NASCAR: Tires take detour on way to Darlington
By Pete Iacobelli
COLUMBIA, S.C. ó Darlington Raceway’s always been tough on tires ó even the granite kind.
Four 1,700-pound, black granite replica racing tires, ordered as milestone markers to honor NASCAR’s oldest superspeedway, got a weeklong unanticipated detour to Anchorage, Alaska, on their trip from the manufacturer in China to South Carolina.
Raceway president Chris Browning remembers the call he got about the side trip from Mike Richardson, the owner of Darlington Monuments, the company that’s assembling the decorative structures once they finally arrive. “You’re not going to believe what happened,” Richardson told Browning.
Darlington will hold the Sprint Cup Series’ Dodge Challenger 500 on May 10.
The stone tires will be placed along the walk from the parking lot to Darlington’s front-stretch entrances. They’re a perfect likeness of a Goodyear Eagle racing tire, Browning said, complete with the white lettering on the outside. A white marble rectangle ó designed to look like the old-style racing pit board resting atop a tire ó attaches to each and is connected to a word-and-photo display.
The monuments will commemorate four landmark moments in Darlington’s 58-year history ó that is, as long as they get there.
Darlington’s monuments made it across the Pacific Ocean without problem. Then Browning says they somehow got rerouted to a train heading not for the Deep South, but the frozen North.
“They got to California and got put on the wrong train and ended up in Alaska,” Browning said.
Customs eventually located the missing tires and sent them back by train to Darlington, Browning said.
The monuments were supposed to arrive this week as part of Darlington’s $10 million in capital improvements, Browning said. The track has already built a third infield access tunnel and repaved the 1.366-mile layout for the first time since 1995.
Browning expects the pieces to show up some time next week, giving them plenty of time to put them in place before the Mother’s Day weekend race.
Tires are generally an issue at Darlington, where its gnarly surface is well known for ripping apart rubber. That might not be the case this year, though, with its new smoother surface. A tire test in March had participating drivers reaching speeds of 200 mph on the straightaways.
The monuments are among the cosmetic touches fans will see when they arrive, Browning says. The people or events being honored this year are: Darlington builder Harold Brasington; Bill Elliott winning the Winston Million bonus at the 1985 Southern 500; David Pearson’s leading 10 victories at “The Lady in Black;” and the Ricky Craven-Kurt Busch finish at the 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400.
Craven defeated Busch by two-thousandths of a second, the closest finish since NASCAR began electronic timing in 1993.
Browning says the four monuments cost about $28,000.
The plan, Browning says, is to add four more such tires each year honoring those events or people who helped build Darlington’s reputation.
There’s a list of about 25 ideas about who or what to honor next year, Browning said.
Browning hoped to keep the monuments under wraps until race weekend. Their unscheduled visit to the 49th state ruined that plan.
“They created a little bit of noise for us,” Browning said.
Tires usually do at Darlington.