Tailgating at Point-to-Point is a party like none other. Keg stands and cheap food find themselves replaced by fine china, freshly cut flowers and gourmet fare.
The average tailgater could be any sports fan in America, whose love of team or sport propels him to the hallowed grounds– usually in a stadium's shadow – to celebrate an impending victory with other like-minded souls.
That party, spurned on by copious amounts of beer and food, can be thrown together rather quickly. Pack up the grill, the cooler, a few chairs and the whole day is set.
There's another way to do it, though. And, tailgaters at Winterthur's Point-to-Point could teach lessons in how to elevate tailgating beyond the average parking lot party. The event is where tailgating went to grow up, leaving behind keg stands and cheap food in favor of fresh flowers for ambiance, delectable restaurant-quality fare and the clink of wine glasses.
However, Point-to-Point Race Director Jill Abbott said that while Sunday's tailgating is the more refined older brother to college tailgating, it's by no means an arrogant or snobby affair, leaving room for everybody to find their sweet spot.
"Some people really go all out and pull out all the stops," said Abbott. "Others just really have a very comfortable, casual tailgate. It can really run the gamut."
So, while some revelers will set their spreads out on the fine china and linens, it's not a requirement for a good time. That's how Susan Casscells sees it. She and her family have been going to Point-to-Point since they moved to Wilmington in 1986. Each year, they occupy spot 310 at the top of the hill. She brings a table, some chairs, a good tablecloth and packs a country picnic of fried chicken and finger food.
"For us, it's a real Wilmington event and the highlight of the year," said Casscells. "But, what we like to do is really casual. We'll have about 20 people with us this year, including my three children and their friends, who all come back year-to-year. That's how much fun it is."
Casscells also said that some of the people around her really do it up and she always looks forward to seeing how people decorate their spots and the fancy fare that some people offer.
Andrew Edmunds, who has been attending Point-to-Point for "decades and decades" said the same thing, adding that it may sound cliché but when the weather is good, the combined effect of the decorations, the grounds and the people make Winterthur seem like "heaven on earth."
"The people who participate in the tailgating put an enormous amount of time and energy into their tableaus," Edmunds said. "It's not a beer bust. They are very clever and I'm always pleasantly surprised by what people come up with."
Abbott, who refers to Point-to-Point as Delaware's answer to the Kentucky Derby, said that throughout her 15 years at Winterthur (eight of those as race director), what stands out the most is that the day winds up being so family-friendly.
"People come back year after year. They look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones, who they might not get to see again until next year," Abbott said. "We have kids playing lacrosse in some of the fields. We had a couple who met here and got engaged on the jumbo screen. We've even hosted two weddings. You can't get more family friendly than that."
That family-oriented vibe was echoed by both Edmunds and Casscells, whose children have both been attending since infants. Edmunds' children are still in high school but Casscells' children are in their 20s and they make it a point, year in and year out, to travel back for it.
"It's a reunion of sorts for them and for all of us," said Casscells, whose sister occupies an adjacent tailgating spot. "There are other events similar to this one that my kids have gone to but they don't make it a point to attend those. They always make it a point to come back for Point-to-Point, though."
Abbott said that her greatest joy over the years – one that she expects will continue this year – is watching the event become "such a significant part of people's lives."
"The tailgating is not only about the displays, the food prep and all that. It's really so much more," Abbott said. "In our 35 year history of the event, it's become a family tradition, something that people look forward to and count on for kicking off spring. It's such a great, fun day."