The Lockdown Diaries: The paddock vendor

Image courtesy of Marion Champlain

The Lockdown Diaries: The paddock vendor

IMSA

The Lockdown Diaries: The paddock vendor

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The ripples of the disruptions caused by current shutdowns reach into every corner of the racing industry. RACER.com will share stories of how different entities in the sport are tackling these unprecedented challenges in a special series called The Lockdown Diaries.

Marion Champlain’s giant tent stood tall. Central to the Sebring paddock, its home is so well known, most IMSA drivers and crew members could find it with ease while blindfolded.

‘Marion’s Hospitality’ has kept sports car racing’s army fed and marching for decades, and was ready to do so once more this weekend during IMSA’s great 12-hour race and the accompanying FIA World Endurance Championship round, but the dozens of tables inside the tent and 100-plus chairs won’t be used. Nor will the massive amount of food she purchased to look after most of the paddock.

In a sport driven by small businesses and independent contractors, Champlain is one of the countless support structures who make motor racing possible. Coupled with the uncertainty of what lies ahead with the arrival of the COVID-19 virus, her financial losses following Sebring’s postponement to November are frightening.

The Sebring postponement was a huge hit to Champlain’s business but she was able to make sure at least the perishable goods were put to good use. Image by Richard Dole/LAT

“Once we found the race wasn’t happening, we had about a $30,000 food delivery to figure out,”she told RACER. “We used a lot of it to feed many hungry people in the Sebring area. The local propane vendor has helped us with that every year; he works with a few missions in Sebring, and they came Sunday morning to take all the vegetables and fruits and meats to distribute to families after church. We didn’t throw anything away and it was put to good use.”

Champlain’s small team was able to set aside some of the canned and boxed goods to hold for November, but there’s a cost to absorb there as well, because a storage unit had to be rented to hold the items meant to be consumed later this week. And what about the greater sum spent – about as much as a new Ford Mustang or Hyundai Veloster N – on perishables that were donated out of necessity?

“We checked with our insurance, and it doesn’t cover something like this,” she said.

After a life spent working in the travel and hospitality industries, Champlain has been smart with her money, and thanks to a casino visit that paid off in 2019, she expects to be in better financial shape than some others if the virus brings an extended pause for racing.

“I’ll be 78 next month and I’ve always prepared for a rainy day,” she said. “Last year at the Mohegan Sun, I won a nice jackpot and put it in my rainy-day fund, but there’s still some help needed. I am going to ask my teams to help with some costs, like the tent that went up at Sebring, and I’m asking the track to help with the rental space costs.”

Staffed by fly-in or local catering talent, the hope is that most of the folks who bring Marion’s to life will continue to be able to pick up their normal workload away from the racing circuit. Nonetheless, the loss of income at the Sebrings and Mid-Ohios and other stops on the sports car schedule will be felt by Champlain and the rest of her staff in ways that, at this early stage in the outbreak, are largely unknown.

“We even discussed that with Long Beach being cancelled, we’re going to take care of our employees,” she said. “They work so hard for us and love doing this, and I don’t want them to feel they’re going to lose out. There’s one employee who really relies on us for income, so we’re going to pay her through April. It’s the right thing to do.”

More than pit lane or the paddock, Marion’s is the social hub at IMSA events. Among the many fears that continue to emerge, there’s great hope that sports car racing’s comfy home – inside that white tent filled with incredible smells and conversations – survives the business ramifications visited on Champlain by the coronavirus.

“We went back to Sebring this morning and it was like the aftermath of a funeral,” she said. “All I want is to get our racing family back together. We need to stay in touch.”

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