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Darlington Raceway

Darlington, SC

Home of the Darlington Raceway

3.6

N/A

Darlington Raceway (map it)
1301 Harry Byrd Hwy
Darlington, SC 29532


Darlington Raceway website

Darlington Raceway website

Year Opened: 1950

Capacity: 75,000

There are no tickets available at this time.

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Earning Its Stripe

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.

3.6

What is FANFARE?

The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:

  • Food & Beverage
  • Atmosphere
  • Neighborhood
  • Fans
  • Access
  • Return on Investment
  • Extras

Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".

Food & Beverage    3

One would expect to see chicken on the menu at Darlington Raceway, considering the existence of southern chain Bojangles' as the title sponsor for the Sprint Cup race. This is, of course, the case, though many additional options await you at one of the 20-plus stands throughout the grounds. Southern flavor wins the day here, with fried bologna sandwiches, Carolina-style barbecue sandwiches and cheeseburgers highlighting the concession choices. Hot dogs, corn dogs, french fries, nachos and pizza help to complete the almost carnival-like menu.

The Darlington Dog serves as the so-called "signature" item of the track. This is a one-third-pound all beef hot dog, topped with slaw and your choice of condiments. While hot dogs are fairly commonplace at most venues, the Darlington Dog does offer some sense of local flavor. Coke products are available to help wash down your chosen delicacy.

Some fans have voiced concern over a lack of options, but this is easily conquered. Fans are allowed to bring soft-sided coolers (up to 14x14x14" in size) through the gates. This gives fans the flexibility to decide their own choices and prices. If fried foods are not your proverbial cup of tea, pack your sandwiches and water.

Atmosphere    4

Much like most tracks on the circuit, Darlington benefits from NASCAR's fan-friendly policies. Fans are given the opportunity to walk around on the track and in the garages while the track is in a "cold" state (up to one hour before the green flag). This is quite the treat for children and adults alike, as the smiles of both age groups seem to match. The area between pit road and the grandstand is quite lively during the "cold" period, with concerts, pictures and much more taking place along the front straightaway. A representative from Bojangles' spent quite a bit of time -- most of it unsuccessful, due to the winds in the area -- attempting to shoot t-shirts from a cannon into the stands.

This is not to say there are not speed bumps in the process, however. There seemed to be quite a bit of confusion on my visit as to which pit passes entitled fans to reach their desired areas. Some track representatives were more effective at explaining the differences than others, resulting in varying degrees of understanding and annoyance. The process of exiting the track once the "hot" period begins could also be better explained. Some of the stairways leading from the pit to the garage area were inaccessible when I attended a race at Darlington, leading fans to be sent to another stairway halfway down the straightaway, with no real explanation as to why this was the case. The pit and garage exits could be more clearly defined, leading to fewer questions and a more orderly flow of traffic.

The saying "there is no bad seat in the house" is beyond cliche, but it is as true as it is trite at Darlington. The seats are mostly hard plastic or metal, and while they will never be confused for plush, the vantage point certainly makes up for any comfort concerns. There are towers in the turns (the Brasington Tower in turn 1, the suite tower in turn 3 and the Pearson Tower in turn 4), with grandstand seating making up the straightaways (the Colvin Grandstand between turns 2 and 3 and the Wallace Grandstand between turns 4 and 1). The scoring pylon is in the center of the infield, allowing fans to keep track with the current race leaders. There is also a SprintVision video board near the pylon, which helps to show any action that may be taking place opposite your seat.

Finally, it bears mention that the GEICO Grounds camping areas provide an incredible level of access to the action on the track. Several towers are constructed in the camping areas, allowing a slightly higher angle to the already extremely close proximity to the cars as they race by. Ear plugs are an absolute must in this area, as they are in most of the seats. The camaraderie in the camping areas is just as great as the view, as fans tend to sit together, sharing food and beverages and watching their favorite drivers.

Neighborhood    1

While Darlington may be a hub for racing, it is not necessarily a hub for nightlife. The city only has 6,000 or so residents, and is more known for farming than being a vacation spot. This will severely limit your options, if you choose to wander away from the track.

The Raceway Grill is the primary dining destination in the city, even drawing attention from regional media. The fare is reasonably standard (hamburger steaks, barbecue and the like), the prices are affordable and NASCAR items are proudly on display in the restaurant. The restaurant is also within a short distance of the track -- it is located just outside turn 2 -- so there is no need to abandon your parking spot to go grab a bite.

Unfortunately, there is very little else in the city that is not chain-based. There are considerably more options in nearby Florence, though most of these options are a 15-20 minute drive from the track.

Fans    5

Anyone who follows NASCAR knows that race fans are among the best and most loyal in any sport. Almost 11 times the population of Darlington files into the raceway for the Southern 500 each year, bringing with them the gear of their favorite drivers. If the gear is not worn or packed, it is purchased at the track. This became quite obvious when I visited, as it seemed as though every fan I encountered was carrying a souvenir bag.

The hours leading up to the race are filled with foot traffic lining Harry Byrd Highway outside the track. The GEICO Grounds camping areas are also filled with cars, tents, food and beverages. Despite Darlington's location and other environmental factors, fans of NASCAR love the tradition of the Southern 500, and continue to flock to the Palmetto State each year to take in the race.

Access    3

A look at the access to Darlington Raceway offers good news and not-so-good news. The not-so-good news is that Darlington is miles from the nearest interstate. South Carolina Interstates 95 (north-south) and 20 (east-west) run within approximately ten miles of the track. This means that one of many South Carolina and US highways (SC highways 34, 151 and 341 and US highways 52 and 401 are popular options) will be a required part of your trip. SC 151 is the fastest route to Charlotte, North Carolina and other points to the northwest. Air travel is also problematic, as the nearest airports are Myrtle Beach (MYR) or Columbia (CAE), either of which is easily 70 miles from the track.

The good news is that the South Carolina Highway Patrol and local authorities do an exemplary job of controlling traffic into and out of the track. Getting 65,000-75,000 fans routed through the area is a daunting task, and these great servants perform their job with excellence. The track offers a tremendous traffic flow map to get you on the road to your destination.

It is also recommended to be extremely alert as you drive on Harry Byrd Highway outside the track. Fans commonly walk around the grounds, and will occasionally cross the street with little to no notice. This may cause a few concerns, so ignore your cell phone or other distractions.

Parking is free throughout Darlington Raceway for those fans who are simply coming for the race and not to camp. Restrooms are large and plentiful, though lines and occasional equipment failures may await you at Darlington Raceway. There are several bathrooms that can accommodate 50-60 people at a time, but proper planning is important, if at all possible.

Return on Investment    5

Considering the magnitude of the event, the sticker shock is not what one might imagine. Tickets range from approximately $20-$105, depending on seat location. The Colvin Grandstand (between turns 2 and 3) features most of the inexpensive seats, so if location is not so much of a concern, this may be your best option. Darlington truly does its best to make racing affordable for every budget, and this is proven in the ticket pricing structure.

Concession prices are a bit high, as is often the case at major events. The ability to bring in a cooler helps to neutralize concerns about paying for food and waiting in line, however. This added value combines with free parking to help make Darlington Raceway one of the true "destination" tracks on the NASCAR circuit.

Extras    4

Darlington Raceway serves as a living history lesson for NASCAR fans. The largest example of this history rests near the gates at the Darlington Raceway Stock Car Museum and Pit Shop. From cars to photos and everything in between, the museum lets fans relive all of the 60-plus years of the track nicknamed "Too Tough to Tame". The education does not stop with the results of past races, either, as a number of interesting artifacts from past and current drivers are on display.

The Darlington Legends Walk can be found near the grandstand seating. This walkway contains a series of monuments honoring the track, drivers from the Palmetto State and other important events. Fitting of a superspeedway, the monuments rest on a Goodyear racing tire-style base.

The phrase "Darlington Stripe" is part of the lexicon at this South Carolina track. The origin of the phrase rests in the contact made by drivers with the red-and-white walls at the track, leaving a "stripe" on both the car and the wall. The moniker "The Lady in Black" comes from the black marks on those walls, as well.

Southern hospitality is alive and well in Darlington. The annual race is a chance for the town to put its best foot forward, and those who work at the track seize that opportunity at every turn. The locals' pride in the facility is quite clear, and they could not be more open and welcoming to those who descend upon their town.

Final Thoughts

Darlington may not receive the highest marks of any track in NASCAR, but its past and present place in the sport cannot be denied. If you want the ability to see great superspeedway racing with a closeness to the action that cannot be achieved in many of today's larger tracks, this is the perfect place to do so. Darlington Raceway is not the newest or largest track, but it absolutely needs to be on your list of must-see places.

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