Track president reflects on first year at Darlington Raceway, upcoming Bojangles’ Southern 500
By Melissa Rollins,Editor, email@example.com
Darlington Raceway President Kerry Tharp said a little more than a year under his belt. Tharp says now that he realizes when he took the job he had a lot to learn about the Lady in Black.
“My official start date was July 18, 2016,” Tharp said. “I can honestly tell you that I have fallen in love with this racetrack and with this community. I had been to Darlington several times in my previous job in NASCAR; in fact, I’ve probably been here ten or eleven times. I thought I knew the history of it and the importance of it but not until I moved here and actually became a part of it did it actually dawn on me just how cool of a place this is.”
Tharp said that Darlington might not be the flashiest track in NASCAR but to him that doesn’t matter.
“We might not be the fanciest, most modern racetrack out there but, in my mind, we’re the coolest,” Tharp said. “I think it is an opportunity for the fans to not only enjoy great racing but also to have a great time. Getting back to Labor Day was key for us. The throwback weekend has been a big game changer for us.”
Getting an official blessing from NASCAR was a big moment for the track after it reclaimed its Labor Day date.
“When NASCAR said that we were The Official Throwback Weekend, that made us feel really proud,” Tharp said. “It also gave us a big responsibility because they don’t do that very often. They don’t name a track or a venue an official anything of NASCAR. For them to do that, for us to get that, I thought was very important because it secures our place with that particular platform. It also strengthens our brand, not only in this area and this state but also within the sport.”
Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but Darlington has the official NASCAR stamp of approval.
“They always say that when you have something really good going on, people like to copy you and that’s flattery,” Tharp said. “Well, it is but we wanted to make sure that we were the official throwback weekend. That gives us a responsibility to uphold that, to our fans, to this community.”
While other tracks find homes in large cities, Darlington is smack dab in the middle of community and offers something to a state lacking in professional sports teams.
“This racetrack, to me, is so unique because there is such a community here within this area, within this state,” Tharp said. “We are a small state, small community. We really don’t have any professional sports in this state. We have big golf tournament at Hilton Head; we have a tennis tournament in Charleston. But as far as a professional sports league, we don’t have that in this state. We feel like we offer fans of this state, and beyond, an opportunity for big time professional entertainment and we think that the racing here is as good as it gets. We are proud that the Bojangles’ Southern 500 and our race weekend are considered to be what I would call one of the crown jewels of the sport. Everybody wants to win the Daytona 500 but not too far behind in that list is the Bojangles’ Southern 500. That makes us feel really good. I think it is just the history of this place: the drivers who have been here and the teams who have been here, the drivers who have won here. It is such a difficult track to win at. The name Too Tough To Tame is a very worthy nickname.”