August 26, 2014

Labor day race: ‘The tradition returns’

Darlington Raceway officials confirm new race date.

Chip Wile finally has an answer to the question he’s been asked many times since he took over at Darlington Raceway more than a year ago: Will the Southern 500 ever return to Labor Day weekend?

Wile can finally answer yes as NASCAR officially announced what had been rumored for the last couple weeks that Darlington’s race date will be moved back to its traditional Labor Day weekend. Darlington’s race weekend will be Sept. 4-6, 2015, with the VFW Sport Clips 200 Nationwide Series race run in the afternoon Sept. 5.

The Bojangles’ Southern 500 will run in primetime Sunday, Sept. 6 and be televised by NBC, which is returning to the sport next season.

“This means everything,” Wile said. “This is one of the cornerstones of the NASCAR schedule and for us to get it back is such big news for the community. Everybody has a touch point with the racetrack whether good bad or indifferent For us to be able to bring something back them is truly special and honor for everyone that works at Darlington Raceway.”

Fans and drivers have been clamoring for Darlington to get this date back since NASCAR moved it in 2003. In 2004, Darlington’s fall race date was moved from Labor Day weekend to November and the track lost one of its two dates in 2005. Its lone date was held on Mother’s Day weekend from 2005-13 and moved to April this year for the first time.

“I’m glad they came back. Don’t know why they ever left,” former driver and South Carolina native David Pearson told the Associated Press. Wile said the track and International Speedway Corporation, Darlington’s parent company, have been discussions with NASCAR over the past several months about possibly moving the date back to Labor Day weekend. And the Darlington president said it was a “total team effort” to get the track’s date back to Labor Day weekend.

The race date change works with Darlington’s marketing campaign to highlight its history going forward into next year’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 weekend. Wile said the track will be unveiling its various marketing campaigns over the next year.

The move back to Labor Day weekend also gives Wile and his staff more than a year to get ready for next year’s race.

“This just made sense,” Wile said. “The timing was perfect. We knew NASCAR wanted to make changes to the schedule, and we were all open to it. And I feel like we won. You know the tradition returns to Darlington Raceway in 2015.”

The only obstacle of having the race move backed to Labor Day is having to compete with college football. Both Clemson and South Carolina, along with the state’s other college football programs, have games scheduled on the Saturday of race weekend.

Wile, however, is confident they will be able to work around that.

“We need to figure out how to get them to bring their tailgate to Darlington on Sunday after they cheer on Clemson and South Carolina. Because it will be a great way to end the Labor Day weekend on a high note,” he said.

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