• 68°

Darlington Raceway getting set for first of two new NASCAR weekends

By Pete Iacobelli

AP Sports Writer

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Darlington Raceway officials are excited about hosting the first of two scheduled NASCAR weekends, something the track hadn’t featured since 2004.

The old, country track holds races for NASCAR’s top three series this weekend, which will be capped off by the Cup Series’ Goodyear 400 on Sunday. Darlington will also host another NASCAR series event Labor Day Weekend.

There were times since losing its second race 17 years ago when the track dubbed the “Lady In Black” seemed closer to extinction than rebirth.

“We’re certainly excited with what’s occurred,” Tharp said. “We consider ourselves like the Wrigley Field of NASCAR.”

The track hosted two NASCAR weekends a year from 1960 through 2004 before organizers cut that in half and took away Darlington’s Labor Day race date. At that time, Darlington seemed closure to closure than revival.

But with the Goodyear 400 set for Sunday, track president Kerry Tharp believes it’s a restart that’s every bit as significant as when Harold Brasington carved the oval-shaped layout from some farmland more than 70 years ago.

The Wrigley Field analogy will be on display this weekend at Darlington with the truck race on Friday night, the Triple-A Xfinity Series on Saturday before the Cup Series’ Goodyear 400 on Sunday.

Kurt Busch, who was second here in 2003 to Ricky Craven by 0.002 seconds in the closest finish in NASCAR history, says the more visits to Darlington the better.

“I feel like the track is a fun challenge that is very different than all the other tracks,” said Busch, who drives the No. 1 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing and who has not won in 26 starts at the track.

Darlington played a major role in NASCAR’s growth since first hosting a race in 1950 and was again front and center in racing’s return from its three-month pandemic suspension last spring. It was Darlington that held the first NASCAR Cup Series event in May 2020, without fans, that resumed a season interrupted by COVID-19.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who drives the No. 47 Chevrolet for JTG Daugherty Racing, said Darlington has a history that can’t be matched by more modern facilities.

“It’s an iconic race track,” he said.

But the racing icon needed a jolt of reality before track was brought back up to speed. Track officials took for granted Darlington’s status as a staple on NASCAR’s schedule, which led to neglect and disrepair at the raceway.

When Darlington lost its Labor Day weekend date after 2003, the whispers grew stronger about track possibly being shut out of NASCAR’s top series like Rockingham and North Wilkesboro in North Carolina.

But Darlington leaders and officials at International Speedway Corporation, which owns Darlington Raceway, have worked the past two decades to modernize the track, adding lights, new grandstands, suite areas and a tunnel entry to improve access for NASCAR teams.

Tharp understands Darlington can’t make the same mistake again by contently sitting back after regaining its two-weekend races-a-year status. There are areas in and around the facility he and ISC are targeting for improvements going forward, although “there’s no timetable yet,” the track president said.

The path back has been rocky. The first big step came in 2015 when Darlington regained its Labor Day date for the Southern 500. Track organizers also initiated a throwback weekend celebration at the Labor Day race six years ago.

The practice — think of it as Old Timer’s Day for NASCAR’s past — has become popular among fans, drivers and teams who don vintage outfits and dress out cars in paint schemes of the past.  Going forward, the throwback celebration will take place during the Mother’s Day weekend race.

The Southern 500, set for Sept. 5, will open NASCAR’s playoffs.



Hundreds turn out for annual Juneteenth celebration on newest federal holiday


Between local champions and an upcoming state tournament, pickleball putting Salisbury on map


Business leaders hope to draw big crowd for job fair at West End Plaza


Officers cleared in Mooresville shooting


From firefighter to photographer, Brianna Mitschele is ready to capture more moments in downtown Salisbury


25 years later, runners reflect on Olympic torch’s trip through Rowan


Commissioners to consider designating Newberry Hall House as county historic landmark

Farm & Garden

51st annual Old Southeast Threshers’ Reunion set for July 1-5


Biz Roundup: St. Luke’s Episcopal Church Foundation awards grants from Salisbury to Jerusalem


Kristy Woodson Harvey: For Dad


South Salisbury Fire Department activates new weather siren


Library Notes: Meet the ‘Dare Devil Dogs’ in Week 5


Q&A with Bishop Tim Smith


Wolfpack tops Stanford falls in College World Series opener


‘Down by the Praise Pond’ shares local author’s faith in debut children’s book


Driver crashes into crowd at Pride parade in Florida; 1 dead


Search continues after 3 tubers die, 2 disappear at dam


Research from NC State professors is aboard space station


Livingstone College celebrates federal recognition of Juneteenth


Wolfpack faces Stanford today in College World Series


Tropical weather lashes Gulf Coast with winds, rain


Cooper vetoes bill that would have allowed more to carry guns in churches


Girl attacked by bear in Great Smoky Mountains National Park


Two tubers remain missing after going over Dan River dam