The long seasons of the national NASCAR touring series criss-cross the continental United States most weeks. It’s often been referred to as a traveling circus. But even circuses need to eat.
ClosetNASCARFan.com has done its share of interviews with drivers and the NASCAR personalities, but this was a first — talking to and featuring a part of that traveling circus — Garlic Garage Catering, a company with their own hauler. Rather than having cars, springs and airguns, their truck is packed to the ceiling with food, ovens, and all the other tools needed to feed NASCAR week in and week out.
Their weekend setup consists of ovens, warming containers and a small maze of buffet-style fresh food.
The Garlic Garage co-owner, Bruce Zschoche took a few minutes between the lunch and dinner rush to give us a tour and to talk about feeding NASCAR.
Zschoche and his wife, Jackie run a catering business, but their clientele aren’t weddings and parties. They’re all NASCAR Garage personnel. The Garlic Garage feeds entire teams in both the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup (MENCS) and NASCAR Xfinity Series.
The couple have been involved in NASCAR for twelve years, working with another catering company to get their foot in the NASCAR door. They then did other jobs around the garage — scoring for teams and various other corporate jobs with NASCAR-related sponsors. But four years in, Garlic Garage became their mainstay.
Currently in their eighth year, the Zschoches took over catering after the previous caterer walked away during the recession.
“We walked into Daytona with five teams, and walked out with 15,” Zschoche said.
Garlic Garage rolls in for the weekend at the same time as the rest of the haulers to get ready for the race weekend. They feed teams breakfast, lunch, and dinner at every NASCAR Cup/Xfinity weekend with the exception of the pair of Martinsville Speedway weekends and Sonoma — 36 of the 39 events.
Zschoche said the past caterer always took off the Martinsville pair of weekends, and they continued that tradition — partially because of the space, but mostly out of tradition.
“We don’t compete against the red hot dogs,” he said.
He said that those few off weekends amount to absence making the heart grow fonder.
“It gives them a chance to come back the next week and say, ‘We missed you.'”
While the Zschoches have a house in Charlotte, NC, they’re rarely there — like a lot of the people busting around the NASCAR infield on weekends. They’re on the road between 270 and 300 days out of the year, living out of hotels.
The Garlic Garage gang come in an hour and a half to two hours before the garage opens to prepare for the day’s meals — which vary from day to day and meal to meal. Items on the menu vary, but include obvious trackside foods like burgers, hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, and baked beans, but also higher end items some days like steak and lobster. Quick grab and go items are also available — fruit, chips, candy and cookies.
“The hardest part is variety,” Zschoche said.
“We don’t serve the same thing every week. We rotate it. But the hardest thing we find is certain people don’t eat certain things, or do eat certain things, and you can’t satisfy everybody all the time.”
He admitted there were regulars who seek out the same thing meal after meal.
“You put out lobster. You put out this, you put out that, and they go for a hot dog,” Zschoche laughed.
He said things like superstition, crew members not wanting to upset their stomachs, etc. all played into every meal.
They currently feed 15 full Cup teams, and about 10 Xfinity teams, plus other support people like the employees at the track for Goodyear and Sunoco.
Most of his crew are a set of volunteers that assist regularly — men and women he flies in and pays for their hotels.
“They know our routine, and what to do,” Zschoche said.
Besides the roughly 25 NASCAR teams, NASCAR and NASCAR sponsors also bring in guests, tour groups and VIPs. One such group rolled through during our interview, loading their plates with various proteins, mashed potatoes, green beans, and a whole lot of other choices.
When the MENCS garage is open, so is Garlic Garage. Zschoche said that sometimes within 10 seconds of the garage being open, crew members are there for their meal, not even stopping at the haulers to put their backpacks down.
“That’s a huge complement,” he said.
“The first thing they do is come for breakfast.”
Garlic Garage’s Race
Keeping the meals coming is an all day ordeal, and the Garlic Garage team rarely gets to see much race action.
“Our race is to pack up and leave to beat the fans out,” Zschoche said.
He said that the few tracks where there’s no tunnel out, like Michigan, Dover, and Talladega are ones where he may actually get to see some race action.
“Then I get a chance see the end of the race,” he said.
Once out of the track, the nomadic lifestyle means the rest of the week is all about preparing for the following weekend, including several days of traveling, laundry, a pair of days food shopping, and it’s already time to setup at the next track.
“We’re part of an office building,” Zschoche said.
“Our office building just has trucks.”
On to the Next Track
You can learn more about Garlic Garage on their Facebook page, where the post from time to time.
“We’re very fortunate to be here,” Bruce Zschoche said.
“We’ve had other job offers. We’ll get out of a meeting, and walk outside and say, ‘You know what? That’s not the garage area. We want to be here.”