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NASCAR: Southern 500 at Darlington moves from Mother’s Day weekend to mid-April

By Pete Iacobelli
Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C.: The Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway will be run in April next year after nearly a decade of racing on Mother’s Day weekend.

Track President Chip Wile said Friday the Sprint Cup event would be held Saturday, April 12. The Nationwide race will be run Friday, April 11. Both races are run under Darlington’s lights.

It’s the second time Darlington has shifted from a holiday weekend. The track “Too Tough To Tame” ran the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend for more than half a century until shifting to larger Auto Club Speedway. Atlanta Motor Speedway currently holds a Labor Day weekend race.

“We all believe in Darlington’s future,” Wile told the Associated Press by phone.

Wile said Kansas Speedway would take over Mother’s Day weekend. He said the rest of NASCAR’s schedule would come out Tuesday.

Wile, named track president in late August, said the change was in the works before he arrived. Yet, he believes this enhances the 1.366-mile country track’s long-term future in NASCAR. Wile said the track owner of International Speedway Corp. and NASCAR drivers and teams are committed to Darlington’s success. If they weren’t, he said, they wouldn’t work to improve the fan experience by moving up the date.

Wile said temperatures in mid-April are generally cooler than the second week in May. Shifting to April also lets Darlington tap into the region’s college market to attract fans.

“Usually, they’re in commencement or exams,” Wile said. “This change will let them take part in the tailgate experience and the race.”

Wile said he and his staff plan several campus visits to state schools like Francis Marion, Coastal Carolina and South Carolina.

Next year, Darlington will come the week before Easter, a traditional off week. Wile acknowledged that the race date may have to float around when Easter Sunday falls each year.

“I think this is our new date, moving forward,” Wile said.

Darlington’s fate had been up in the air a decade ago because of falling attendance and crumbling facilities. It held two Sprint Cup races each year from 1960 through 2004 and was a staple of the sport. Upheaval came the following season when the raceway was given Mother’s Day weekend, which was traditionally an off week for the sport.

But then track president Chris Browning and his staff had four consecutive sellouts and it turned into a modern NASCAR tradition, racer’s moms joining then at driver introductions and giving a family friendly call to begin things of “Drivers and sons, start your engines.”

Attendance suffered the past few events, however, despite major improvements to the track. ISC spent $10 million to repave the track and add a wide, modern infield access tunnel before the 2008 race. Still, Wile is confident Darlington won’t disappear from NASCAR. He’s spent his first few weeks meeting with state and local officials and found wide-ranging support for what Darlington means to South Carolina.

“Mother’s Day did work for us,” Wile said. “But I think this will be better.”

Alliance for RCR

Richard Childress Racing has formed a technical alliance with Germain Racing that will begin next season.

Germain Racing will lease ECR Engines as part of the deal and switch from Ford to Chevrolet in 2014.

The partnership includes technology sharing, engineering and research and development for Germain.

Casey Mears and sponsor Geico are locked in at Germain through 2015. Mears is a former RCR driver. This is the second technical alliance for RCR, which already has one with Furniture Row Racing.


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