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Home stretch: Darlington puts pedal to metal to finish work

July 24, 2018

FILE - In this April 12, 2014, file photo, Kevin Harvick (4) and Joey Logano (22) race during a NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, S.C. Darlington in is the final stage of its $7 million improvement project. And with about five weeks before the track hosts the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend, workers are hurrying to reach the finish line before NASCAR's best drivers do. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn, File)

DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) — It’s the final stage for Darlington Raceway’s improvement project.

Workers toss plastic seats to each other to attach to framework laid into the redone Tyler Tower Grandstand. Solar-power lights line the backstretch once night falls to keep the 16-hour work days going. And cranes haul equipment skyward to finish the track’s $7 million renovation in time for an August re-opening and NASCAR’s Southern 500 on Sept. 2.

“I don’t think there’s any cushion for lost time, now,” Darlington president Kerry Tharp said Tuesday. “Every day is valuable.”

Darlington vice president of track operations Dennis Adcock said the project that began in February about three-quarters finished. The goal, track spokesman Dennis Worden said, is to have things about 95 percent done by Aug. 14 when South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and reigning Xfinity Series champion Elliott Sadler will be among those on hand to open the redone facility.

Right now, though, there’s plenty of work left to do .

Piles of material fill parking lots where concessions and race vehicles will be stationed in five weeks’ time. Drills whirr and backup warning tones blare throughout the track “Too Tough To Tame.”

The control tower atop the Tyler stands where broadcasters, NASCAR officials and team spotters stay during the race has been rebuilt. Workers have altered the slope of the stands and added new, wider individual seats (with cup holders) culled from International Speedway Corp. tracks in Daytona, Kansas and Richmond to improve the sightlines for patrons.

Where fans often have had to look around the person in front of them in the flatter configuration, Worden explained, the new layout gives patrons a largely unencumbered view of the action to all corners of the 1.365-mile long, egg-shaped layout.

New, aluminum benches have been laid in on the Wallace and Colvin grandstands as well.

Bathrooms and concession areas are being redone and Darlington will add designated smoking areas in the concourse as the last track on NASCAR’s top series to ban smoking in its grandstands.

Blank areas where seats have been pulled out closest to the track will be replaced by what track officials call a “Wall of Honor” — banners of its 49 winners spaced in the bottom of its front- and backstretch grandstands. In all, the project will shrink Darlington’s capacity by about 8,000 to 10,000 seats, Tharp said, making Darlington a more manageable facility.

Those lost seats, Tharp said, were not great places to sit.

“You couldn’t see anything,” he said. “That’s not what we wanted for our fans.”

Once the ribbon is cut on the re-opened building next month, Worden said most of the remaining work will go toward tweaking areas of need and normal preparations leading up to the yearly NASCAR race.

The “Lady In Black” will host NASCAR’s top series for the 69th straight year and continue its recent throwback tradition as NASCAR’s “Older Timers Day.” Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams and drivers have embraced the past at the circuit’s oldest superspeedway, typically decking out their cars in a paint-scheme from the past and dressing in period clothing. This year, Darlington will celebrate NASCAR’s seven decades.

Ann Hunter, wife of the late Darlington president and NASCAR executive Jim Hunter, recently toured the construction. She was on hand when the Tyler Tower Grandstands were first built during her husband’s tenure. She believes these improvements will keep NASCAR coming back to the old country track.

Hunter said it was important to look forward “so the track can be here in the Darlington community for years to come.”

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