My special reports are meant to be “critical thinking” pieces on the state of trackchasing and stuff indirectly related to trackchasing. Sometimes the reports are just “news” items. Often times the “trackchasing hierarchy” will consider them controversial. At other times they are just good ways to think about the right things. Remember the best way to learn about new things….is to listen.
Sometimes my special reports will be major “news flashes” about the direction I am going with trackchasing. I will always try to stay ahead of the curve as I continue to pursue more and more tracks. Regardless of where you stand on the trackchasing “political fence” everything is meant to stimulate thought about what can, should and frequently will be done in this hobby or with subjects that relate to the hobby. I hope you enjoy the commentary.
I GET THIS QUESTION A LOT.
As I travel the world I often get the same questions about my trackchasing hobby. One of the most frequent queries is “How do you pay for this?”. The question is often asked in different ways but I know what people want to know.
How do I routinely travel nearly 250,000 miles each and every year and pay for it all? Of course, frequent readers know that I am a “retired pensioner living on a small fixed income” or something like that. Whenever you don’t know the answer to a question if you “follow the money” you will likely know the answer to your question pretty quickly.
I AM NOT A “PACK” TRAVELER.
Of course, my fellow competitors have long ago formed “packs”. They travel together to save costs. They might not really like each other but they have a “business relationship” with the other. You will almost never see them travel by themselves. Their “trackchasing business model” requires that they take along a business partner.
My trackchasing model is exactly the opposite. Some of that is by design; some by necessity. I am the only leading trackchaser living west of the Mississippi. It is virtually impossible for anyone to keep up with my travel schedule based upon location and expense. My travel schedule is also the most “fluid” of anyone who has ever attempted what I do. I may be headed in one direction at one point and a minute later headed a thousand miles in a different direction based upon a better opportunity, an improving weather forecast of whatever. Folks, that’s just the way it is.
I CAN’T AFFORD TO WASTE MONEY.
However, I do try to spend my money wisely when I travel. I’m not sure exactly why I do it that way. It’s probably because I grew up poor in the Midwest. For the first 15 years of my life I lived in the home pictured above….all 660 square feet of it. That home is valued on Zillow at $41,641 in 2020. It was built in 1938. Nope, we didn’t have a pot to piss in but luckily we didn’t know!
Over time, I have seen some pretty big penny pensioners in my life. I don’t want to be like them. They are cheap with themselves, their friends and their family. If anyone has been around me they know I am much more likely to pick up a check than not.
I love the saying, “The cheap man pays the most.” Carol says that people who are stingy with their money also pay more (in many ways) in the end.
I often say, “I don’t like to buy cheap things cheap, I want to buy good things cheap”. This is a very important tenant of my financial plan. Life is too short to be cheap. Yes, a junker will get you from point A to point B about as fast as a brand new Lexus. However, I want to get there in comfort and style. I’ll always be on the lookout for opportunities to buy “good things cheap”.
WHERE DOES THE MONEY GO?
In my hobby of trackchasing, I have seven major expense categories. Those are airfare, airport parking, hotels, rental cars, gasoline, food and race tickets. You might imagine how expensive even a single day on the road with all of those expenses can be.
Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. This particular trip to the Midwest will cover eight days and seven nights if all goes well. Track with me for a moment on how each of the seven “expense categories” is handled. However, please do me one favor in advance. Calculate in your mind, before you read any further, what eight days on the road would cost with all of the above expenses and flights from Los Angeles to New York to Cincinnati to Chicago to Omaha to Minneapolis to Indianapolis to Cleveland and back to Los Angeles. Throw in a couple of one-way car rentals just to mix up the pot. When you have a “grand total” write it down and see how close you might come to what I actually spend by just keeping an eye on deals.
Since late in the 2006 season I have had a great airline sponsorship. Our son J.J. is a commercial airline pilot. As his parents, Carol and I can fly just about anywhere we want for little or no cost. Who wouldn’t want a deal like that?
However, as Carol reminds me (advice from her infamous father), “There is nothing free but a kick in the butt!” Every flight we take with this program is on a “standby basis”. That means that if there is an unsold seat, and some other airline employee/dependent doesn’t have a better seniority/priority position we will get on that flight. Would you like to be waiting in the Washington D.C. airport on the last flight of the night knowing that if you don’t get on it’s 11 p.m. and there are no more flights? I’ve been there and done that. On this trip I flew all over the country, covering eight different airports just to see a series of county fair figure 8 races.
We live 65 miles from the Los Angeles International Airport. Every trip I take requires a 130-mile round-trip drive. I take about 35-40 trips every year. Airport parking at LAX costs some $15-20 per day. In any given year my car is in the Lot F parking garage for all or parts of about 200 days.
Long ago I discovered that sponsorship of my trackchasing program was key. I made a deal with the Los Angeles World Parking group on airport parking. I’ll be gone eight days on this trip. My airport parking is fully covered under my sponsorship agreement.
My fellow competitors rarely rent a car. I rarely drive my own car to a racetrack. You see I live at the intersection of California, Mexico and the Pacific Ocean. Folks, there aren’t many racetracks near that intersection.
Long ago I discovered that I could use “one-way” auto rentals as a trackchasing strategic advantage. What is that? On this trip I picked up a car in Omaha and dropped it in Minneapolis. Give any U.S. based rental car company a call and ask them what they charge to do that or something similar. You’re likely to get a daily rate of some $100-200. What did my sponsor, National Rental Car, charge me for the above rental? How does eight bucks sound? Yes, I couldn’t do it without my trackchasing sponsorships.
Later in the trip I had a three-day rental car reservation in Chicago. Chicago, along with New York, are two of the most expensive cities in the U.S. to rent cars. My Chicago reservation was going to cost me $190 for three days. I didn’t like the sound of that. I decided I could simply fly onto Indianapolis, bypassing Chicago, and rent a car from there. Three days of car rental in Indianapolis would only be $120 U.S. Some quick thinking saved me seventy dollars.
However, when I landed in Indianapolis, I got to thinking. Why not check out Priceline.com. Maybe they could beat even the $120 rental car rate for three days. By the way, I always rent full-sized cars or better when I travel (except to Europe where a mini IS a full-sized car!). This supports my theory of buying good stuff cheap not cheap stuff cheap.
Today, I would need to beat my $120 reservation by a good deal to make it worth the effort to switch away from National Rental Car Company, a long-time supporter and great customer service company. I established a goal of saving a minimum of fifty dollars.
To do that I bid just $12 per day for three days of a full-sized car. Priceline.com gave me the car for that price! With taxes, the total was just $65 for three days rental of a full-sized car. Remember I started out with a reservation for the three days totaling $190 U.S.
I stay overnight in a hotel about 150-175 nights per year. This year I’m going to top that amount. Nowadays only about half or a little more of my stays are attributed to trackchasing. With the price of hotels you can drop a bundle with this expense category if you use hotels for 150-175 nights.
Night #1 of this trip was spent on an overnight flight. There are two benefits to taking the “red-eye”. First, I don’t need a hotel for the evening! Secondly, I can spend the day in Los Angeles and then spend the next full day in New York if I want. Of course, I will likely see New York through some rather bleary eyes.
Night #2 was spent sleeping in my rental car. This is the pure let’s “buy cheap stuff cheap” scenario. Although I do this a few times each year it is not part of my normal plan. However, when my “hotel layover” will be limited to less than six hours I will go for the car.
On this trip, I arrived back into the greater Cincinnati area at about midnight. My flight the next morning was leaving at 5:30 a.m. There just wasn’t enough time to make getting a hotel worthwhile. If you were arriving at midnight and had to be at the airport by 4:30 a.m. for a 5:30 a.m. flight would you get a hotel? One more night on this trip fell into my “less than six hours of layover” category. What did I do? I slept in the back of my SUV.
Another portion of the trip had me staying overnight in Indianapolis for three straight nights. I noticed that a Motel 6 was selling for $45 per night plus tax. Motel 6 is my “default” hotel. I try to get something better than a Motel 6 for equal to or maybe a little more than what a Motel 6 rents for.
I usually use Priceline.com when I am searching for a hotel. With them, I “bid” for my hotel rooms. I can select the geographical area (north Indy, south Indy, etc.) but I won’t know what hotel I will get until after the deal is done. I can specify what class of hotel I want as well (1-5 stars). I routinely save a LOT with Priceline. Want to know how I do that? Check it out.
For this trip, Priceline.com came through for me. They gave me three nights at the Ramada for just $144, about a $175 savings from Ramada’s best price. To top it off free breakfast was included with the hotel.
I am happy to report that for the past five years or so I have dramatically upgraded my on the road hotel selection. Now it is unusual if I don’t stay in a Marriott or Sheraton hotel. When Carol comes along (above in Macedonia) I want to make sure we have superior accommodations. If she’s happy I’m happy. Truth be told it doesn’t take much to make her happy. I often say, “When Carol comes along on the trip….I get upgraded”.
Despite being known as a “flying trackchaser” I drive long distances to the tracks as well. I will rent about 50 cars each year. I’ll drive anywhere from 24,000-40,000 miles every year. That’s 2-3 times the miles I put on my personal car.
By the way, even if the tracks I visit were much closer to me than they are I would still rent cars rather than wear out my own. My fellow competitors seem to have no real idea of the “hidden” expenses associated with using their own cars to trackchase. I’m talking about depreciation mainly. The additional maintenance expense that comes with wearing out your car driving to racetracks is a strong deterrent to the financially astute trackchaser.
I have never had much luck securing a gasoline sponsorship. However, if any of my readers want to jump in and help I’ve got room for you in my sponsorship portfolio!
On this trip an offer from the rental car company made sense. They would sell me a full tank of gas (19 gallons) in advance for just $3.20 per gallon. The going rate in Indianapolis as this was written was $3.70 per gallon. Normally this type of offer is a rip-off. However, I would be using a full tank of fuel for this trip. The gas savings would be about ten dollars. That’s not much but it might buy me lunch. This was pretty much a one-time exception. I do not endorse pre-paying fuel for rental cars.
I love to eat “comfort” foods. As long as my blood pressure, cholesterol and everything else looks great I might as well indulge in my food pleasures. In the past couple of years I gained some excellent sponsorship from the Chase Sapphire Reserve Visa credit card folks. Just in 2019 their food and airport lounge support was worth more than $10,000!
Tickets to the races are the least expensive of any of the seven major trackchasing cost categories. I do save money with tickets in two different ways. First, I’m “experienced” enough to garner senior discounts of 10-20% at times.
Often times I will contact the promoter in advance about his/her racing event. I’ll need to know start times, types of tracks being used, etc. etc. During the course of the conversation my background as a trackchaser will often come up. When it does the smart promoter may want to “tie-in” with the “World’s #1 Trackchaser”. This could come in the form of at the track interviews over the P.A., preferred seating and even free tickets. I can’t recall ever asking to get a free ticket in the more than 2,600 tracks I have visited. However, if a complimentary admission is offered I will accept. My grandma taught me to be polite and accept any gift that was bestowed on me. It was the gentlemanly thing to do I was told.
Take a look at the number you wrote down regarding the total expense you thought I might have incurred for this trip. Think about what it would have cost if someone were paying “market value” for the eight days and seven nights.
Now compare those numbers with what you think I might actually have spent with the information I have shared. I can’t tell you EXACTLY what all this stuff costs. The IRS might be listening in right?
Despite my “buying things right” my trackchasing expenses do add up. I have sponsorships that help out a good deal. However, I don’t have a gasoline sponsor or a dental sponsor! Maybe folks reading this can help out there.
Just when I was thinking good things about all the money I had “saved” on this trip I made a call home to Carol one evening. She had bad news and worse news. Which did I want first? The bad news was that she had hit her head while retrieving something from inside her car. The blow was strong enough to draw blood. Don’t worry she’s O.K. now.
The “worse” news was that the freezer was blowing up and we would need a new one. She was undecided between the mid-sized model and the bigger one. What did I tell here? “Don’t buy cheap stuff cheap buy good stuff cheap”. That meant to get the bigger model. Usually, bigger is better especially if she needs to store frozen pizza for me! The pizza above was purchased during my trip to Minsk, Belarus.