DARLINGTON, S.C. — Although there is not a determined number of fans that can attend the 71st annual Southern 500 on Sept. 6 at Darlington Raceway, the jubilation is about simply having fans.
The state Department of Commerce has approved having up to 8,000 attendees at the playoffs-starting 6 p.m. Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway with face masks and social-distancing protocols.
However, fans won’t be at the Sept. 5 Xfinity race (Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200) at 12:30 p.m. and Sunday’s truck race (South Carolina Education Lottery 200) at 2 p.m.
Southern 500 ticketholders were given two choices for this year’s race:
- The first option was to attend this year, understanding that new seat assignments will likely be different to accommodate social distancing requirements. No further action is needed in this case.
- The second option was to opt out of this year’s race and have a credit for 100% of the ticket(s) purchase from this year applied to the 2021 event(s).Fans who want to choose this option must do so by Sunday by completing the form online at darlingtonraceway.com/options.
Although Tharp didn’t have exact numbers, he said a lot of fans still said they want to attend. Nor does the track have an exact number of fans that will have to be turned away to maintain social-distancing rules.
“We’ll probably know that in a couple of weeks,” Tharp said.
Although there will be no infield fans or camping at the track, Tharp said only RV camping can happen at the Petty and Pearson Boulevard RV sites. Tharp added no tent camping is allowed.
There aren’t yet a determined number of cars that can park at the track, but Tharp said tailgating will be permitted.
“We discourage large groups of people, but if you’re with your family or a small group of people, you can tailgate and get your pre-race going,” Tharp said. “But as far as fans having large gatherings, we ask that people refrain from doing that.”
Tharp also made sure to express his appreciation for Gov. Henry McMaster and the state Department of Commerce for making it possible for the Southern 500 to host fans. Just this past weekend, neither of Michigan’s Cup races was allowed to have fans.
“I’d like to personally think Gov. McMaster and his staff for their support in bringing back racing and paving the way for us to have fans here next month,” Tharp said. “(McMaster) is a big supporter of Darlington Raceway. He’s a great friend and believes in the impact and significance of NASCAR racing in this state and the region and the country.
“He was a huge proponent of us being able to have fans here. Some states just aren’t in a position where they can do that right now. So, we went through the proper process of seeking approval through the Department of Commerce and they were great to work with,” he added. “And we got the approval. I think some states are more ready to have venues with fans than others. I just think we went about it the right way and are able to have fans here.”
The Sept. 6 truck race at Darlington was originally scheduled for that weekend in Canada. But since Canada doesn’t yet allow those kinds of events to happen right now, Darlington got it.
This has been a memorable year for Darlington as NASCAR returned there in May (two Cup races, one Xfinity race) for action after a break caused by the pandemic.
For Darlington, which in February was scheduled to host just the Southern 500 and Xfinity race, its administration has certainly rose to the occasions.
And now, here they are and ready to go again.
“Business is good right now, and we’ve really got after it in the last six weeks or so,” Tharp said. “We’re getting geared up, and once we found out for sure we were going to be able to host fans, we kicked it up another gear. All systems are go, for sure.”
Same goes for the drivers.
“They love Darlington,” said Tharp, who added that a main sponsor for the Southern 500 will be announced soon. “It’s like Wrigley Park, or Fenway Park. It carries history and tradition. A win at Darlington is a big deal.”