It still won’t be a full crowd but things are headed back to a more normal race weekend at Darlington Raceway.
The track dubbed “Too Tough to Tame” will host the first of its two race weekends May 7-9 with a tripleheader featuring the Truck Series, Xfinity Series and Cup Series.
Darlington Raceway president Kerry Tharp said Wednesday attendance will be 35 percent or 16,450 of the track’s 47,000 capacity, an increase of where it was for last year’s Southern 500 in September. There were between 8,000 to 10,000 fans for that race. The track is allowing a limited number of campers on the infield and some corporate hospitality suites, something it couldn’t do last year.
For the first time since COVID-19 began, there will be sponsors/guests allowed in the garage area. Each team manufacturer and the track will get a handful of guests. Those guests must be fully vaccinated and each team must be responsible to confirm if the guest has been fully vaccinated.
According to Fox Sports’ Bob Pockrass, the guests will have access to the garage and pit road, but there will be no hauler tours and won’t be allowed by drivers at the cars. If things go well at Darlington, other tracks might allow fans in the garage for the rest of the season.
“As further along as the season goes, slowly but surely we are getting closer to where things were at one time,” Tharp said Wednesday as a ceremony at the SC Governor’s mansion. “With us having fans being able to get to the garage starting with our race is pretty cool. It gives everyone a feeling that we could get back to how things were.
“It is still going to take some time. NASCAR has been a real leader to get the sport through a difficult time, something we have never faced before.”
Tharp is optimistic track can be at full capacity for the second race weekend in September.
Tharp was joined at Wednesday’s ceremony by other state officials and Forest Acres native Jordan Anderson, who is a team owner and driver for the No. 3 truck. Anderson revealed his paint scheme for next week’s Throwback Weekend, honoring his future father-in-law and former NASCAR crew chief Larry McReynolds’ first Cup race with Hall of Fame driver Mark Martin. Reynolds is now an analyst for NASCAR on Fox.
Anderson, who is in his third year as driver/owner and also fields a team in the Xfinity Series, said getting to have sponsors at the track is a big deal for a small team like his.
“You are giving the sponsors a chance to come together and have them come to the track and connect,” Anderson said. “That is the foundation to our whole race team and sponsorship model. To have the garage area and pits back open and have them watching pit stops live on pit box and hang out with us all weekend is huge.
“I think with Darlington being the first race back is going to be a green light for the rest of the tracks to follow suit.”
Darlington Raceway was the site of NASCAR’s return from COVID-19 last May when it hosted two Cup races and an Xfinity Series race in a four-day span, all without spectators.
Darlington was awarded a second race date on the schedule this year for the first time since 2004. The spring race will be NASCAR’s Throwback Weekend while the Southern 500 will be the first race in NASCAR Cup playoffs.
Next weekend will be the first time since the All-Star race in 1986 and only eighth time ever that a Cup race is scheduled to run on Mother’s Day. Darlington’s 2007 race was run on Mother’s Day after rain postponed the race the day before.
“It is a lot of fun to get ready for this time of the year and be prepared for two races. It keeps us fresh and on our toes,” Tharp said. “It will pay off for us in September with so many things in place for a preparation standpoint. Lot of more spring in your step and sense of urgency when you go to the office each day. To have the two race weekends is a good opportunity for us.”