Darlington reducing ticket prices

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COLUMBIA, S.C. - Signs of economic distress are everywhere in NASCAR, so Darlington Raceway president Chris Browning figured the sport's fans could use a bailout of their own.

Browning said Tuesday the track would reduce prices by $10 for 9,000 of its seats, a drop that affects about 15 percent of Darlington's capacity of 62,000 seats.

The move means seats in rows 3-14 in the Colvin Grandstand on the back straightaway would cost $35, instead of their previously listed price.

"Hopefully, this is a way we can help our fans and our guests, and make it a little easier for them to attend events here at Darlington," Browning said.

Darlington is one of NASCAR's founding tracks, a 1.366-mile superspeedway carved out of some PeeDee farmland. It fell into disrepair in the 1980s and looked like it might get left behind during NASCAR's emergence as a national sport.

The track lost one of its two yearly races after 2003. But it's enjoyed a resurgence the past four seasons with the race held the Saturday night before Mother's Day. The race has been a sellout each time and the track has added seats, undergone repaving and added a new infield access tunnel.

Browning acknowledged Darlington's ticket sales for the May 9 race were slightly behind what they had been.

"If you look across retail right now, there are constant sales and discounts trying to drive business," Browning said. "We just felt like this was the right thing to do and the right time."

Browning said Darlington will review its decision each year, but lower ticket prices would probably stay in effect next year as well. "This is probably not a one-shot deal," he said.

Browning says a sellout is still the track's goal and he believes it's possible since the track is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year and has a loyal and rabid fanbase.

However, Browning and Darlington have felt the impact of a struggling economy. The Southern 500 is without a title sponsor with fading prospects for finding one. He said he was disappointed at losing the Carolina Dodge Dealers after five years.

Browning said there have been inquiries from companies, but with each passing day, a company may not get the full benefit that comes from backing a Sprint Cup race.

"It's really hard to sell a company on a sponsorship right because they really can't reap the benefit of what they're getting," Browning said.

Browning says the lack of a sponsor, or economic troubles, won't affect the tight, action-packed racing fans have grown accustomed to at Darlington.

"Just like the world, our sport's going to see an adjustment," he said. "That's not necessarily bad."

There may be fewer teams running a full Sprint Cup schedule, Browning said. But Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and all the best-loved NASCAR drivers will continue vying for checkered flags and championships.

"There's still going to be quality racing at the front of the field," he said. "If anything, it might get a little bit better."


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