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Equipment, tools keys to enjoying tailgating

July 05, 2012, Andrew Shain, Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com

Vince Swinton (right) had his eyes opened by the stamina needed for a true NASCAR tailgate. (Turner Sports Interactive)

Vince Swinton is a sports-tailgating veteran, but at the All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway he was a NASCAR rookie.

Soon before lunch, his crew of fellow stock-car first-timers arrived in the grassy parking lot off Turn 2 and pulled out the tailgating basics -- a grill, table and chairs.

Jimmy Miller of Clinton, S.C., has a full set-up. (Turner Sports Interactive)

But the painter from Atlanta marveled at the more elaborate set-ups nearby -- large canopies, fans, blenders, big stereos and TVs, and even portable bathrooms.

Swinton was impressed by something else -- their stamina. "This is a long day."

Tailgating at a NASCAR race is more like an exercise in camping than a typical football game. On All-Star day, fans showed up at 7 a.m. for a race that would not start for another 12 hours.

Those long hours -- and days for those fans who decide to camp inside or outside the track -- has sparked fans to create temporary comforts of home while waiting to hear the roar of engines.

"Just like you're proud of your favorite driver, you're proud of your tailgating spot," said Ed Grady of Columbia, S.C., sitting in a makeshift infield living/dining room with a patio table, chairs and carpet at Darlington Raceway.

When Mike Neely reaches his tailgating spot, the first thing he pulls off his truck is a weed trimmer.

"It cuts down on bugs and keeps [tall] grass off your legs," Neely said. "At first, people around me were like 'Why did you bring that?' And then they were asking to borrow it."

For five years, Neely's clan -- along with another family from Concord, N.C. -- have improved their raceday tailgating experience outside Charlotte Motor Speedway.

This year's upgrade included a small generator to power a satellite television, stereo and electric griddle. Last year, they created a hand-washing station that uses a tall drink dispenser filled with hot water and a tub to keep the ground dry.

Canopies have become a tailgating staple. They provide shade for those hours spent waiting for the race.

They also can provide some of that home-away-from-home atmosphere at the track. The Neelys clip tarps to the sides of their large canopy to create walls in case of wind or rain. (Some canopies come with attachable walls -- tailgaters suggested buying them.)

A nice tip for midday: Some fans lower the canopy posts to increase shade -- but watch your head going in and out.

Mike Neely has added a small generator, which powers a TV, stereo and griddle. (Turner Sports Interactive)

NASCAR tailgaters and campers also said not to scrimp on stakes to hold down tents when winds kick up. Their message: The bigger the better.

Like the Neelys, the evolution of John and Patricia Gibbo's infield campsite has taken five years -- and a few hard-learned lessons.

The couple from Columbus, Ga., started at Atlanta Motor Speedway with a tent, a cooler and small grill that they placed on the tailgate of their pickup truck. Yes, they melted the tailgate liner that weekend.

This year, the equipment the Gibbos brought to Darlington included a small charcoal grill and small propane gas camping grill -- and they placed them away from their truck.

But Patricia Gibbo is a wealth of good advice for fans spending a long day outside the track or spending a few days camping inside it:

* Serving spoons, big knife, scissors and wipes. Regular cutlery is difficult for serving. The big knife is in case you have food that needs clean cutting. Someone always brings something that needs opening with scissors. Wipes are the quickest, most effective way to clean tables and chairs especially when dust is kicked up on windy days.

* Empty jugs. They are useful for getting water for drinking, cleaning hands or washing dishes.

* Storage containers with latches. These containers won't open as easily during travel. Put food in smaller containers to prevent items from getting jostled and crushed. Also buy clear containers, so you can see what's inside without opening the lid.

* Don't mix food and drinks in coolers. People open coolers for drinks continuously. So put food that needs to stay longer in a separate cooler.

* Ice, ice budget. Tailgaters should expect to spend about $30 a day.

Another useful piece of the tailgating arsenal is duct tape.

Jimmy Miller of Clinton, S.C., holds up a roll of black tape and pronounces that it's good to repair anything (tentpoles, ripped chair seats) and anyone (a strip was used to cover a leg cut of a friend).

Miller also touts a portable car battery charger -- which offers enough power for radio, fan and blender -- without needing to bring a portable generator.

Mike Neely's group built a hand-washing station. (Turner Sports Interactive)

And he loves bungee cords. They're good for holding down gear in the back of a pickup or SUV, hanging flags and -- if parked on asphalt -- keeping a canopy in place by strapping poles to vehicle bumper or full cooler.

Once the site is set up, then make plans to eat. There seems to be two camps to cooking.

Grady said he's graduated to chicken and rice, pork loins, steak and ribs over the years -- goodies that might take more preparation and more time but have more wow.

"Yes, there's a bit of a status fight," he said.

The Gibbos grew into fancier food (steaks, pork chops and chicken) but went back to fundamentals (hamburgers and sausages) because they cook quicker and more consistently.

They added shrimp -- another fast cooker -- this year and will on occasion bring precooked chicken wings that they have frozen, defrost during the day and then heat up them on the grill.

Here's a cool suggestion from the Gibbos: For lunch, the Gibbos will serve a cold meal -- salads and pasta with chicken and tuna. "So you're not over the grill when it's the hottest," Patricia Gibbo said.

Other advice that NASCAR tailgaters shared:

* Grills: Most tailgaters had small charcoal grills, though a few used small propane or electric grills. A few of the more adventurous types carry larger charcoal or gas grills to the track, but these tended to be with larger groups (10 or more fans).

* Bring games. The popular ones spotted around the track were cornhole (bean bag toss onto a slanted board with a hole in the middle), ladder ball (two small balls attached to a cord and tossed at a small ladder-looking tower), horseshoes and bocce.

* Pocket tissues for the portable toilets.

* Got kids? Make a dispenser filled with a drink for kids and adults. Half iced tea-half lemonade was popular among tailgaters.

* Be generous and gregarious. Grady said he always brings extra food to give to visitors. Neely will take a moment to greet his tailgating neighbors. "And then you can ask them to watch your site if you have to go somewhere and you do it for them."

* Don't gloat. There are a lot of losers after a race, "It's not like a football game where one team wins or the other," Neely said. "Just one of 43 teams is the winner. Congratulate people for their driver winning."

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