Saturday, February 27, 2010

NASCAR fans know how to tailgate in style

By Anthony Fenech

Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010 | 1:25 a.m.

It’s a cool and windy Friday afternoon at the epicenter of the tailgating at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Six flags fly high in the air, blowing right to left with the smell of charcoal and burgers in the air and the beer flowing freely.

Amidst all of the campers and all of the parties, a group of friends and family are perched atop a motor home, following their favorite NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers as they qualify for Sunday’s Shelby American 427.

“You think this isn’t the best tailgate here?” Darren Gaymen asked aloud to nobody in particular.

They responded with cheers and raised beer cans.

It is here, in the southeastern corner of the infield, that NASCAR’s growth in Southern Nevada is on full display.

Sam Schlientz is Gaymen’s father-in-law, a Californian-turned-Las Vegan and owner of the recreational vehicle-turned-tailgating machine.

Schlientz first started watching races on television in the early 1980s before moving to Las Vegas and staking claim to his customary spot in the infield.

“At first we were outside,” Schlientz said. “But then we started seeing what was going on in here and had to try it out. We did and haven’t left.”

He began tailgating with family when the track was built. Then, it was Dale Earnhardt. Now, it’s Jeff Gordon.

“He’s a sensible driver,” Schlientz said. “All in all, I like the way he drives — hard but not reckless.”

Schlientz’s tailgate is nestled just inside the infield near Turn 2 and from the top features a bird’s-eye view of the entire racetrack — except the finish line.

“We have DirecTV for that,” he said.

Three years ago, Schlientz, a carpenter, thought of an extracurricular reason to put his carpentry skills to use and built a wooden deck — complete with rails, cup holders and a place for a small TV — that can be placed on top of the motor home.

“We talked about it for quite a while,” he said. “We wanted something stable that we could put up and take down easily.”

He made a blueprint and a day later, and it took him another day to assemble the deck.

“A lot of people have come up here just to see what the view is like,” he said.

At any given time, there is a pack of race fans — up to 30 — watching the action from above and cheering for any one of the five drivers whose flags are proudly displayed.

“You can put two dozen people up here,” Gaymen said. “I don’t think anyone else can do that.”

And under the canopy below, they feast on anything from Italian sausage to burgers to jambalaya.

But for Gaymen, a self-proclaimed NASCAR convert, all the tailgating and feasting might not have been had he not married into the family.

“I think I picked the right one,” he said jokingly. “I wouldn’t have got to meet these great people and probably wouldn’t have become a racing fan.”

Gaymen said he thinks the tailgate parties are part of the reason NASCAR is so popular.

“This is the best weekend of the year,” Gaymen said. “If they want to promote the sport, promote the tailgating.”

No comments: