- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 20, 2010

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Darlington Raceway hopes to bring more families back to NASCAR by expanding youth discounts for next year’s racing season.

Darlington will offer half-price seating for youths 17 and under at the Showtime Southern 500 in May and free tickets to its Nationwide and Camping World Truck series events, track spokesman Jake Harris told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Previous youth discounts had been for those 12 and under. The half-price offer applies to reserved seating for all three races. The free tickets are for general admission seating and require a full-price ticket purchaser as well.

“NASCAR is a family sport and we want to make Darlington Raceway as family-friendly as possible,” Darlington President Chris Browning said.

Darlington has taken several steps in the past few years to make the track “Too Tough To Tame” welcoming for families by offering free parking and allowing outside food and drink into its facility. The revamped pricing for youths is the next step that should make “Darlington even more affordable for families,” Browning said.

Darlington also plans to have five family seating sections _ no alcohol and no tobacco _ at its three NASCAR races next year. That encompasses about 1,600 seats and is up from the two sections available to ticket buyers at last spring’s Sprint Cup race.

“NASCAR races were built as family-oriented events,” Harris said. “We see this as a means to help families out.”

The moves come a year after Darlington cut ticket prices for about 44,000 of its 62,000 seats. Those prices won’t be raised in 2011, Harris said.

The Southe9thrn 500 will run Saturday, May 7, a day after the Nationwide’s Royal Purple 200 event. Denny Hamlin became the first driver in 17 years to sweep both weekend races last spring.

Darlington also will host a truck race for the second straight season, holding the Too Tough To Tame 200 on March 12. That is an off weekend for NASCAR’s Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series. Todd Bodine won last August’s truck race at Darlington.

Harris said surveys of Darlington attendees found that NASCAR fans were attending fewer races each year and driving shorter distances to reach the ones they did. Instead of weekend outings at hotels near Sprint Cup races, more and more people were saving money by coming to the events closest to homes and bringing their children along.

“We heard that loud and clear,” Harris said.

Harris said Darlington officials didn’t want area youths to lose the experience of growing up following NASCAR as generations have done since the track’s first race in 1950.

Harris said NASCAR drivers such as Jeff and Ward Burton have long talked about driving to Darlington from their Virginia home to watch races.

Darlington also will offer discounts to servicemen and women. Military members would pay half price for all Southern 500 seats.

Tickets for all of Darlington’s races next year go on sale Nov. 13.

(This version CORRECTS the time reference in the ninth paragraph.)

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