Darlington lands sponsor for racing festival

Jul 8 2009 - 7:01pm


COLUMBIA, S.C. -- If any of the entries breaks down at Darlington Raceway's fall festival, they might not have to look far for replacement parts.

Track president Chris Browning said on Tuesday that O'Reilly Auto Parts has signed on as a presenting sponsor for the Darlington Historic Racing Festival in September.

The second-year festival is Darlington's attempt to tap into its history as NASCAR's oldest superspeedway and keep the quirky oval relevant when it's not hosting the annual Mother's Day weekend Sprint Cup race.

"That's our goal, to build this thing," Browning said. "You hear Darlington Raceway and you think about the history and tradition of the sport and this event fits right in with that.

"I really think that in 10 years, we're going to be just in awe of how big the event has gotten."

Because of the economic downturn, Browning and Darlington officials struggled to find a backer for last May's Southern 500, landing GoDaddy.com less than a month before NASCAR came to down. The short timeframe limited the promotion GoDaddy.com and Darlington could do as partners.

Browning says O'Reilly signed on well before the track's major promotional push for the festival, which will be run Sept. 26-27. The festival will feature historic cars taking turns on Darlington's egg-shaped 1.366-mile oval, along with question-and-answer sessions from racing greats David Pearson and Cale Yarborough, both among the 25 nominees announced last week for the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

A highlight of last year's first festival was when attending car clubs got to drive their machines on a parade lap around Darlington. Browning said about 125 cars and 5,000 fans took part.

O'Reilly Auto Parts marketing director Wes Wise said the company has enjoyed its association with Darlington, and the festival is a way to expand on that. "It's a win-win for everyone," he said.

Darlington, which celebrated its 60th racing season this year, had been an end-of-the-summer NASCAR tradition from 1950 through 2003 when it hosted the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend as the second of its two NASCAR weekends.

A year later, the Southern 500 was shuffled to November, and in 2005, Darlington's second NASCAR weekend disappeared.

Darlington has experienced success since moving its lone race to the night before Mother's Day. The event sold out its first four runnings and came within a few thousand seats of a fifth-straight sellout this year despite the recession.

Browning hopes he can build the track's brand through the festival and keep fans eager to return in 2010 and beyond.

He hasn't heard anything about Darlington's place on the next Sprint Cup schedule, but has no reason to believe there won't be another Mother's Day weekend. Browning said GoDaddy.com was pleased with its association and Darlington officials are talking with the company about continuing its sponsorship.

Darlington held last year's festival on Labor Day weekend, but the steamy heat and the start of college football limited attendance. Browning says people "got out of the habit of closing the summer at Darlington" last year and expects to draw a bigger crowd because of with a sponsor and a better date.


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