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Tailgates and Fast Cars

NASCAR TAILGATING IS MORE THAN A FUN THING TO DO...IT’S A WAY OF LIFE!

by Amanda Vincent

IN NASCAR, the tailgating goes on for days, as fans pull their recreational vehicles, campers and converted buses into race tracks in the days leading up to the weekend’s NASCAR races to camp at the track, tailgating for several days. Sound like heaven?

“We host upwards of 15,000 individuals in the campgrounds during Cup weeks,” Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Camping Manager Kristina Rose says. “Camping is a NASCAR staple.”  Campsites also are in high-demand at Watkins Glen International in Upstate New York.

“Camping is extremely popular at Watkins Glen International,” track spokesperson Chris Banker says. “In each of the last two years, we have created new camping areas due to demand for our NASCAR race weekends. A very large portion of our ticketholders camp on-site for events.” Camping, or multi-day tailgating, is, without a doubt, a huge tradition in the NASCAR world.

“Darlington (S.C.) Raceway is the most historic track on the NASCAR circuit and has been open since 1950. We’ve had many campers here who camped at the inaugural race and continue to attend, even now, or pass on their camping spot to other family members who keep the tradition alive,” Darlington Raceway spokesperson Dennis Worden says.

Darlington Raceway has celebrated its tradition this past two race seasons with throwback weekends surrounding its historic Southern 500 race on Labor Day weekend. The throwback theme started with race car paint schemes but carried over to driver fire suits and crew uniforms.  Many fans also have gotten in on the act by donning fashions of yesteryear — like bell bottoms and platform shoes.

Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, hasn’t hosted a full-scale throwback weekend with retro paint schemes and driver/team uniforms, but the campgrounds there have gone retro in the past. And with the track celebrating its 20th anniversary during the 2017 race season, a reunion is in the plans.

“We always have organized activities for our infield guests.” David Talley of Auto Club Speedway says.  “Last year it was 80s theme throughout the weekend, which included a roller-skating rink, a pedal party on the track, and infield grocery store, 80s music concerts and a mini skateboard park. This year, our theme will be surrounding the Speedway’s 20th Anniversary with a 20th Class Reunion theme.”

The camping/tailgating bug has bitten fans at most tracks hosting big-league NASCAR races, with campers/tailgaters returning year after year. “This has become a major destination for RV guests,” Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s Jeff Motley says. “We hear stories all the time of guests who have met friends for life in our campgrounds, and they now vacation with these friends and travel to other events together.”

According to Rose, community is the name of the game for campers at Charlotte. “Camping is a community hobby,” she says. “These fans come with friends and family to enjoy the week and make lasting memories.”  It’s no wonder race-track campsites are in such high demand.

“Camping at Darlington Raceway is very popular,” Worden says. “We are typically sold out of our nearly 2,000 campsites for our NASCAR race weekend.  The infield camping experience is the quickest to sell, having been sold out for months in advance each year.”

This multi-day tailgating, or camping, tradition is so big, it even drew sponsorship dollars for one of NASCAR’s top-three series. The Camping World Truck Series is one of three national series that races under the NASCAR banner, with the other two being the Xfinity Series and the top series that, through the 2016 race season, was known as the Sprint Cup Series but is yet to be renamed ahead of the 2017 season.

“Camping World has a unique connection to the sport and to the NASCAR fans,” NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France says. “Camping and tailgating is an essential part of the NASCAR race experience. Thousands of RVs pack the campgrounds at every NASCAR event, often for three or four days at a time. This makes Camping World the perfect match for the NASCAR Truck Series.” Camping World and related brands also have sponsored races and race teams over the years to get their names in front of big segments of their target audiences.

Race weekends at a given track often include at least two and sometimes three of the national series, and sometimes a regional series like the K&N Pro Series race is thrown into the weekend schedule of on-track activity. With so many races packed into the weekend, a typical NASCAR weekend lasts at least three days, but fans don’t wait until the last minute to get to the track property to set up their camping/tailgating sites. At some tracks, these camping fans roll in nearly a week before the big premier series race. “We open our lots at noon on the Monday before the race, and RVers start entering as soon as we open. By end of day Wednesday, most of our lots are full,” Motley says.

At Charlotte Motor Speedway, campers are able to make an entire week of their camping/tailgating experience. “Most of our camping packages run seven days (Sunday-Sunday),” Rose says. “We see campers rolling in 24/7 the entire week. I would estimate that the bulk of guests arrive Wednesdays and Thursdays.” Some fans don’t even wait for campgrounds to open to show up. “Our first campers arrive a full day before we open the campgrounds to fans — sometimes as early as Tuesday of race week,” Banker says.

The same is true at The Glen. Never fear, though, if you don’t have an RV or other tricked-out mobile accommodations. Several options are available, even if you just want to pitch a tent.

“We are proud to offer a wide variety of camping at Charlotte Motor Speedway,” Rose says. “Customers can choose from a cozy grass lot to a full hook-up campsite for the largest of Class A motorhomes.”  With so many fans to keep occupied for several days, tracks organize several events for members of their mobile communities.

“Kentucky Raceway Ministries does a tremendous job planning and executing activities for our campers,” Kentucky Speedway’s Tim Bray says. “It seems as if there is something going on all the time. We have had movie nights in the past, cornhole tournaments, music and other activities for all the campers.”

Music is a popular go-to when it comes to track-organized activities for race weekend campers.  “When the sun goes down at Ford Championship Weekend, fans can round out the evening with live music in the campground area, featuring several local bands and DJs. Fans can check out the RV Lot Stage throughout the weekend for special jam sessions,” Greg Rios of Homestead-Miami Speedway says.

The setting at Homestead-Miami Speedway is a graduation party, of sorts, as the track hosts the season-finale for all three national series, so Homestead is where three champions are crowned in a single weekend in November. Not all the championship contenders compete on the track, though.

“The NASCAR season reaches its pinnacle at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and now, fans can also leave Ford Championship Weekend as a champion. Fans can grab their partner and sign up for a unique camp ground cornhole tournament, where 16 teams will square-off in a playoff style bracket,” Rios says. “Winners of the tournament head home with the coveted Ford Championship Weekend cornhole boards. In addition, fans can leave their ping-pong balls at home, as players attempt to toss a kickball into their opponent’s giant Solo cup from 25 ft. away.”

And when it comes to musical entertainment, sometimes the fans provide that musicality. “We have amazing campers who come annually to our campgrounds. On NASCAR Xfinity Series race nights.  Lot F campers get together for a Karaoke Party. Drivers have attended the party numerous years, including Michael Waltrip,” Richmond (Va.) International Raceway spokesman Brent Gambill says.

NASCAR has a reputation of being a fan-friendly sport, with many fans having access to garage and pit areas before races and throughout race weekends. Campers at some tracks have additional opportunities. Richmond isn’t the only track at which drivers get in on the tailgating/camping. Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway campers are notorious for their parties along Talladega Blvd. within the 2.66-mile track’s infield, and drivers often participate in a parade and visit fans’ campsites for the festivities.

While a handful of NASCAR drivers often participate in the raucous celebrations on Talladega Blvd., others make themselves available to fans in a more subdued, organized setting.  “The biggest event we have is the Kobalt Kampout on Friday night,” Motley says. “It is open only to RV guests. It is held in our Neon Garage in the LVMS infield and consists of live music, special concession prices, high-end giveaways, and the highlight is a question-and-answer session with seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson and his crew chief, Chad Knaus. We typically get one more driver to join us. In 2016, it was Jeff Gordon.”

Las Vegas Motor Speedway has a sponsorship deal with Lowe’s and Kobalt, a Lowe’s tool brand, and Johnson also is sponsored by Lowe’s. Food is a big deal when tailgating, and the same holds true for many fans camping at NASCAR tracks. For some fans, grilling is serious business. “For those camping in the RV Park, fans can enjoy BBQ competitions and demonstrations from Smokin at the Track,” Rios says. “Fans can taste BBQ samples, shop for rub and sauce sales and receive grilling tips and tricks.”

NASCAR fans planning to camp at tracks in 2017 have several resources for advanced menu planning. Chicagoland Speedway had a “Tailgating Recipes” board on Pinterest (ChicagolndSpdwy). Also, more than a couple of NASCAR-themed cookbooks have been published, including Mario Tailgates NASCAR Style by celebrity chef Mario Batali and Race Day Grub, a collection of recipes from NASCAR personalities, compiled by Angie Skinner, wife of former NASCAR driver Mike Skinner.

A New Hampshire tourist information site, NHtourguide.com, provides some grilling tips for NASCAR fans planning to camp at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Among those tips is a list of suggested marinades for chicken and steak. Among the recommendations are BBQ sauce, Italian salad dressing, teriyaki sauce, hot sauce and a homemade option consisting of apple, brown sugar and cinnamon. The site also recommends marinating meats up to a week ahead of time, marinating in the refrigerator for two days and then freezing for the remainder of the week. Remove meats from freezer to put into track cooler just before leaving home for the race track. The frozen meats will help keep coolers cold and can be thrown on the grill straight from the cooler, even if still frozen. The site recommends meats including steaks, chicken, brats and burgers.

Whatever the menu or at-the-track activity, camping/tailgating is an experience sure to provide memories and even friendships that will last a lifetime!