Tailgating At The Kentucky Derby?

By Brian Cullen

Hey there, gang! I just got back from the Kentucky Derby a few days ago, and I’m at least reasonably confident that the shakes have died down enough for me to write a few coherent thoughts about whatever it was I just witnessed.

For those who have never heard of the Kentucky Derby, welcome to America! I think you’ll find our great country is rife with angry people, the illusion of democracy, semi-decent late night programs and hot, melty sandwiches. The Kentucky Derby itself, meanwhile, is a yearly event where tiny men use whips to beat the stuffing out of long, muscular animals while pretty ladies wear fancy dresses and silly hats. Everyone is drunk, nobody knows what’s going on, and the entire thing is done under the guise of tradition. Funny enough, I used this same description about Boogie Nights back in ‘97.

The first question, I suppose, is: did I just attend a tailgate?

Well. That answer isn’t quite so simple.

Photo Credit: Brian Cullen

Photo Credit: Brian Cullen

The first problem is there isn’t a proper parking lot. Not that I saw, anyway. My party and I bribed a van driver to give us a lift to the entrance of the race track. So we wouldn’t have even come across a parking lot in the first place.

When you first enter Churchill Downs, they give you a thorough pat down, rub, tuck, “how’s yer mum?” and a little how-do-you-do before the security guards (and MPs!) send you on your way. Then, you descend into a tunnel where people are dancing around whooping and hollering and a man with a saxophone plays “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.” The whole thing feels like a terrible metaphor for being born. Then, you arise, like a phoenix from the smelly, dank ashes, into a glorious field of southern belles and $11 mint juleps.*

*That’s not an exaggeration. $11 for a damn drink. I had a friend who played a round of “Edward Mint Julep-Hands.” Cost him $22, not to mention a fair bit of dignity when the lack of coordination caused him to, erm, “zip himself up.”

Photo Credit: Brian Cullen

Photo Credit: Brian Cullen

From here, everything is like a county fair. People are giving out samples of kettle corn. They… might have had food? Yeah. They probably had food. But I don’t remember looking, to be honest. And they had daiquiris, blue margaritas, $9 beers, the whole shebang.

So there we are, wandering around what I think is some kind of front entrance to the racetrack, when I say to myself, “this is perfect! We’re outside, there’s plenty of places to eat and drink, and there’s a sporting event right nearby where I am. It might not have cars or portable grills, but I certainly would define this as a tailgate. Case closed.”

That’s when I mention to a friend; “So when are we going in?”

“What do you mean?” he asks.

“You know. When are we actually going in to the racetrack itself?”

He stared at disbelief. And by now you’ve put it together, too.

I was in the infield.

For those of you who aren’t following what I’m saying, let me put it to you this way:

Photo Credit: Brian Cullen

Photo Credit: Brian Cullen

Oh. Oh my.

This created two unique problems:

1. Holy crap! The Infield of the Kentucky Derby! That’s one of the craziest spots to party in the United States in any given year! If you’d like a quick illustration, feel free to check out this mildly NSFW Google image search. This should tell you everything you need to know.

Photo Credit: Brian Cullen

Photo Credit: Brian Cullen

2. In one of my recent articles, we’ve already done a fair bit of “blowing off the doors,” as it were, in redefining what basic DNA an event needs to be called a tailgate. But this was a whole new angle. Can you tailgate for an event inside of the event itself!?

Check out ‘What Makes A Tailgate A Tailgate?’

This was a game changer. So I did what any rational tailgate enthusiast would do: I put on my thinking cap. And by that, I mean: my thinking mint julep.

Ok, so let’s work through this a little.

On one hand, being inside of an event clearly doesn’t qualify as tailgating. You cannot tailgate from the stands, so that’s a no go.

On the other hand, we weren’t in the stands. We were in a big, grassy area full of food and drink vendors, sunbathers and people in silly costumes.

Photo Credit: Brian Cullen

Photo Credit: Brian Cullen

So what’s my verdict? I’m going to say… yes. This absolutely counts as a tailgate. I could tell you about how sunny and warm it was or how electric the environment was. But more than anything, it just felt like a tailgate.

Now, this is likely the exception, not the rule. But if the Derby proves that you can have a tailgate inside an event, I think we need to set some ground rules, such as:

1. The event itself cannot be the main focus (I can guarantee you, half the people there didn’t even realize there were races going on).

2. There needs to be ample sustenance, either in the form of food trucks or your own personal grills.

3. In the event of rain, people should be able to slide in the mud (e.g. no concrete, bleachers, rafters, etc).

Photo Credit: Brian Cullen

Photo Credit: Brian Cullen

Are we opening ourselves up to a whole new world of possibilities with this ruling? Absolutely. But that’s what makes it so fun. Heck, tailgating definitions are about as clear cut as 2nd Amendment rights (but so much more fun to quibble over). All there is to do now is keep our eyes open for other events where the tailgate can actually happen inside the gates.

Having settled that question in my mind, I then did what any red-blooded American would do: lost a ton of money on ill-conceived bets, and pursued a life-altering hangover with all the fury of the Middle Ages.

Would I do it again? Sure. In fact, I’ll be reporting in from the Belmont Stakes in a few weeks. So make sure to check back at the same Tailgate Fan time, on the same Tailgate Fan channel. And until then: a belated happy Derby Day to you all!

Check out Brian’s Tailgating Top 10s.

Stop in at the Man Cave Daily, where the women are hot and the beer is cold.

Brian Cullen does not, cannot, and will not condone gambling, but mostly because he’s absolutely lousy at it. Follow him on Twitter @bucketcullen.


One Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

More From Tailgate Fan

CBS Sports Radio RoundupWe take you around the dial for the best in sports talk radio from across the country!
WATCH: Tailgating Doesn't Get Any WilderIowa and Michigan State square off in the Big Ten Championship. And the tailgating is wilder than the game.
WATCH: Party Like Ducks And TreesOregon edged Stanford on the field, but the tailgating winner was too close to call.

Listen Live