Darlington race boosts Pee Dee economy
DARLINGTON, S.C. – The Darlington Race has become a tradition unlike any other in the Pee Dee.
Each year, thousands of fans from all over the nation gather in Darlington to see their favorite racers take on the “track too tough tame.”
While the race itself provides entertainment for fans of the Pee Dee and those traveling into the area with a weekend full of events, it does much more for local businesses and their employees.
Dennis Warden, senior director of communications for Darlington Raceway, said the race brings in an estimated economic impact of nearly $64 million for the state of South Carolina and $59 million of that benefitting the Pee Dee area.
“It means a lot to all of us here at Darlington Raceway to host the largest professional sporting event in the state of South Carolina and Pee Dee region,” Warden said. “We love the community we are located in and are always wanting to be the best community partners we can be in the Pee Dee.”
Pee Dee business in both Florence and Darlington counties, as well as surrounding counties, benefit greatly from race weekend.
Tony Baird, owner of the Raceway Grill in Darlington, said the race has been a cornerstone of the business for nearly seven decades.
“Business-wise in a dollar amount, we’ll do in five days what we normally do in a month,” Baird said. “I enjoy it because you get to see the fans that have been coming for 30, 40 years. It’s a great time and the main thing to me is the friendship.”
Raceway Grill opened up the same year as the Darlington Raceway in 1950 and Baird said his is the third family to own the restaurant.
“It’s just an iconic stop for race fans,” Baird said.
Over in Florence, Billy McBride, co-owner of Local Motive Brewing Company, said he loves the festivities that go along with race weekend.
“It’s exciting to see travelers and a new group of people in town,” McBride said. “It’s also exciting to see the Clydesdale horses in downtown Florence.”
Lisa Chalian-Rock, executive director of the Darlington Downtown Revitalization Association, said the event is special for the entire city of Darlington.
Darlington Raceway and the Southern 500 puts our city on an international stage for a week, and you can’t buy that kind of advertising,” Chalian-Rock said. “We have people from all 50 states and 14 different countries visiting. We are the birthplace of NASCAR and the official throwback weekend for the racing series. We embrace that history as well as the long history the city has, having been established in 1835 and featuring five historic districts. This weekend is a chance for us to showcase our town.”
In the span of the week leading up to the race, the city of Darlington goes from a population of about 6,200 to more than 65,000.
Harriet Hobbs, president of Greater Darlington Chamber of Commerce, said traffic helps boost the Darlington economy unlike any other event.
“Visitors frequent and make purchases in our local shops, grocery stores and convenience stores as well as gift shops,” Hobbs said. “It also brings public awareness to the community and to our beautiful town, which in turn will bring more visitors in the future.”
Mike Miller, president of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, said economic benefits pour over into Florence County and surrounding cities and counties, as well.
“The entire Pee Dee region benefits from the Darlington Labor Day race,” Miller said. “All businesses find benefit either directly or indirectly. Florence does see a very direct benefit in the hospitality sector with hotels, restaurants and increased in sales at shopping centers and auto fuel operations. Hotel service providers, along with third level associated suppliers, will see benefits from the more than 51 million dollars spent here. It does have a ripple effect throughout the region.”
Hundreds of race fans camped out inside the Darlington Raceway throughout the weekend, but other race fans benefited from hotel options surrounding the track.
Raldex Hospitality owns and operates the Holiday Inn Express, Hilton Garden Inn and two Hampton Inn & Suites, one near the Florence Center and one on U.S. 52 in Florence. The group also recently opened a new Staybridge Suites near the Florence Center.
Chad Patterson, vice president of Raldex, said that every one of the hotels is booked full for the weekend.
“It’s definitely one of our biggest weekends,” Patterson said. “We host teams at our hotels, so it’s important we make sure they get excellent rest and top-notch hospitality. We want them rested and happy for the race in Darlington.”
“The teams usually have two to a room. So, that’s a lot of room nights,” Patterson said. “But we really look forward to it every year.”
Brittney Edwards, corporate sales and marketing director for Raines Hospitality, said the group was focused on selling out rooms for the weekend.
“For Raines Hospitality, the Bojangles’ Southern 500 NASCAR Race weekend is certainly something we look forward to in the hospitality industry as it is the biggest weekend of the year for us in Florence and the surrounding Pee Dee Area,” Edwards said. “Having been an established company in the area since the late ’60s from the gas station business to developing and operating hotels, we understand the importance and impact this race has on our home state and local community. For the Raines family, this weekend also has a very sentimental meaning as it was a favorite of founder Mark Raines, who raced professionally in his earlier years.”