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Official Review by Aaron S. Terry, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Darlington Raceway opened in 1950, and is known as NASCAR's original superspeedway because it was the first NASCAR track to be paved. The mile-and-a-quarter oval was built by retired racer Harold Brasington, who wanted a southern stock car race to rival the Indianapolis 500. The track has a very unique design; an egg shape with one end that is much tighter, narrower, and more steeply banked than the other end, due to a minnow pond on that side when the track was built (the pond is now long gone). That tight corner is why Darlington Raceway is also known as the "track too tough to tame," since it is easy to lose control going around.
Darlington Raceway currently seats 58,000 fans, which is much smaller than many other NASCAR tracks. Major events here include the Southern 500 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series and the Help a Hero 200 in the NASCAR Xfinity series, both of which happen Labor Day weekend.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
In terms of food and beverage, Darlington Raceway has a carnival-like atmosphere as you enter the stadium, with treats like funnel cake, deep-fried Oreos, and cotton candy, but the concessions inside are a little more subdued.
Outside of the venue there are a handful of snack stands and food trucks dotted around, including a Circle K stand which offers bagged snacks like nuts and beef jerky, as well as batteries, Tylenol, ear plugs, sunblock, lighters, and cigarettes. Once you get inside, there are fixed stands every few hundred feet around the concourse that sell a small selection of stadium basics, such as nachos, peanuts, candy, and chips, plus beer, cocktails, bottled water, bottled Coke products, Gatorade, and coffee or hot cocoa. They also have main dishes such as hot dogs, burgers, Italian sausage, and barbecue sandwiches, but only certain stands sell each of these main dishes, so you may have to walk around a little to find what you want.
Prices for food items range from $2 to $6 both inside and outside the raceway, which is comparable to other venues; beverage prices range from $4 to $8. On the plus side, like most race tracks you are allowed to bring in coolers with outside food and drinks, including alcohol. The only restriction is that the alcohol must be in sealed containers - if you try to bring in an open container you will have to drink it before you enter.
Darlington Raceway has four different grandstands - Tyler sits in front of the start/finish line, Brasington is around the first turn, Pearson is around the final turn, and Colvin is on the back side. Though it is more expensive, Tyler is the best place to sit since it puts you closer to pit row and the pre and post-race festivities. It may seem like the stands should hold a lot more fans than they do, but they actually aren't very tall, so even the top row has a perfect view of the action.
The seats at Darlington are metal chair backs, and they are not in very good condition, with worn paint and faded numbers, which makes it a little hard to find the right seat. They are also very narrow with very little leg room, so you may feel a little squeezed, and this is exacerbated by the fact that coolers are allowed in, so you will probably have to step over some as you make your way to and from your seat. Most coolers are too big to fit under the seats, so there isn't any choice but to put them in front of you, which takes away even more leg room.
On the plus side, if you have never been to a NASCAR race, it is pretty awesome to watch the cars zoom by at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour - the noise is so loud you can hear the engines from the parking lots. And for a price, the staff does a great job enhancing the experience by renting headsets and scanners so you can listen in to the drivers during the race. There is also a pole out front listing the names of all past Darlington race winners.
Check out the video below to see some live race action:
Darlington, SC is a pretty small town, and there is very little in the area besides the race track (which isn't surprising considering how far off the beaten path you have to go to find a piece of land large enough for one). Mayflower Seafood Restaurant is the only decent place to eat within several miles, located just down the road from the track - for anything else you will have to head back into Florence, about 10 miles away, which is also where the hotels are.
The track does have the Darlington Raceway Stock Car Museum & NMPA Hall of Fame on-site, which costs $5 admission and is open from 10 am to 4 pm Monday through Friday, with extended hours on event days. Here you will find cars both old and new, and you can take a walk through the history at Darlington and for the entire sport - look for the Plymouth Johnny Mantz drove when he won the very first race at Darlington, as well as cars driven by the likes of Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip.
Fans at Darlington Raceway are solid; a lot of them wear gear and in general they seem knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and they are very friendly. Unlike other sports where most of the fans are rooting for one team, at NASCAR races you will see supporters of all of the different drivers, so there isn't ever a euphoric moment where thousands are screaming at once, since the crowd's allegiance is split. This is especially true since the stands are spread so far apart, so the section you are in won't have more than ten or twenty thousand.
There isn't much traffic around Darlington Raceway, and the local police do a great job directing traffic, so getting in and out is very easy. Most fans will take I-95 either north or south, then US 52 north to Harry Byrd Highway (or I-20 to US 401 north to US 52 to Harry Byrd).
Most of the parking is along Harry Byrd Highway, which is on the back side of the track near the Colvin rows, and parking will cost $10 to $20 depending on how far you want to walk. There is a lot of tailgating in this area, so you will see lots of trailers and tents. Be mindful of which section you are seated in when you choose your parking space, because some sections are a lot longer walk than others.
There are gates all around the track, and there is a pedestrian pathway around the outside, so you can enter wherever you want and still get to your seat fairly easily. Once you get inside, there are concessions, bathrooms, and entrances into the seats every few hundred feet around the concourse, so finding what you need isn't too much of an issue - the only challenge is navigating the narrow seats and aisles in the stands themselves.
Tickets to Darlington Raceway start at about $40 plus taxes and fees, but you can find them trackside for $20 or $30 from scalpers. While these ticket prices are fair, the stands feel a little dated, and the concessions are disappointing compared to other venues. Also, the seating is just a little too tight for comfort.
If you want to see a NASCAR race, there are way better tracks out there that won't cost much more to attend, and have better facilities and amenities. But, if you live in the area, or have never been to a NASCAR race and want to check it off your bucket list, this could be a good option.
Darlington Raceway has a jet flyover before the race, which is fun to see. Also the on-site museum is pretty neat, and gives you something to do while you wait for the flag to drop.
Unless you are a diehard NASCAR fan, this may be a track to skip. While it is easy to get around thanks to its small capacity and out of the way location, there aren't any restaurants or attractions nearby, and the concessions aren't great. But don't worry, there are plenty of other places where you can see fast cars make left turns.
Member Review by brian on May 15, 2013
When taking a glance across the NASCAR landscape and seeing massive speedways like Atlanta, Texas and Charlotte, it's very easy to think that these tracks defined the superspeedway "genre". These facilities all serve massive markets while seating over 100,000 fans. While the history books may tell the story of NASCAR in the 21st century with big tracks and bigger markets, it is important to remember those places that helped launch the craze.
The first NASCAR superspeedway was not in a top-20 media market, but in the tiny town of Darlington in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina. Darlington Raceway got its start in 1950 in what was one of the many fields that dominate the area. The Southern 500 -- and Darlington, by extension -- grew into one of the circuit's iconic stops. Though "The Lady In Black" became one of the victims of NASCAR's extension into larger markets, first by losing the second of two annual races at the track, then by losing the Southern 500 altogether prior to its restoration several years later, it remains a favorite of fans and drivers alike.
Member Review by pbt140 on Jan 18, 2016
Outside of Talladega, this has to be a track that you have to experience. This track takes you back to when NASCAR was regional instead of the national and the track is a throw-back to that time.
Some good things is that the track is small and where you sit has little to do with missing the action. Most locals tell us that turn 4 is where you want to sit so we made our way to our seats in Section E of Pearson and had a great view of the action. You can bring a soft-sided cooler into the track (no Glass) which makes the experience better for the fans.
WE had tickets to the Stripe Club hospitality section but found it to be a drag with so many people and little food. We could not bring our cooler to the club area which means another trip to the car. Had a better time with the outside crowd drinking and talking NASCAR and football.
One downer was that there is no free camping. Even with all the property, you cannot camp in the free car lots and have to pay for a camping slot--even if you are in a tent. We did see some tents along the roads and trees but the official policy is to go to a pay area.
Also take the time to know your roads! We had a hotel in Florence which is south east of Darlington. Having seats in the Pearson Grandstands, we parked on the west side of the track which was the closest to our area. But when leaving the cops make you turn west. There was no way of getting back to the highway that leads to Florence. So at least look at a map just in case you get turned in a different direction to lead you back to your pathway. We drove long distance the other way.
As stated, this track is isolated. Bring food, drinks, extra ice, a change of underwear or whatever you may think you will need. The people are nice and eager to help but there is just so much that can be done when nothing is available. The fans and history make this track a must see. And the extra is that people that come to track are there because that are true fans of the sport.
1765 Harry Byrd Hwy
Darlington, SC 29532
1301 Harry Byrd Hwy
Darlington, SC 29532
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