In a sea of red, Mark Ringsdorf chose to paint his tailgating bus slate-gray, which, when you think about it, kind of kills the incognito look he wanted.
"I wanted it to be stealth," he said, smiling at the realization that his vehicle, when parked on gamedays in the lot on the northwest corner of 10th and N streets, sticks out like the proverbial elephant in a strawberry patch.
Still, maybe the vice president and director of property management at Omaha's Noddle Companies, an Omaha-based commercial real estate firm, has a point. Sometimes the best way to hide is in plain sight.
Then again, maybe the gray ghost's stealthiness comes from its ability to surprise, to raise eyebrows upon closer inspection. At first glance, it appears more suited to be some sort of special-ops weapon or a vehicle used for transporting Nebraska scofflaws to the penitentiary.
Yet, for the past eight years, it has been wowing the masses with a pair of large flat-screen TVs and equipped with satellite technology, a bar that's fully stocked — and by fully stocked, we mean more spirits than a haunted house — and an interior that's furnished with seating, nightclub-like mood lighting and bottle service like you've never seen.
You'd never guess that the vehicle's purpose a decade earlier was to help flatten the surface at a northern Iowa dirt racetrack.
That was the master plan of Mark's father Joe Ringsdorf, who was charged with promoting and overseeing the operations at Hancock County Speedway. He bought a fleet of buses, thinking it would be both fun and useful to load them with children in between races to smooth the track's surface while giving the kids a thrill.
"At the end of the year, he realized it didn’t work out as well as he thought it would, so he asked me if I wanted a bus," said Mark, who is never one to look a gift bus in the mouth.
A year later, his brother Matt received a bus from Joe, which was quickly furnished much the same way. The only difference is geography. Matt's bus is a regular at Arrowhead Stadium for Kansas City Chiefs games.
Meanwhile, Joe delivered a third bus to Mark, who passed it on to Brett Lundin and Pat Kealy of Omaha's Prairie Mechanical Corporation. That one, however, is painted red, but is furnished much the same as its gray cousin. Together, they create a courtyard of sorts each tailgate Saturday in Lincoln.
There's a commitment — mentally, physically and financially — that comes with showing up each week to tailgate. That commitment seems to take a huge leap when a large specialty vehicle is playing a central role in the endeavor.
"Everybody says that, but it really isn't," said Mark Ringsdorf, who lives in Elkhorn and stores the bus in nearby Valley. "It takes about 20 minutes to set up when we get here. I'll bring it home and have it cleaned out and unpacked and back in Valley in an hour. It’s not that big of a commitment and it’s a lot of fun."
Nebraska's 9-6 victory against Michigan State on Saturday was played in frosty late-morning conditions, which limited the number of people — and the need for them to be parked very far apart — at the home season-ending tailgate. However, this season, their parties drew hundreds, including a couple of early-season games that featured catered meals and live music and drew as many as 400 people.
"It's been a ball," said Rob Salerno, the client executive with Sirius Computer Solutions in Omaha. "We’ve built great customer relationships through these tailgates. It’s enhanced relationships and built some friendships. That's been good."
Saturday, the crowd was a nice mix of Husker red and Michigan State green. There were Michiganders, lifers and Nebraska transplants alike, who make their way to 10th and N whenever the Spartans are in town.
"There's a big group of us that come down for this," said Joyce Guseila, who has family ties to both Michigan State and the University of Michigan. "We love coming to Lincoln for this game. Every year, somebody comes here, whether it's Michigan or Michigan State. This is a great trip for us."
And after a slow start to the season, Husker fans are finding some optimism to carry them through the offseason. They envision a future with more Nebraska wins and far fewer late-morning games than they were subjected to this season.
"They’ve got it going in the right direction," Salerno said. "Everyone is pretty enthusiastic. The way things are going, we’ll see a lot more 2:30 and later games in the future. I don't think we'll have as many 11 o'clock games next year."