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Tailgating and Tent Camping Tips for the Races

So may race fans tent camp at the race track.  I know we did for years….more years than we have RV camped.  Let me tell ya’ll something, Be Prepared takes on a whole new meaning when tent camping.  We wouldn’t have a spare inch of space in our car when we tent camped.  If there was a space then there was something we needed to put in it to make our life easier while camping, usually another tarp as you can’t have too many tarps!  These are a few tips I have found useful if you are tent camping:

Setting up:

Before you go - pitch your tent at home to make sure you know how it works and to check that nothing is missing.  If at all possible, get the tent erected before it gets dark. This is important even if it is a new tent.
I will never forget at a Southern 500 in the early 90’s Danny brought his friend, Bruce.  Janet and Mary, their wives, were coming later.  All day Dano kept telling Bruce “Bo you need to get that tent up before the girls get here.”  Then he would add ”you know Jo Ann, Bruce borrowed this tent from Mary’s ex-husband.  It hasn’t been put up in five years.  It has been in Mary’s ex-husband attic.  Bruce doesn’t have the instructions.”  All day he said that.  Sure enough Bruce waited until after dark to try to put the tent up.  Guess what?  There were poles missing which Danny insisted Mary’s Ex did on purpose!  

Pack the gear in reverse order of use--what you'll need last first and so on until you throw on the first thing you'll need--the tent bag. A very large duffel-type bag is good for keeping together the first things needed when making camp: tent and rain fly, air mattress and pump, dustpan, doormat, etc.  There is nothing worse than getting to the track when it is raining and the tent is at the bottom of the pile.  If you can get it setup first you have a place to put your stuff so it doesn’t get wet!

Don't wait until it starts raining before you put the rain fly on the tent. Always be aware of the weather conditions, and monitor the forecast closely.

The tarp goes INSIDE the tent! It must be slightly larger than the inside dimensions, so that "extra" tarp is folded upwards along all sides. Doing this will mean even a gallon of rain can seep into your tent but you'll still keep dry... put that tarp under the tent, and one way or another, it will actually channel water towards your tent floor. If you absolutely MUST have a ground sheet to protect your precious tent floor, a simple solution is to use TWO tarps. But one needs to be inside the tent.

Use glow sticks for a bit of soft light at night. Hang from trees, off tent poles etc.  Also good for highlighting where the tarp ropes are so no one runs into them.

If you have tent pegs or stakes that have the tendency to pull loose in soft or wet ground, you can prevent this from happening by overlapping two tent stakes so that extra support is added to the tent stake to which the tent is fastened. 

To increase the visibility and to avoid tripping on, mark the guide lines of your tent or tarp with foil or colored fabric. You can also use phosphorescent paint to mark the top of corner pegs of tents, etc. An old tennis ball can also mark the tent stakes in the ground.  Cut an X and it will fit over the top of the stake.

Tent Extension - Carry a plastic garbage bag to use as a tent extension or vestibule in the event of rain. I once saw my neighbor and his son sleep in a Fisher Price “toy” tent at a Cub Pack Dad & Lad overnight.  This would have worked OK, except the lower 2 feet of my neighbor’s 6-foot frame did not fit inside the 4-foot tent. This became a concern at 3 AM when a thunderstorm roared through the camp. A plastic garbage bag would have kept his feet dry, but everything else got wet anyway. (from Mark V. of Troop 792)

A sturdy fan rake is very handy for clearing loose debris from your intended tent site. We have a metal rake that folds down that we still bring with us to rake up before we put down the ground cloth.  In the old days, at Charlotte we used to bring the lawnmower.  They only cut the grass in the fields behind the track before the All-Star race and by the 600 it was tall enough to be a nuisance and poke holes in your tarps.  If any of you know Mike Smith from Dunn, NC you have probably seen a home video of it at a Barn party!

Use a tarp of the proper size as a ground cloth for your tent--it provides extra cushioning against any rocks or debris underneath. Old shower curtains also work well.

Into each life a little rain must fall, and sometimes this happens when you're out camping. Tarp straps are excellent for stabilizing a tent in windy conditions--use them as adjustable guy lines: At the tent corner taking most of the wind, hook one end of a strap around the tent support pole and stretch the strap out, into the wind, until the desired tension has been reached. Secure by hooking to an extra tent peg driven into the ground, or to any natural "anchor" available. Repeat as needed for best tent stability. It might be necessary to hook a couple of straps together for extra length.  It's best to mark guy lines by tying light-colored rags--or socks--to them for better visibility, especially at night.  When it's time to pull up stakes and move on, fold a strap in half, grasp it just above the hooks and use those hooks to pull your tent stakes--works great!

Use a throw rug or a piece of outdoor carpet in front of your tent to reduce the amount of dirt tracked in.  I also put one right inside the door of the tent too!

It is always a good idea to seal your tent with a commercial tent sealant. This will protect the tent. Make sure the seams are sealed as well, using a seam sealant. Reapply the sealant as necessary. Most leaks will occur through stretch seams. Apply the sealant on both the outside and the inside seams of the tent.  Look for sealants that protect not just against the rain but against UV radiation

Don't set up the tent in a low spot or depression. Rainwater will collect under the tent and soak through into your sleeping bag.

Get the sturdiest aluminum tent stakes possible. Most campgrounds build sites with gravel, and this hard ground will bend or break most lightweight and plastic stakes.
Be sure you have a mallet – one that doubles as a stake puller is ideal – as well as the right kind of stakes. Those that come with the tent are suitable for most conditions, but if you expect to pitch your tent on sand, mud, clay or rocks, look for stakes made especially for these conditions.  We have a tool box that has rope, tie straps and assorted kinds of stakes.

BRING A COMPASS!  Pitch your tent facing east if you want an early start or facing west if you want to enjoy sleeping in.

Bring extra tent poles along, just in case a pole breaks on your trip. You should make sure you always stake your tent down completely to avoid wind damage to your tent.  I still have every tent pole for every tent I have ever owned even though we no longer tent camp!  The tent may be gone but the poles live on!

Steady your tent on a windy day. A few spare coffee cans will steady your tent in a strong wind. Pour 2 inches of wet cement into as many coffee cans as your tent has poles. Before the cement dries, stick a foot-long, hollow pipe in each can. The pipes should be wider than your tent poles. Finally, punch a hole in each can about an inch from the top. The next time you put up your tent, place the poles in the cemented pipe and tie the pole string through the can hole.

Sleeping in Tents:

If you are sleeping in a tent, floor space in a rig, back of the truck, etc., your sleeping bag should consist of at least two parts. Preferably three. Even when lightweight backpacking, I always include a decent self-inflatable sleeping pad. I can throw a sleeping bag down on bare rock if I have a good pad under me. A cotton sheet
(better yet, an acrylic "pile" sleeping bag liner) is great for absorbing sweat if it gets too hot and giving another layer of warmth if it gets cold. Most people buy sleeping bags that are too warm for summer!

Should you be forced to sleep on an incline, position your head at the high end. Many people try to sleep perpendicular to a slope on the "flattest" part they can find... this leads to trying to keep from rolling or sliding downhill all night.  Do not sleep with your head at the bottom of the decline, you will wake up with a head ache because the blood rushes downward to your head all night.  Also, if you are like me your sinuses will be swollen in the morning!  I still do this in the RV.

Putting your sleeping bag on a pad or on an air mattress provides for a better back, a better nights sleep and protection from the ground moisture. It keeps you warmer and dryer if water should come into the tent.  We used to bring the mattress from our futon…this worked real good.

For a comfortable night's sleep, you will want to partially unzip the upper window in your tent. This will help remove unwanted moisture and condensation from perspiring sleepers.  On nights that are especially humid, also unzip a lower window to draw cooler air through and create a chimney effect.

Miscellaneous Tips:

When we tent camped we had two race weekends that were beyond hot, The Coca Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend & the Labor Day Southern 500 (R.I.P.).  We used to bring a 3000 BTU window unit.  We set it up on a table and duct taped it around the tent window.  We would throw tarps over the top of the tent.  You could see your breath in that tent!

Plastic see thru containers....marked and organized.  I had one that I wrote Kitchen on the side and whatever had to do with cooking went in that box.

Pack you non perishable food in cardboard boxes with lids (in an office printer paper comes in great boxes) that you can use as kindling on the last night after the food is gone.

The night before we leave I combine the drink cooler and what food is left into one cooler.  I dry the other cooler and put all the dirty clothes in it.

A small piece of medium-grade sandpaper can be used for smoothing the joints of a tent pole for a better connection, roughing up fabric for a repair patch or striking a match.

Try to bring multi purpose items. For example, pack your clothes in one of those plastic 2 or 3 drawer small shelving units.  It serves 2 purposes, a suitcase and a table in the tent.  Or get a cooler that has a seat cushion on top.  Stuff like that...

Bring string. Pin it to a small tent leak in the ceiling and run the string to the floor, away from the head of beds or sleeping bags. Water will run down the string.

Remove your shoes before entering the tent. This helps keep the tent floor and sleeping bags clean. (KEEP A DUST PAN AND BRUSH AT THE ENTRANCE ALONG WITH A MAT) Keep a compact broom and dustpan nearby to keep the tent clean inside while camping and a door mat on the outside.

A bar of soap rubbed along the length of a tent or sleeping bag zipper will make that zipper slide much more effectively.  In a fix, lip balm will work, too.

Save your instructions for the tent, gazebo etc. from getting battered looking and unreadable by putting on a transparent contact paper cover.

Choose a light for your tent. There are many options, and a flashlight isn't always the best one.  Hanging Flashlight - For campers who need a free hand, attach an alligator clip to a 6-inch leather or nylon cord. Tie the cord to the end of AAA or AA flashlight. The flashlight can be hung from a tree branch or the bill of a cap leaving both hands free. The alligator clip can also be used to hang the flashlight from a tent wall or ceiling to illuminate a tent for reading at bedtime. Alligator clips are available at most electronics shops such as Radio Shack.

If your tent does not have a vestibule to protect your boots from rain or evening dew, slip a plastic produce or grocery bag over each boot before pulling your feet into the tent. Remove your boots in the bags and they won’t muck up the tent.

Two-holed pull tabs from aluminum cans are good to add tension for your rain fly. They also make good replacement grommets. I’ve used a pull tab to replace a torn grommet and this works.  Use duct tape to secure it to the tarp and then punch a hole through the tape so you can put the rope thru.

At the campsite we sometimes use a pup tent for storage of the boxes.  It makes the campsite look much neater and protects our stuff from the rain.  We have put the tent on top of our van so it didn't take up any space and we weren't charged extra for it.

Dome tents are more aerodynamic and stable, with a sleeker profile to shed weather and wind effectively.

For the guys: A plastic bottle makes a good latrine for cold weather camping. (You don't have to 'go' very far from your sleeping bag). Keep it just out side the tent flap.

Keep things on the inside from touching the sides of the tent, when you set up your tent. This will help keep the inside of your tent dry if it rains.  Yes I made the mistake of touching the inside of the tent with a plastic box ONCE

Time to leave:

When breaking camp, use your broom first to sweep out the tent, then, as you fold it, sweep dirt and debris from the underside (if you don't use a ground cloth).

While packing the tent to fit it in the stuff sack, don't fold the fabrics at the same place every time as over the period of time, an established fold line creates a pleat that can crack the waterproof coating.

Prolong the life of your tent. As soon as you get home from a camping trip, set up your tent. Airing it out for 30 minutes will get rid of moisture and prevent mildew.  That was the thing I hated most about tent camping….I had to go home and set it up all over again!

Put a Bounce sheet in your sleeping bag and tent before folding and storing them. Keeps them smelling fresh.  Baking soda is useful for deodorizing tents and sleeping bags too.

A refrigerator box is a very useful thing when camping.  I would go to the appliance store before we left and get one.  Slice it down one side so it folds flat.  When you get to camp tape it back together, cut a door in it and viola - a private restroom for your port o potty!  I have seen where some one tape a tarp to the inside and used it as a shower house (they had a solar shower bag hanging on a tree).  It can also be used under your tent to insulate it if it is cold. 

A few reference sites:

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. 
Bringing your children to a race?
Tips for Tailgating with Kids at the Races