Every spring, the rolling terrain of south-central Ohio is alive with the sound of sports cars. The International Motorsports Association (IMSA) pulls into town for their weekend of racing at the storied Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Mid-O, as it’s often called, has been a premier track for over 50 years, and it never disappoints.
We also pulled into sleepy Steam Corners, Ohio for the race this year. This was primarily to feed our pandemic-fueled itch to see some cars back on track, in-person. It was the day after the CDC lifted national mask requirements. Suddenly, our now fully vaccinated lives were feeling wonderfully normal. Outside of IMSA staff, the entirely outdoors event (though at much lower capacity) felt blissful; natural even, the way the racing gods intended. This year’s trip to Mid-Ohio was also not plagued by horrifying, biblical, “Noah-get-the-ark” rain. A rainy weekend at the track in the spring is a recipe for mud, cold, and serious misery: our 2019 trip was 3 days of nearly continuous rain.
The weekend was dominated by the top cars in the top series for IMSA at Mid-Ohio. These Daytona Prototype international (DPi) cars were flying around like angry martian spaceships. These are closed wheel and fender prototype race cars powered by motors from the likes of Cadillac and Acura, among others. Also, in the IMSA Weathertech series was the lower level LMP2 prototypes and GT Daytona (GTD) cars.
GT classes are cars you’d recognize from companies you know, like Ferrari, Chevrolet, Audi, Lexus, and Aston Martin. The GT classes are split into the top sports car class of GT LeMans (GTLM) and slightly less capable but still quick GTD cars. This year’s Mid-Ohio IMSA race didn’t include the GTLM cars, so the C8R Corvette, BMW M8, and 911 RSR were not present. The GTD cars, with significantly more class diversity of manufacturers, made up for this.
These are all highly competitive classes doing their best to keep the cars from varying manufacturers close to each others performance. These four classes, nominally three at Mid-Ohio this year, all race at the same time.
The MX-5 (Miata) Cup was also at Mid-Ohio this year. Believe us, seeing 30+ well-off amateur dentists, doctors, lawyers, and other horsepower-fueled race monkeys duke it out in low powered cars is just a riot.
The MX-5 Cup is a highly competitive series with many equal cars and amateur drivers. It’s a joy to watch them zip around the track.
Where to Camp
For the IMSA Mid-Ohio race, we suggest the unrestricted tent camping on the outside of the Keyhole (that’s turn 2 for you folks). It’s cheap, the rules seem to only loosely apply, and the people are cool. Guaranteed motorhome spots track side require a motorhome—you can’t just rent one to pitch a tent (okay, some rules are enforced). Also, these spots jump dramatically in price, often by a factor of 3x or 4x over a tent site. Unless you desperately want to be trackside or have the extra cash, a tent spot here is just fine.
Keep in mind that Mid Ohio’s facilities are nowhere near as nice as many others, and the hike to a real (flush) toilet is a long one from the unrestricted tent camping. Camping closer to the carousel is a good option to be nearer to the real bathrooms and showers. Since we’re only at Mid Ohio for a couple days in cooler temps, showering isn’t a necessity. This is camping for us, with bonus racecars and adult beverages.
We always recommend bringing a portable fire pit to one of these events. Most tracks do not have fire rings, and it’s common in the evenings to have campsites intermingle and hang out around the fire.
Mid-O has a helpful online fan guide too.
Where to Take Pictures and Video
The complex from the infield side of turns 4, 5, and 6 is excellent for photos. Even those without a DSLR camera or with a limited zoom lens can take amazing pictures and video here. The shape of the corner at turn 5 means the cars are often only 50 feet away, at relatively low speed, with no high fencing. No surprise there are always dozens of photographers here camping out for that perfect shot.
With a zoom lens, the carousel or turn 12 is also really good for lower speed photos. Also, for shooting videos, we suggest the exit at Turn 1 going onto the straightaway to the keyhole. The noise of the cars coming out from under the infield bridge and sight lines there are solid.
Where to Spectate
The top of the mound on the keyhole is a nice spot, if you arrive early you can even find a handful of shaded spots under the billboard at the top of the hill. The hillside around turns 4, 5, and 6 is very popular and home to some concessions and tables. We also really enjoy Thunder Valley, which is the area around turn 10. The hillsides slope into the track, and the sound here is enough to stir the soul.
Where to Eat
Lacking the amazing variety and quality of a place like Road America, we often end up cooking for ourselves at the campsite for breakfast and dinner. We’ll usually grab a sandwich or burger in the main part of the infield near the paddock for lunch. The food is okay. That said, a lot of track food is pricier, and you’ll easily spend $15-$20 for a quality burger, fries, and beverage. Mid-O also isn’t close to many restaurants. You should expect to spend at least 10-15 minutes in the car to drive to most local establishments.
Speaking of the Paddock
COVID limitations closed the IMSA paddock at Mid-Ohio this year. However, the catwalks above the garages in the paddock are some of the coolest parts of Mid-Ohio. You can stand above the teams working on the cars in the garages, take pictures, and have a birds-eye view of all that cool racing stuff. Some of our coolest photos and experiences at races are in the paddock. It’s a must stop for any racing event if you can get access.
Pack a little heavier for this track as the weather is fairly variable in May. There is nearby firewood, but a real grocery store is quite some distance, as is a real liquor store. Sadly, distilled liquor is not sold in Ohio grocery stores (LAME!). There is a Dollar General about two miles from the track, which is newer and clean (it’s north of the track). Most of the people are very friendly camping, and people will share and help if you need stuff.
Golf cart rentals are available but aren’t cheap. Mid-Ohio at the IMSA race will allow you to pay for a permit for your own cart. Feel free to trailer one in if you’re willing to pay as it makes those runs to good photo spots, the bathrooms, and paddock way easier.
Got a favorite spot at Mid-Ohio for an IMSA ? Drop us a line! Maybe we’ll catch you at a race next year.