When most people think of going to a motorsport race, they immediately think of going to a rather grand location – one of the traditional circuit racing venues found around Europe and North America. However, there is another motorsport race track that deserves just as much, if not more, attention: Darlington Motor Speedway in South Carolina. If you’re unfamiliar, Darlington is a very small town situated halfway between Charlotte and Knoxville in the United States.
Located off of Interstate 85, the 1.362-mile concrete speedway was originally built in 1899 and still operates to this day. Its current layout – a four-turn, completely flat course with a banked curve in the middle – was adopted after a devastating fire in 1936 destroyed most of the original facilities. What remained was later rebuilt by legendary auto racer and founder of the American Racing Association, Wilbur Wheeler. The track’s most memorable event is the season opener of the NASCAR Cup Series – the Darlington Raceway Preview – an unofficial but wildly popular pre-race festival that brings in hundreds of thousands of people every year.
The Pre-Race Festival
The first step to enjoying any motorsport is to take it easy – maybe even a little bit too easy, as there will certainly be lots of people trying to rush you. This is perfectly acceptable and even encouraged at a traditional oval-shaped motorsport venue like Darlington. What’s important is to find your place among the traffic and find a good spot to have a good view. This is easier said than done, especially at the start of the race when everyone is just driving towards the flag – but you’ll get the hang of it eventually.
There are many different types of cars and bikes allowed at the track. You’ll see everything from Alfa Romeos and Bugattis to old-school American muscle cars like Mustangs and Camaros. The cars are not only there to be looked at; they’re going to be moving around a lot! This is why you should always wear a seat belt, even if you’re not planning on driving at all during the race. This is also the same reason why you should bring a jacket or sweatshirt with you; the ambient temperatures at the track can be quite extreme, especially during the early stages of the race. This is going to be a hot spot for photo ops before, during, and after the event.
The Racing Venue
The main purpose of your visit to Darlington is to see some good old-fashioned motorsport – not to specifically see the track, but rather to take in the atmosphere. While the pre-race festival is a great way to get a feel for the place, the best view of the entire track can be obtained from the pits. You’ll find most of the big-name drivers and teams sitting there, warming up before the race. Even if you aren’t planning on watching the racing, it’s still worth going to the pits to take in the atmosphere. In addition to the drivers, you’ll also find crew members and other team personnel sitting there, ready to go – as they should be!
The Post-Race Party
Speaking of atmospheres, the post-race festival at Darlington is without a doubt one of the coolest parts of the entire event. When the checkered flag drops, the entire field will spill out onto the track, celebrating with music, food, and drinks. It really is something to behold. More than anything, the post-race party is when you get to spend some quality time with other fans – which, above all else, is what it’s all about. This is also when you can find the drivers and teams, shaking hands, posing for pictures, and generally having a good time. Be sure to get your fill of this spectacular event.
If you love motorsport, then it’s quite obvious that you should visit the tiny town of Darlington in South Carolina. The most recognizable stadium there is named after him and it is often considered the unofficial beginning of the NASCAR season. The track is open every year from May to October and is particularly scenic during the golden hour just before the start of the race – take a walk around there at that time and see if you can catch a beautiful sunset.