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LAS VEGAS - NASCAR newcomers get indoctrinated quickly. They get invited to massive tailgating parties, get exposed to plenty of expensive beer, pick a favorite driver, buy all kinds of kitschy souvenirs and, of course, sample speedway cuisine.

Most at least have to try a giant barbecued turkey leg, which many say is the signature NASCAR meal.

Vendors sold hundreds of the caveman-like giant turkey legs at the recent NASCAR weekend at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway which drew nearly 300,000 fans from Feb. 29 through March 2.

Trying to find the history of this delicacy, though, and why it is so popular with NASCAR fans proved to be challenging. There are plenty of references to turkey legs on Web sites but few answers as to why they are so popular.

Diane Hagner and David Roark, of the Las Vegas-based Longhorn Hickory Smoke BBQ, who expected to serve between 1,300 to 2,200 turkey legs for $9 each over the course of the Vegas racing weekend, offered their own theories.

"Turkey legs became popular at Renaissance fairs and started to catch on," said Hagner, who is originally from Texas. "They are now at county and state fairs and at NASCAR. They have become a trend."

Roark said that since most of NASCAR's original followers hail from Southern states where barbecue is an art form, they like not only barbecued turkey legs but traditional pulled pork, chicken and beef brisket as well.

Though some vendors take shortcuts and simply reheat turkey legs that have already been smoked, Roark cooks his on a traditional smoker right at the track for about six hours.

He uses his own barbecue sauce and smokes the turkey legs with a secret sweet rub. The legs are ordered from Texas because, of course, everything is bigger there.

"It takes a long time to smoke turkey or beef brisket," said Roark. "The larger the piece of meat, the longer it takes. You have to slow smoke it and have a good rub."

Race fans such as Californian Kathy English love the turkey leg treat.

"I just like the flavor of them," she said. "They are not hard to eat. They are not all that messy."

Turkey legs are just one of dozens of different kinds of food items served by vendors or cooked up by thousands of tailgaters who surround NASCAR tracks each weekend, often camping out in motor homes or trailers.

In Las Vegas, for example, delicacies such as "tailpipe taquitos," foot-long hot dogs dressed with spicy chili, shredded cheddar, tomatoes and chopped onions, giant burgers topped with unusual toppings, Italian sausage, funnel cakes, Polish sausages and Philly steak sandwiches are available.

Levy Restaurants of Las Vegas provided the food at 103 concession stands and 100 luxury suites, along with 100 chefs to prepare meals.

NASCAR has also spawned, among other items, its own official cookbook by driver Mike Skinner and his wife Angela Skinner called Race Day Grub: Recipes From the NASCAR Family.

The book includes all sorts of quick meals and snacks from most of the current and past NASCAR stars including such items as "Heart Attack on a Plate," "Grandma Red's Biscuits and Gravy," "Hamballs," "Pole-Sittin' Salsa," "No. 22 Cat Car Chili," "Elliot's Race Ready Rice," "Shocking Onions" and "Fruit Salad for the Clumsy."

Drivers such as Kevin Harvick, Mark Martin, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards all offered recipes. In fact, most of the book is written by either drivers or their wives.

Surprisingly, the NASCAR book doesn't offer a recipe for barbecued turkey legs, though Gail Davis - wife of Craftsman Truck Series driver Mike Davis - does include a recipe for "The Only Bar-B-Q Sauce You Need."

While not everyone is a NASCAR fan, the recipes in the Skinners' book would work well for football tailgating, camping and backyard picnics.


* TOM WHARTON can be contacted at His phone number is 801-257-8909. Send comments about this story to

The Only Bar-B-Q Sauce You Need

3/4 cup tomato ketchup

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted

4 tablespoons vinegar

4 tablespoons lemon juice

4 teaspoons salt

4 teaspoons paprika

4 teaspoons mustard

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon red pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a quart jar and shake well until dissolved. Refrigerate until needed. Use the sauce to marinate chicken for grilling.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Source: Race Day Grub: Recipes From the NASCAR Family, by Gail Davis (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., $17.95)