Darlington Raceway announces $7 million plan to improve seating, fan experience
DARLINGTON, S.C. – Darlington Raceway is embarking on a capital improvement project worth $7 million from its parent company, International Speedway Corporation.
The project, starting today and titled “A Better Darlington … The Tradition Continues,” will renovate Tyler, Wallace and Colvin grandstands to give fans more comfortable seating when they attend this year’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 Weekend.
Darlington Raceway President Kerry Tharp said the project will be finished by mid-August.
“We’re not going to let any grass grow under our feet,” he said. “We’ve got a race come Labor Day.”
This is huge, said Harriet Hobbs, president of the Greater Darlington Chamber of Commerce.
“This will pump more revenue into our city and our county,” she said. “I think this will fill our track on race day.
“Money going to local contractors is going to create jobs, not only create jobs but contractors who are just scraping by will fill their schedules. It’s just going to pump money into our city and our county.”
Darlington Mayor Gloria Hines is pleased.
“That’s a lot of money for the county and the city,” she said.
The track is outside the city limits but close enough that the city reaps a huge windfall on race weekend. This year the city will have Sunday alcohol sales to help boost business for the weekend.
“The people coming in help us,” Hines said.
This will be Darlington’s biggest improvement project since spending $10 million in 2008 to repave its surface and construct a new infield access tunnel.
Among the changes:
>> Replacing the 18-inch-wide metal seats in Tyler on the front stretch with 20- to 22-inch stadium-style seats with cup holders. Those grandstands also will also be re-raked to give fans a better viewing angle. More luxury seating will be in this part as well.
“The sightlines up there haven’t been good,” Tharp said.
>> The metal seats in Wallace will be replaced with stadium-style bleachers with 20- to 22-inch width for each seating space.
>> On Colvin, along the backstretch, the seats will be replaced with bleachers with back support that are wider.
>> Restrooms and concession stands on Colvin will be refurbished.
All of the Darlington grandstands will be smoke-free with designated smoking areas. And three more 12-seat luxury areas are to be added to the Jeff Gordon Finish Line Terrace, which opened with three sections for last fall’s race.
The area also will feel the economic boon as a result of this project.
With all of its success hosting NASCAR and other community events, Darlington Raceway is contributing $64.6 million in economic impact to the state of South Carolina, according to an updated 2017 study conducted by Tom H. Regan of the University of South Carolina’s Department of Sport and Entertainment Management.
That total includes $58.5 million in direct and indirect impact annually for the Pee Dee region. Additionally, Darlington Raceway, and all of its related business activity, generates $8.29 million in taxes and other public revenue each year for federal, state and local governments and $7.43 million for the Pee Dee region.
“This will make our track more beautiful and appealing to race fans,” Hobbs said. “I think this will bring NASCAR fans who haven’t come to Darlington, who have always been ‘I think I want to come to Darlington,’ I think they will come now – just to see our improvements.”
Much of this construction is staying in Darlington County, Tharp said.
“That’s 28,000 local man-hours that will be coming out as a result of this project,” he said.
Since new seats and bleachers will be wider, however, that will reduce the track’s overall seating capacity from its current number of 58,000.
“We’re going to lose some seats as far as numbers,” Tharp said. “We’re not sure exactly of where it’s going to go, because we’re still working on the seating manifest. We haven’t put in the seats yet. We’ll have a better idea where we are on that later this spring and summer.”
The raceway is going to put in more hand rails and guard rails and widen the aisles. Tharp is hopeful the track can put television monitors underneath the grandstands and concourses on the front stretch.
Joie Chitwood, International Speedway Corporation executive vice president and chief operating officer, is just as excited about the project.
“I think Kerry said it best. This is the coolest race track on the planet,” Chitwood said. “It’s some of the best racing there is. We just want to make sure the fans can show up and be treated to the amenities they would get at other great sporting facilities.”
In addition to also installing multiple cross-over gates along the front stretch, Darlington will become the first Monster Cup Series track to feature a Wall of Honor, listing former race champions on banners along the bottom of the Wallace and Colvin grandstands.
NASCAR Hall of Famer and two-time Cup Series champion Terry Labonte’s name will be among them. He earned his first Cup win (1980) and final win (2003) at Darlington.
“This Labor Day, it will be 40 years ago that I ran my first race (at Darlington in 1978),” Labonte said. “To be able run my first race here at Darlington and come back a few years later and win my first race here was really unbelievable and something special. And to win my last race here is amazing. It’s really exciting to see what they’re going to do here, and this is such a historic race track, it means so much to the competitors who have raced here over the years. If you want to win a race, you want to win at Daytona, Charlotte and Darlington.
“But since I never won at Daytona, then Charlotte and Darlington are top two for me.”
Ticket renewals for this season will be mailed today.
“We’ve got a great opportunity ahead of us,” Tharp said. “I think this project will only make our race track better. It will make our community better. And certainly for those fans who come for three days, four days and sometimes a week on our property, they’re going to go away and say, ‘You know what? I’m going to circle every Labor Day Weekend and come to Darlington.’”
Digital Editor Matthew Robertson contributed to this report.