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NASCAR: Darlington cuts prices

Associated Press
COLUMBIA, S.C. ó Darlington Raceway has trimmed ticket prices on more than half of its seats for its 2010 NASCAR race in light of continuing tough economic times.
Darlington president Chris Browning told The Associated Press on Thursday that the track “Too Tough To Tame” would offer reduced prices on about 35,000 seats for next year’s Southern 500. Add that to the 9,000 or so seats reduced by $10 for last May’s event, and 44,000 of the track’s 62,000 would cost less than they did in 2008.
Darlington came within 3,000 tickets of a fifth straight sellout this spring, a strong showing in a region afflicted with 12 percent unemployment. But Browning said officials didn’t want to just hold the line and pray more prosperous times were ahead by May.
“We kicked around a whole lot of different scenarios,” he said by phone, “and at the end of the day, we felt like this was the right thing to do.”
Browning said renewal forms will go out to all ticket buyers next week. Should they respond by the deadline of Sept. 18, purchasers could receive an additional $5 discount.
The biggest reduction comes in the Wallace Grandstand along the start finish line and affecting about 2,500 seats that had been $85 this May and will go for $59 next spring. A timely renewal would mean a savings of $31 a seat.
A section in the Colvin Grandstand along Darlington’s backstretch where seats cost $70 last year would also drop to $59. People in sitting in the track’s two most recently built grandstands, the Brasington Tower in turn one and the Pearson Tower in turn four would see prices dropped from $95 to $90, along with the additional $5 discount for renewing before Sept. 18.
Browning said post-race questionnaires and studies Darlington conducted among ticket buyers found that price was a big drawback to attending. “We want to do everything to make it as affordable as possible,” he said.
It wasn’t too long ago that Darlington had trouble attracting people to its races. The 1.366-mile egg-shaped layout was built in 1950 but had languished through the decades while other, more modern tracks sprang up as NASCAR became a fan favorite from coast-to-coast.
Darlington lost one of its two Sprint Cup weekends after 2004 and saw its lone race date shifted to Mother’s Day weekend. However, the track has added lights for Saturday night racing and recently used $10 million for capital improvements to repave the surface and construct a wide infield access tunnel.
Browning said the track recently received a copy of its sanctioning agreement for 2010 and wanted to make sure its fans could afford to show up.
Tom Regan, a University of South Carolina researcher who has conducted economic impact and fan studies for Darlington in the past, said the cost reduction is Darlington understanding its fan base.
“It’s not desperation,” he said. “I think it’s a marketing move. Lets listen to the fans and see what they’re saying.”
Browning believes NASCAR will bounce back strong when the economy improves. He’s glad that Darlington can make things a little easier for fans in the near future instead of down the road.
“We’ve faced hardships before,” Browning said. “We always seem to be able to adjust. Hopefully, the whole country will adjust and move on.”

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