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Darlington Raceway

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Darlington Raceway
Location Darlington, South Carolina
Darlington Raceway Logo
Track length 1.366 miles (2.2 kilometres)
Track shape Egg-shaped Oval
Banking Turns 1 & 2 - 25°
Turns 3 & 4 - 23°
Front Straight - 3°
Back Straight - 2°
Major events NASCAR Sprint Cup, NASCAR Nationwide Series, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Capacity 90,000
Address 1301 Harry Byrd Highway, Darlington, South Carolina, 29532
Owner International Speedway Corporation

Darlington Raceway is a race track built for NASCAR racing located near Darlington, South Carolina. It was the first superspeedway built with NASCAR racing in mind and is of a unique, somewhat egg-shaped design, an oval with the ends of very different configurations, a condition which supposedly arose from the proximity of one end of the track to a minnow pond the owner refused to relocate. This situation makes it very challenging for the crews to set up their cars' handling in a way that will be effective at both ends.

Darlington has an interesting history. When the 1.366 mile (2.2 km) long track first opened over a half-century ago, it was not unknown for there to be 80 or more entrants in a race; this was curtailed over the years as NASCAR adopted a more uniform set of guidelines with regard to the number of cars which could qualify for a race. In recent years the track has been reconfigured; what was the front stretch is now the back stretch, and the turns have been renumbered accordingly. Seating has been increased to approximately 60,000; it has been limited by the proximity of a railroad track to the facility, a highway behind the back stretch, and the still-present pond.

Darlington has something of a legendary quality among drivers and older fans; this is probably due to its status as the first NASCAR superspeedway and hence the first venue where many of them became cognizant of the truly high speeds that stock cars could achieve on a long track. It is often referred to as The Lady in Black, allegedly because the walls around the track are always painted white prior to a race but are always largely black by the end of it due to a profusion of tire contacts. Darlington is also known as "The Track Too Tough to Tame", and rookie racers hitting the wall are considered to have received their "Darlington stripe".

For many years Darlington has been the site of two annual Winston Cup races; one was held in the spring and the other, the Southern 500 (its name has varied in recent years due to sale of naming rights but this is what fans generally continued to call it), was always held on Labor Day weekend. In 2003, the Labor Day event was given to California Speedway, effective 2004 and replaced by a race run in November; recently NASCAR announced that in 2005 there will be only one Nextel Cup race run at Darlington, which offended many traditionalists. The track is now owned by International Speedway Corporation, which is controlled by NASCAR's founding France family, so this can be done without incurring legal problems which have sometimes resulted from NASCAR's attempts to move races in the past at tracks which it did not control.

The move is the result of several factors. Recent Darlington races, especially the spring ones, have generally not sold out, which is related to two general factors. One is the track's location in the Textile Belt of South Carolina, where there has been an ongoing general economic decline for many years due to the textile industry moving overseas to countries with lower workforce costs; few new jobs have been coming to the area to replace those lost and the chronically unemployed and underemployed generally cannot afford NASCAR event prices. Another factor in the races' failure to sell out is related to the remoteness of the Darlington area. There is very little of interest to the average fan from outside the Darlington area other than the events at the track itself, with the exception of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina approximately two hours away. Most newer NASCAR venues (Texas, Kansas City, St. Louis, Las Vegas) are near major cities that are in themselves tourist attractions and around which a fan can easily base a vacation of several days or even a week or more with the racing being just part of it, rather than making what would be of necessity a single-purpose trip to see the races and then going home. A further factor in the move is an ongoing desire by NASCAR to spread its events out over more of the country and be even more of a truly national, rather than just a southeastern, sport. Many observers feel that due to these factors that even the remaining Darlington race is threatened in the near future. Purists hope that this is not the case, but have not been encouraged by recent events, although some see the recent large capital outlay to light the track for night racing, along with the relative success of the first race to end there at night in November, 2004, to be positive developments for the track's future. Additionally, the Dodge Charger 500, held on Mother's Day weekend, has sold out in 2005 and 2006.

A recent development has Speedway Motorsports, Inc., ISC's chief rival in NASCAR, offering to take over Darlington. According to the story, Speedway would agree to maintain only one race on the Nextel Cup circuit, but has suggested that Darlington's race be returned to its traditional Southern 500 Labor Day date, with the California track taking the other date instead.


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