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Tailgating, NASCAR-style

Category: RV News
Source: Sporting News
Publish Date: Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Summary: Tailgate cities form around Bristol Motor Speedway and other NASCAR venues each Spring

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Bristol Motor Speedway is an island unto itself--a behemoth of a speedway planted in the middle of the eastern Tennessee mountains. It rises like an irregular cathedral.

On weekends in March and August, it throbs with the energy of more than 160,000 fans, most of whom are attracted by some of the best short-track racing in America.

Remarkably, track officials estimate that 60 percent of those fans camp around the speedway during race weekends. They snooze and booze in an armada of vehicles that range from exotic six-figure motorhomes to banged-up Chevy pickups with last season's farm remains still in the bed. Many choose to go the hard-core camping route, erecting tents to shelter them from the elements.

As the BMS grounds, including the adjacent parking lots and camping areas, are transformed into a village, the fine art of tailgating is lifted to a level that only a few college football schools can match.

Fans who tailgate at most other sporting events arrive hours before kickoff or the first pitch to hang out with like-minded individuals in stadium parking lots where smoke rises from grills, cold beverages are shared and potato salads of varying levels of quality are passed around.

At NASCAR races, this scenario is multiplied many times over--and then slapped with a healthy quantity of barbecue sauce. At bigger tracks, the revelry even flows into the center of the venue, as thousands of fans roll their vehicles onto speedway infields to set up camp and absorb the color, noise and fun of the weekend.

To tailgate at a NASCAR event is to become part of the sport. Campers typically arrive several days before the first action, claiming their favorite (usually preassigned) parking spots and beginning the construction of their living areas. Awnings are unfurled, generators tuned, folding tables opened and racing-related decorations hung by the RV with care. At hot-weather venues like Daytona and Darlington, small plastic swimming pools are filled with water for quick cool-downs.

These camping areas become small suburban communities. All that's missing are the driveways. Consider the case of Harry and Judy Wiley of Johnson City, Tenn. They live only 19 miles from Bristol Motor Speedway and could easily commute to the track for the few days of activity that make up each NASCAR weekend. Instead, they become one with the facility.

Harry Wiley has been camping at both Bristol races every year since 1979. Judy has been with him for most of those years. They also camp at both Lowe's Motor Speedway races in Concord, N.C.

Over the years, the Wileys have rolled up in everything from a station wagon to a Southland Motorhome. "All we use the motorhome for is racing," Harry says. "It's what we use all our vacation days for. We wouldn't do anything else."

At Bristol, the Wileys park their Southland in the All American Campgrounds off the third-turn side of the track. A quarter-century ago, when Wiley first spent the night at the speedway, he and about 25 or 30 other campers parked their rigs in a lot near the track's old ticket office. Now, on race weekends, the hills and valleys surrounding the track are covered with motorhomes, trailers, buses and tents.

In many cases, they form their own little cul-de-sacs. The Wileys and several longtime friends have adjacent reserved parking spots, and they align their vehicles in what he calls a wagon train formation to create a center courtyard. In the days leading up to the race, there are brisk debates about the talents of various drivers, occasional tall tales and a supermarket's worth of food and beverage.

"It's just like a reunion," says Wiley, 61, a manufacturer and installer of home countertops. "We plan for these things. It's our life. We don't buy Christmas presents for each other. We put the money into the races."

For a Saturday or Sunday race, the Wileys, who repeated their marriage vows last May in the campground at Lowe's, typically arrive in their motorhome on Tuesday. Other couples and families--from North Carolina, Minnesota, Florida--they have become friends with over the years arrive at the same time or within the next few days.

"It's just a big gathering of good, good people," Wiley says. "It's a community. Everybody brings food that we all put together and prepare. It's usually anywhere from 25 to about 40 people."

Somewhere in and around all this socializing, there's a race. But that's only part of the reason the Wileys--and so many of their friends--keep coming back.

Mike Hembree is an associate editor for NASCAR Scene. Read more from Hembree at schenedaily.com.


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