with other RV folks, and we both wanted to check out new RVs and products on the market. Where to begin? We gazed around, staring hard at a map like a pair of tourists in Tiananmen Square.
â€œThe size of this Rally is overwhelming,â€ said Mike Boyle, another first-timer. Mike and his wife, Bonnie, left their Maryland home as Hurricane Sandy pounded the East Coast and arrived in their 2010 Jayco Melbourne 26A. They planned to take a look at larger coaches on display.
While chatting, we discovered the Boylesâ€™ reasons for owning an RV matched ours. â€œWe camp to travel and go places,â€ Mike said. â€œNot so much to sit in the campground and socialize.â€ Last year, the couple spent more than a month touring Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, destinations we hope to visit soon.
After strolling through a nifty collection of vintage RVs together, Bob watched people test-drive new motorhomes on the speedwayâ€™s track (at modest speeds) while I marked our schedule with donâ€™t-miss activities. Speedway garages that normally housed multimillion-dollar race cars had been transformed into classrooms for seminars.
As Rally registrants, we could choose from a bevy of seminar topics starting with the basics in â€œRVing 101â€ outlined by Bob Livingston, publisher of MotorHome and Trailer Life magazines. Other seminars composed a collage of RV knowledge about tire pressure, satellite TV, towed vehicle braking systems and much more. An outdoor day stage near the speedway pit road held entertainment and additional events, like an opportunity to meet Marcus Lemonis, CEO and chairman of Good Sam Enterprises and Camping World.
We dropped by â€œCoffee with Good Sam Club State Directors,â€ hoping to meet someone from our regional club. Although no North Carolinians were on hand, Florida Assistant State Directors Joe and Debbie Weston beamed a sunny welcome in our direction. Their host state had rolled out sparkling sunshine, azure skies and ideal temperatures for the weekend.
At a presentation right up my alley, Food Network chef Bob Blumer, host of â€œSurreal Gourmetâ€ and â€œGlutton for Punishment,â€ and an RV owner himself, demonstrated campground cuisine at the â€œGood Sam Culinary Experience.â€ His event and many others were repeated several times, giving us second chances to catch those we had missed the day before.Â
My favorite entertainment event was Saturdayâ€™s hilarious Rally Dog Show, where pooches and their owners competed in categories like Silliest Pet Trick and Dog/Owner Look-alikes, as Good Sam representatives walked through the crowd handing out free yellow doggie bandanas.Â
While watching, I met another pair of Rally first-timers, John Campbell and Martha Johnson from Cape Canaveral, Fla., who attended the Rally in a Winnebago Adventurer. Their golden retriever, Bailey, sporting a miniature jockey strapped on his back, took second place in the Racing Dog Costume category.
â€œWeâ€™re very impressed with the organization of the Rally,â€ John said. His plan in the future will be to register earlier for the best choice of campsite categories. We agreed, since some grassy areas had electric hookups while many sites on asphalt parking lots did not. But dry camping proved to be no hardship. Our refrigerator operates on LP-gas and during generator hours, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., we were able to make coffee and charge our electronics.
My concern that we were parked far way from the activities evaporated the first day after utilizing the trams that shuttled the 7,290 Rally attendees to event venues. Like John, I was impressed by the smooth operation of such a large, complex event.
Throughout the weekend we were drawn back to the goodies on display in the big, white Supplier Tent. Bob seized the opportunity to ask product representatives about LED lights and roof caulking while I chatted with Robin Dickson, who served as master of ceremonies at the Rally Dog Show. Robin is president of Dogs for the Deaf, an organization that rescues shelter dogs and trains them to help people with disabilities. She explained to me that Good Sam Club chapters all over the United States provide funding to support the placement of these capable canines free of charge.
Blockbuster evening entertainment at no extra charge by Kenny Rogers on Friday and Reba McEntire on Saturday was simply the icing on this gigantic Rally cake. Big crowds of people with surprising amounts of energy after two busy days turned out and were rewarded with surprises like Camping World T-shirts, fireworks and parachutists floating down from the sky, displaying a huge American flag.
Before leaving Sunday, we stopped to say goodbye to the Boyles and get their take on the weekend. One seminar that we had missed, â€œ100 Years of RVing,â€ turned out to be Mikeâ€™s favorite. He had also liked the â€œGeeks on Tourâ€ computer event. Mike told us the various experts on hand had met his expectations overall: â€œPeople were very open and positive; they were out to make good will. Iâ€™ve learned a tremendous amount.â€
Mike had tarried at the tent, just as we had. â€œThe vendor area was bigger than I expected,â€ he said. â€œWe spent a good bit of money and bought items I had been thinking I needed â€” or wanted.â€
And what about that bigger RV? â€œI didnâ€™t expect them to have the volume of RVs they had on display,â€ Mike said, comparing the Rally favorably to Americaâ€™s Largest RV Show, an annual Pennsylvania show he attended. The Boylesâ€™ visits to the new RV displays proved fruitful as they said they found their next coach and planned to buy â€œsooner or later.â€
Since returning home, Iâ€™ve been thinking about how rallies make it easy to strike up fun conversations with like-minded people. Armed with some new product knowledge, Bob has begun making a few tweaks to our RV. Iâ€™m glad we went, and weâ€™ll definitely attend more rallies in the future. As for the Boyles? A few days ago we received an email: They ordered a new motorhome exactly like the one they saw at The Rally.
Tips forÂ First-timers:
-Consider booking an early bird arrival to familiarize yourself with the venue before the action starts.
-Print and study the schedule before you leave home (online at www.therally.com) and mark the events you donâ€™t want to miss.
-Read your mailed information packet and follow arrival instructions (directions may vary from your GPS routing).
-Arrive with water and LP-gas tanks full and your waste tanks empty.
-Pace yourself and donâ€™t try to cram everything into the first day.
-Wear a hat, comfortable shoes and sunscreen, and carry bottled water.
-Bring your dog.
Save The Dates: Good Sam Rallies in 2013
June 13-16: Syracuse, N.Y.
New York State Fairgrounds,Â
Oct. 17-20: Atlanta, Ga.
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Register online at www.therally.com, or call 800-701-1399.Â
Note: The January issue of MotorHome listed dates for a Rally in Albuquerque, N.M. That event has been cancelled.