Kerry Tharp couldn’t write a better script for his new job.
On Wednesday, the former South Carolina sports information director was named the new president at Darlington Raceway. Tharp becomes the 10th president in track history and replaces Chip Wile, who left to become the president at Daytona International Speedway.
“To come to Darlington and be associated with the track with rich tradition and storied history is very humbling and it is an honor,” Tharp said. “I know how special Darlington is to South Carolina and NASCAR. And to come in a time the track has a lot of momentum and it is on the top of people’s minds, it is every exciting to me.”
Tharp said he had been in talks about the job for several weeks and was flattered to be considered. He met with the track’s staff Tuesday and his first official day on the job will be July 18.
“It became evident to me and my wife in the last few weeks that this was the place to be,” Tharp said.
Tharp spent 20 years at South Carolina as the associate athletic director for media relations and sports information before joining NASCAR in 2005. He served as the director for the NASCAR licensing office before moving to the public relations side a year later.
“I was in college athletics for 26 years and never had any intent on leaving,” Tharp said. “But I got introduced to NASCAR in 2005 and fell in love with the sport. The dynamic of the sport is interesting and every weekend is different.”
International Speedway Corporation executive vice president Joie Chitwood said Tharp is a perfect person to take over at one of NASCAR’s most storied venues.
Tharp comes into Darlington at a good time. The track’s throwback weekend and the return of the Bojangles’ Southern 500 to its traditional Labor Day weekend date were big hits with fans and drivers last year. Sports Business Journal tabbed the Southern 500 weekend it as one of its Sports Event of the Year nominees.
The momentum doesn’t seem to be slowing down, as most of the teams and drivers already have announced their paint schemes for this year’s event. Dale Earnhardt Jr., the sport’s most popular driver, appeared at the track in April to announce his Gray Ghost paint scheme to honor the late Buddy Baker.
Tharp credits Wile and the rest of the track’s staff for getting NASCAR to buy into the throwback theme and said it only will continue to grow in stature and importance. This theme for this year’s weekend will focus on the 1975-84 era of NASCAR.
“Our sport was built on the tradition, story and heroes, dating back to late 1940s,” Tharp said. “I think there is an abundant supply of assets the track and sport can capitalize on it and keep in the top of people’s minds. We’ve got a lot of creative people here and in NASCAR, so we are going to ride this momentum and increase it even more.”