DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Darlington Raceway deserves another chance to host two races each year.
It can’t happen in 2020.
But starting in 2021, why not?
If there is one race that has enjoyed an upsurge in attendance, it’s the Bojangles’ Southern 500. Since reclaiming its once annual spot back on Labor Day Weekend in 2015, it has become the centerpiece of NASCAR’s official throwback weekend.
The sellout on Sunday is enough proof of that.
So what if the track reduced its seating from 58,000 to 47,000 after last season? The stands are still packed.
That looks good on TV.
It looks good for the track.
And it sure looks good for the Pee Dee and the state of South Carolina.
It sure looks better than empty seats, which you see at many of the other tracks on TV.
Yes, I know, Bristol Motor Speedway can house 146,000 fans. But its spring race didn’t even crack 40,000 (it was an estimated 38,000. NASCAR doesn’t release race attendance figures).
But that’s still 9,000 fewer than what was at Darlington on Sunday night.
And as for New Hampshire? Again, plenty of empty seats.
And those are just two examples that quickly come to mind.
But back to Darlington. For NASCAR to designate ANY of the Cup races as one of its “official” themed events, that means NASCAR holds Darlington in high regard.
So for the 2021 season, NASCAR can do something about that, since its five-year agreements with 23 tracks come to an end after 2020.
By then, NASCAR should have completed its purchase of International Speedway Corporation (which includes Darlington). And who holds the most leverage in determining new track contracts? NASCAR, of course.
In 2020, the final year of that five-year deal, there is intrigue about things such as the 2020 Southern 500 being the first race of that year’s playoffs. And 12 tracks will host two races.
But even more intrigue could come for 2021.
NASCAR President Steve Phelps said this in June to SiriusXM Radio’s “The Morning Drive” while talking about 2021: “Will we go to exactly the same number of race tracks, the exact same number of events? We probably won’t. I don’t think there are going to be massive wholesale changes.
“With that said, we’re going to continue to listen to what the fans have to say, because this is their sport, and we need to make sure that we are giving them what they want. So a lot of listening, a lot of dialogue, working with our broadcast partners, working with our teams and our drivers, our OEM partners. … Hey, where do you want to be? What do you want to see? Where would you like to race? So that’s the first part of the 2021 piece, a work in progress.”
What would I like to see? Another annual race at Darlington.
We know the error of our ways from the past two decades when attendance slacked off and became one of the factors the Labor Day Weekend race went away after 2003. We won’t take having two races here a year for granted anymore.
The history here alone makes this a marquee stop on the Cup tour.
Now, the passion for Darlington has returned.
The Southern 500 on Labor Day Weekend is one heck of a party each year.
Why not make it two?