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Tailgating at the Races with Kids


I get many emails from people asking my advice about bringing their children to the races.  They all say the same thing….”he just loves racing and sit and watches the races with his dad every Sunday.”  That may very well be but watching the race in your comfortable, air conditioned, house is vastly different than watching the race in the grandstands. 
First, there is the whole getting there, the long tailgate time and of course the race itself, which can be loud and long.  Since it is not fair to your children or the people who will be sitting next to you at the track, you need to be prepared!  Below are some tips you need to look at before you bring your kids to the track.

Before you go:
•  Before you go to a NASCAR race take your child to the local short track to get them used to the loudness of the cars and the length of the race.  Go a few times too, not just the week before your big trip.  This will be a good gauge to whether it will be worthwhile for you to spend the money going to a cup race; if they can’t handle a short night at the local track they won’t be able to handle a NASCAR race.   
FROM WALTER L: Busch is good, but the Truck Race is better.  It is shorter, and there is often some Nextel qualifying before the race.  They can do the vendors stuff, see the track and not have to sit through the cup race.  This is especially important at Charlotte, where I am from.  No way they can do 600 miles. 
•  Maybe the first year start with Qualifying.  The next year a Busch race, which is shorter than a Cup race.  Than the third year take them to a Cup Race.
•  Decide what racetrack is a good one in terms of expense and being kid friendly.  Some tracks make a child have a ticket the same price as an adult and some offer a deal on children under 12 seating (even free).  Some have scout days (usually SMI tracks).  Many have a family section which is alcohol free.  Since part of going to the races for many involves drinking as much as possible and acting as wild as possible, you need plan around them. 
The night race at Bristol is not the place for kids. 
•  If you have a RV, think about doing the infield.  They can run and play even while the race is happening.  You always see groups of kids in the infield playing together.

Getting there:
•  Be sure to bring along comfort items for each child with which they are familiar - a blanket, a pillow, a stuffed friend.
•  If just going for the day, have at least one change of clothes available in the car so that spills and accidents don’t have to create a panic situation for you. With that, make sure you always have plenty of plastic grocery bags packed in which you can store such messes until you can launder them. (I even have this suggestion for adults.)
•  It's always a good idea to have a travel bag just for them, too, but don’t let them see it, otherwise they'll want everything in it all at once. In the bag, you can have stocked a plethora of silly things that will keep them occupied. If they are old enough to look at a map, and they recognize letters or numbers, try highlighting some cities through which you'll be traveling, asking them to find them on the map as you go through them, then have a brown lunch bag with the city's name on it with some kind of little treat inside. Then they get the bag when they get to the city! In the bag can be a small toy or a little snack. This will teach them a little about map-reading, keep them occupied, and also give them something fun to anticipate.  It is no fun having to hear “Are we there yet” and having stuff for them to do will make it easier on them or you.
•   Bring a portable DVD player.  My friends with kids would not travel without one
•   For potty breaks have a bottle of bubbles or a Frisbee packed for some outdoor fun.  Chase is another good energy burner.  Kids have so much energy, and it is important that they expend some of it during these breaks.
•   If possible, change seating a bit periodically, if there's room. Mom can sit in the back for just a bit and the kids will love it! Or, if Mom drives for a while, Dad can join in the fun and help pass the time in the back of the car or van.

Tailgating at the Track
Do your homework about where you are tailgating.  If you can, make sure there is a Port O potty, trees for shade and make it in a nice big field.  If need be, ride out to the track the night before and scope it out.  If you are with a group send a recon team early to setup and bring the kids a little later.
Be realistic about your itinerary. If you plan too many activities in a short period of time, your child is likely to make you pay for it. Becoming over tired makes children irritable and even more likely to have tantrums. Everyone will have a better time if you take it slow and have plenty of time for relaxation and rest.  If tailgating all day make sure you get them to lie down and rest awhile even if you have to lay down with them.  Many adults can’t tailgate all day and get thru a long race so don’t expect your kids to do it. 
Most tracks have a kid’s zone located on the Midway.  It will have a ton of free stuff geared towards kids.
Most tracks have a booth setup where you can get a wristband for your child.  If the track doesn't offer that, designate a place to go to if they get separated from you.  Every race trip when we go to the vendors we end up losing some one.  And we're adults!  
Make sure you have chairs and some kind of shelter to block the rain and sun.  I have seen adults with a pack of kids crammed in a van trying to outlast the rain….one guy got out and stood in the rain to escape the bedlam! 
Bring games the kids can play in a parking lot/field…a football, some board games (for when it rains), kiddie horseshoes, a variety of games.  A 5 gallon portable potty is a good idea too for an emergency.
Bring plenty of cold beverages, snacks and food for before and after the race.  Traffic is a nightmare after a race and why sit in traffic for hours with tired cranky kids.  Tailgate awhile and let them burn off some energy. 

At The Race
This is going to seem simply BUT DO NOT FORGET THE SUNSCREEN!!!!  If I had a dollar for every time I have handed a parent my tube of sunscreen to use at the race, I could pay for my Bristol ticket!!!  SPF 50, sweat proof is the best.  Make sure they have a hat too.
Earplugs are a must.  Headsets are great too.  Spend the money to rent or buy a set for your kids.  It helps keep them entertained when the race drags on.  The ear plugs are needed for when they want to rest their heads.
Be prepared to get up and walk around with them from time to time.  It is simply unfair to expect them to sit on a hard aluminum seat for hours on end. It is also unfair to your neighbor. 
Brings something for them to do when they get bored.  Be smart about what you bring.  DO NOT infringe upon your neighbor by bringing their toy race cars.  A coloring book 1 small toy works pretty well. 

From Mike B: At many tracks if you want to take kids you can find seats in the shade. For example Texas where I have attended for the last 5 years the top of turn 4 is in the shade most of the day. Ask for thse seats as many time they are not high priority but are excellent seats.Figure out which way the track faces and if they have a partial roof or suites above you to provide shade.

From Nicola: has coloring pages that you can customize.  You can change the text to your child's name or favorite driver.  I think it might be helpful in keeping kids entertained while tailgating.

I will update this as I think of more stuff. If you have any suggestions please email RACEMAMA     
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A good source for overall info including ticket, pit passes, track tips, suggestions, vendor info for all tracks. 
Laidback Racing has over a combined century of tailgating experience at 100's of races!