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Tharp cautiously optimistic Darlington Raceway can host full capacity for Southern 500
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Darlington Raceway President Kerry Tharp

Tharp cautiously optimistic Darlington Raceway can host full capacity for Southern 500

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DARLINGTON, S.C. − In light of Atlanta Motor Speedway’s July 11 race intending to host a full capacity of fans, Darlington Raceway president Kerry Tharp said he’s cautiously optimistic the track Too Tough to Tame could follow suit Labor Day Weekend.

“I can’t say full capacity, for now. But I’m certainly hopeful and optimistic that it would,” Tharp said. “That’s several months down the road (Xfinity race Sept. 4, the Cook Out Southern 500 on Sept. 5).”

After not hosting any fans in last year’s two impromptu spring Cup races (and an Xfinity event) last May, Darlington hosted a 20-percent capacity of its 47,000-seat grandstands for last fall’s Southern 500. According to Tharp, the capacity for this weekend has increased to 35 percent, “and maybe a little bit more.”

Tharp certainly sees the Atlanta Motor Speedway decision as good news for the sport.

“I think by the time you get through the spring and into the summer months, you’re going to see venues – whether it be NASCAR or Major League Baseball (the Atlanta Braves go full capacity at its home, Truist Park, beginning Friday) or the NBA, or what have you. You’re going to see them opening up their stands for more fans,” Tharp said. “Atlanta is a great place for racing, they always put on great races over there. If they can have more fans over there, I think it’s great. I think our event in September is going to be a lot different from what this event will look like.”

As for this weekend’s events at Darlington, tickets are still available.

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“I would say if fans want to come to the race Sunday, they can get a ticket,” Tharp said.

He emphasized that NASCAR will make every effort to move forward in allowing more fans in a safe manner.

“One thing I will say is this: NASCAR has been a real leader in bringing sports back, racing back during this time,” Tharp said. “And they’ve been very disciplined in their approach. And I think that has been the right way to go. As far as protecting the competitors and so forth, they’ve done a good job with that. I also know they want to get fans back into the infield, they want to get people back in the garage because that is what makes this sport unique, among other sports: the access. I think you’re going to see more of that as the summer months come about.”

Infield camping is also back at Darlington for this weekend for the first time since the 2019 Southern 500.

“I think we were able to set aside around 45 to 50 spots in the infield, and they’ll be located around Turn 4,” Tharp said. “There might be a couple of spots still available. But I think we’ve pretty much already met that number.”

Another difference from last year is select fully vaccinated guests and VIP getting to tour the infield prior to Sunday’s race (they’re not yet allowed to meet drivers or cross over on to pit road). Darlington will be the first NASCAR track this season to allow that.

“I think it’s a great step forward,” Tharp said. “Getting people back to having this behind-the-ropes experience is very important.”

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Prep Sports Writer

A nine-time APSE national award winner, Scott authored, "70 Years of Thrills and Chills, Drama and Dents at Darlington Raceway." Scott has received several SCPA awards, 8 for 1st place since moving to SC in 2010 from his home state of Georgia.

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