Return of Labor Day race in Darlington brings success

Return of Labor Day race in Darlington brings success

DARLINGTON, SC (WMBF) - The return of the Bojangles Southern 500 race during Labor Day weekend is something Darlington Raceway officials hope won't change for a long time.

The very first race held here on the track Too Tough to Tame was in 1950 during Labor Day weekend, and it was a tradition everyone expected to see each year.

That did not turn out to be the case, so now the 2016 Labor Day weekend is the second year of the successful return.

For 53 straight years, the Southern 500 race was held during the unofficial last weekend of summer. That changed in 2003, when the International Speedway Corporation took the event off the calendar for Darlington Raceway and moved it to the spring during Mother's Day weekend.

Dennis Worden, public relations director for Darlington Raceway, attributes the decision to an expansion of NASCAR throughout the country in 2003 and 2004. That meant trying to move into bigger markets, as opposed to simply being a "southeast-type sport."

"Obviously, the people here were really disappointed when it went away," Worden said.

He added that the fans were disappointed because NASCAR was founded on tracks like Darlington's. That is why the raceway created the throwback marketing platform in 2015 to roll out the race, hoping to rejuvenate excitement for the weekend.

This years' time period is 1975 through 1984, an era Worden is hoping will spur growth for even the racers. Worden said Matt Kenseth's car is being sponsored by Tide, a company that has been out of the sport for nearly a decade. Then there is Gregg Biffle, who will have a sponsorship courtesy of the Hooters restaurant chain, a business that became associated with the sport in the 1990s that is starting to come back.

Then there are the corporate sponsorships, which Worden said have increased.

"That's what we need from a financial perspective, is we need those new partners or the partners who haven't been in the sport to come back and you're seeing the benefit of that from this weekend," he said.

It is one weekend where nearly 80,000 people will fill the track. The Darlington County Economic Partnership said the race helps put Darlington on the map, especially when recruiting industry to come to town. Those recruitment efforts are on top of the millions of dollars being spent at hotels and restaurants over the course of the weekend.

"It's an impact we've had for years and years and years," Worden said.

Kenny Tharp, the raceway's new president, said he wants the race to be a reunion not only for the sport of NASCAR, but for the drivers, teams, crew members, sponsors and definitely the fans.

"You know, when you think of Labor Day, I think it's one of the great holidays we have, and I think it's kind of underrated, because it's kind of the last chance for a family to get ready for the summer before focusing your attention on school and getting back in routine," Tharp said. "What better place to spend it than Darlington Raceway?"

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