May 12, 2013

The track of the (near) future

NASCAR fans coming to Darlington Raceway five years from now could enjoy wider seats, take intimate garage tours and easily watch streaming video, track president Chris Browning said.

NASCAR fans coming to Darlington Raceway five years from now could enjoy wider seats, take intimate garage tours and easily watch streaming video, track president Chris Browning said.

The speedway could replace generation-old 18 inch-wide seats in another two or three years with 20- to 24-inch seats to accommodate the modern fan, Browning said. (Darlington also is asking S.C. lawmakers to tweak an admissions tax break if track capacity drops with the bigger seats.)

For a sport that prides itself on giving fans access (they can walk on the track and sign the finish line on raceday), Browning hopes to find a way to get fans closer to the garages where crews tinker with cars.

He envisions either a catwalk on top of the garage like at Las Vegas and up-close tours inside the work areas like at Daytona.

Adding a wifi cloud could help reach a new generation of fans. Browning understands: He has an 11-year-old daughter who is tied to her smartphone.

“We’ll go into a restaurant, and if they don’t have wifi, she’s all bummed out,” he said. “That’s going to be minimum expectation.”

Boo for … mom?

As moms were introduced before the race with drivers on the eve of Mother’s Day, Gaye Busch pulled double duty — quickly.

She came out with Kyle, who qualified third, turned around and returned to backstage, scooting past second qualifier Jimmie Johnson, so she could escort with pole-sitter Kurt.

But fans gave both brothers a hefty round of boos, which meant Gaye Busch received two rounds of catcalls.

“You’re a tough crowd!” shouted famed wrestler Ric Flair who was introducing drivers.

Be our guest

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-North Charleston, and Jack Jones, Boeing’s general manager in South Carolina, were among special guests at the track.

Browning said he mentioned to Jones about having a flyover at the track by one of the 787 Dreamliner jets made in North Charleston.

Scott was on the stage during pre-race driver introductions and shook hands with NASCAR stars along with Miss Sprint Car and the Bojangles’ restaurant chain’s chicken mascot.

Nearly there

Darlington Raceway came close to selling as many tickets as 2012, which was the first time in four years that fan numbers rose at the track.

Spotty weather reports didn’t help sales in the final week, Browning said.

Last year’s ticket sales were bolstered by fans looking for a little magic after underdog Regan Smith’s victory in 2011. Jimmie Johnson won the 2012 race — Hendrick Motorsports’ 200th career victory.

Browning was awaiting a final raceday tally to see if the track was able to reach last year’s mark.

Special day for a special mom

Stephanie Decker lost her legs to a fallen beam as she protected her two children from a pair powerful tornadoes that ripped apart her Indiana home last year.

Decker’s story generated 10,000 letters from well-wishers, earned her a trip to the Oval Office and created a platform for her to push for laws requiring insurers cover state-of-the art prosthetics — a hot topic after injuries from last month’s Boston Marathon bombing.

“There’s 19 new amputees out there,” she said Saturday while visiting Darlington along with her husband and children as a guest of The NASCAR Foundation. “They’re going to want to walk and run with their kids.”

The one-time recreational runner has a foundation that helps children with prosthetics get involved in sports.

“I always tell people that athletics played such a role in my survival and my recovery,” Decker said before meeting three Indiana-bred drivers — Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and David Stremme. “It gave me a lot in order to fight and in order to persevere through times of struggle and pain.”

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