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Volume 21 No. 2
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Darlington’s Throwback Weekend continues new ideas, activation in year three

Darlington Raceway, which is dubbed “Too Tough to Tame,” continues to find unique — and now tasty — ways to tap into the sport’s history.

This year that includes Funyuns and sloppy Joe meat — two staples of the 1980s era that Darlington is celebrating for its third annual Throwback Weekend, designed to revive attendance and interest in the track’s traditional Labor Day NASCAR weekend.

Heading into year three of the Throwback Weekend, executives say they’re still seeing momentum for the program, which the industry has used not only as a way to celebrate the sport’s history but also to leverage that with special merchandise and retro paint schemes that get nostalgic fans excited. While not divulging specifics, track President Kerry Tharp said he expects a solid crowd at the 60,000-seat venue, continued industry collaboration and enough new elements to keep the platform fresh.

“We are excited about the prospects,” Tharp said. “Infield camping has been sold out for many weeks; outside camping is sold out … and we think we’re going to have a good crowd.”

Rubik’s Cubes harken back to the ’80s era that Darlington is celebrating,
This year’s theme is 1985 to 1989 — hence new concession item “Too Sloppy to Tame Tots,” which are slathered in sloppy Joe meat and topped with pimento cheese and Funyuns.

Other new or tweaked attractions this year will be a Snapchat “Our Story” stream; Monster Energy Girls donning throwback garb; the unveiling of the track’s renamed Turn 3 suite Earnhardt Towers; a new “legends tent” near the driver/owner lot to allow current drivers to mingle with some of the sport’s former luminaries; and the return of a former NASCAR sponsor in Carolina Ford Dealers for this weekend’s race.

The race also has turned into an important one for diecast licensee Lionel, which said last year it expected to do about $2 million in revenue from it, and Fanatics, which once again has produced a special line for it.

A number of brands are doing local activation around the race. Busch Beer has created a special neon sign that it will place in bars around South Carolina, Coca-Cola is putting Throwback Weekend imagery on the back of company trucks in the Carolinas, and race sponsor Bojangles’ has special in-store packaging around the race.

As of press time, 32 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series cars and 19 Xfinity Series cars were confirmed as running throwback paint schemes. Last year, there were 36 Monster Energy Series cars and 15 in the Xfinity Series with throwback schemes. This year’s numbers could go up by race time. Tony Sizemore, senior director of consumer marketing at Darlington, said several teams unveiled their throwback schemes closer to the race this year. Sizemore added that teams and sponsors still seem to be enthused by the platform; in fact, he said, many have told him they’ve already picked out their throwback designs for 2018.

Busch is spotlighting Throwback Weekend in local bars.
Next year, the track plans to celebrate the 70th anniversary of NASCAR; in 2019, it will celebrate the 70th running of the Southern 500; and in 2020 the track will get back to specific eras.

NBC was not ready to share its plans for this year’s race by press time, but in previous years it has had on-air talent wear throwback outfits and even brought back retired announcers to call part of the race.

The special collectors’ item this year is three different Rubik’s Cubes that have 18 different designs, one on each side. The specially designed cubes will be given out to hospitality guests, drivers, media and other VIPs. Last year, the track gave out special View-Masters.

Meanwhile, Tharp said his staff has started to think about what renovations could be done at the venerable but aging venue after ISC President John Saunders said last July that Darlington would “probably” be up for capital improvements after the company finishes its projects at its tracks in Phoenix and Richmond.

“We have spent a good bit of time here internally discussing that with the folks at ISC,” Tharp said. “We believe that the opportunity is here to enhance the fan experience and continue to have our track be the coolest and most iconic on the circuit.”