Upgrades for the track too tough to ignore

They tried to kill her off once before, stripped one race from her legendary asphalt and stuck her with a lone weekend date that many believed sounded the death knell once and for all.

They say, though, that Darlington Raceway is too tough to tame.

I say she’s too tough to ignore.

The legendary South Carolina track, one of only two that’s been on NASCAR’s premier series schedule every year since 1950, will get an influx of capital from its owners, International Speedway Corp., money that will go toward upgrades in the grandstands circling the 1.366-mile track along with other fan amenities.

The project, dubbed “A Better Darlington … The Tradition Continues,” will run $7 million or so.

That’s a far cry from the $400 million ISC spent to give rise to Daytona International Speedway a few years back.

Or the $178 million poured into ISM Raceway, formerly Phoenix International Raceway, for major upgrades that will be completed later this year.

Or the expected $30 million doled out to Richmond Raceway; Richmond Reimagined features a total re-build of the .75-mile track’s infield.

It’s not about how much here, though. That ISC continues to put back into its facilities in an effort to “enhance the fan experience” is a very, very good thing.

How much, for those wondering, is approximately $615 million between the four facilities, and that’s not pocket change.

Darlington’s slice of the pie will suffice because the old gal’s gotten by on a lot less for a lot longer than nearly everyone else. And that’ll be the case this time around, too.

Work was scheduled to begin Thursday (Feb. 1) and be completed in time for this year’s throwback extravaganza, the annual Bojangles’ Southern 500, set for Sept. 2.

“We have the coolest track in NASCAR,” track president Kerry Tharp said, adding that the project will “make the fan experience better than ever.”

Seats along the frontstretch, in the Tyler Tower, will now be wider. Stadium-style seating (bleachers with backrests) will replace those seats currently in the Wallace (frontstretch) and Colvin (backstretch) grandstands.

There will be more handrails, guardrails and restrooms will get upgrades as well.

The closest thing to changing anything on the actual track will be the addition of a “Wall of Honor” on the front and backstretch where the names of every race champion at Darlington will be featured.

Joie Chitwood, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of ISC, said the decision to move forward with the upgrades to Darlington was part of ISC’s “commitment to the fan in creating the best possible experience on our properties.

“It just shows the future is bright for Darlington,” he said. “This place is special but you want to combine it with amenities (for the new fans).”

The Bojangles’ Southern 500 has been a staple on the schedule for most of the track’s 69 years of existence. However, when the track’s spring date was shipped elsewhere in time for the ’05 season, the Labor Day date was moved as well.

Darlington, stuck with a lone race on Mother’s Day weekend, didn’t just survive but began to thrive, eventually selling out an event that was thought to be a stopping point along the way to non-existence.

In 2015, the track got its Labor Day date back, officials unveiled an annual “throwback” platform to recognize the heroes of NASCAR’s past and interest in the track and its race weekend has continued to soar.

“One thing that’s really nice is the fact that nothing is changing with the track (surface),” two-time premier series champion Terry Labonte said. “It will still be that good old historic race track. All I can see are big plusses for what they are doing.”

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