Catawba/Pee Dee

Darlington Raceway

Written by Hunter Thomas

Darlington Raceway, the track Too Tough To Tame. Some even refer to the track which is one of NASCAR’s oldest venues as the Lady in Black. No matter the tagline, one thing is certain: Darlington Raceway is the premier sporting destination in the state of South Carolina. Each year, the 1.366 egg-shaped oval hosts the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and the NASCAR XFINITY Series on Labor Day weekend.

Sunday’s race, the Bojangles’ Southern 500, is one of NASCAR’s oldest events, dating back to September 4, 1950. Seventy-five drivers started that race, and in the end, it was Johnny Mantz taking the checkered ag. In fact, the nearly 40-pound trophy that today’s winners of the prestigious race celebrate with in Victory Lane is known as the Johnny Mantz Trophy. The list of winners at Darlington Raceway includes NASCAR legends such as Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt Sr., Je Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Bill Elliott, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison and the king himself, Richard Petty, just to name a few.

“When you win at Darlington, it’s no fluke,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet. “Only talented, smart race car drivers win races here. So, you know that when you win there, you put yourself in a special category of capable, true drivers, true racers. You don’t back in to a win at Darlington, you have to be good, and the car has got to be great.” NASCAR weekend in Darlington has evolved and come much further than what it once used to be. In 2015, Darlington Raceway and its parent company, International Speedway Corporation (ISC), implemented a multi-year marketing throwback campaign.

When teams visit the track on Labor Day weekend, the paint schemes on the cars will honor drivers of the past, and even the crew members will wear vintage apparel and maybe even change their hairdos to t the era that’s being celebrated. The Thursday heading into the race weekend is a time of celebration as the Darlington Car Hauler Parade is held at the Florence Civic Center. The event features a festival-like atmosphere, and of course, race fans get an up-close-and-personal look at the colorful big rigs that haul the actual race cars.

As the sun sets, all of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series haulers hit the road and make their way towards the Darlington Square, where they are welcomed by thousands of race fans and local residents. Friday is a practice and qualifying day. On Saturday, the NASCAR XFINITY Series drivers compete in the 147-lap Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200, and following the conclusion of the race the Southern 500 Parade will begin in Downtown Darlington. The annual 367-lap Bojangles’ Southern 500 is held on Sunday. Overall, the race weekend generates about $53 million for the state of South Carolina.

Although the overall significance of the weekend is to continue a tradition and crown a winner of the prestigious race, there are many different ways that fans can enjoy the experience. The easiest way is to buy a ticket and sit in the grandstands. Darlington Raceway has some very unique options for fans who want to enjoy the race from a seat. If you sit high atop the grandstands, you can watch the breathtaking sunset behind Turn 4, and view the entire track. If you sit in the lower levels of the grandstands, you get to experience the incredible rush of 40 race cars flying by you at nearly 190 mph.

Your t-shirt is bound to be covered in rubber, and you’ll have one heckuva story to tell your family and friends. If you like to party, then look no further than the in eld, located inside the racetrack. The experience is unlike any college football tailgate. In fact, it’s better. You don’t need a nice button down or bowtie. Just bring a case of beer and wear your favorite driver’s colors with pride as you yell at the top of your lungs when he or she races by. Everyone is extremely friendly and would love to have you join their tailgate plot. NASCAR is full of tradition, and the in eld is where you walk around and learn about the sport from the folks who grew up watching the races at the track over the decades.

“You know, in my 32 years in the state of South Carolina, I’ve learned that I think there are two real passions in this state that people have when it comes to sports entertainment. That’s college athletics and Darlington Raceway,” said Kerry Tharp, President of Darlington Raceway during an event at the South Carolina Governor’s Mansion. “And the impact that our racetrack has had on this state is enormous. We’re a bases of state pride, and I don’t think that any other sports team or organization in South Carolina has the depth of fan and tourism drawn as we do in Darlington.”

The 2017 season introduces a new era for the sport. Monster Energy has come on-board as the entitlement partner for the Cup Series, NASCAR’s top series. With the new partnership comes an evolved way of doing things. This year’s races at Darlington Raceway will be broken down into three stages. The first two stages in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 will be 100 laps each, and the final stage will be 167 laps. The stages are designed to create an even more intense atmosphere at the track.

About the author

Hunter Thomas