DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) - New Darlington Raceway President Chip Wile wants to reconnect to the community by expanding the track’s use beyond its yearly Sprint Cup weekend.
Wile, 33, was named the track’s president last month and has spent his first few weeks meeting officials and getting the feel for his new home. He said Friday that he’d love to add local fan-friendly events like music festivals or big-screen movie nights to get people back into the facility.
Wile said he spoke to people at a recent track blood drive who made their first trip _ despite living about 3 miles away _ to the track considered “Too Tough To Tame” since its first NASCAR race in 1950.
“We’ve got to get those people as fans of Darlington,” Wile said.
That means more events like the blood drive at the track or a series of road races, including a marathon that will end across Darlington’s start-finish line.
Wile said Sprint Cup drivers and leaders at track owner International Speedway Corp. already love coming to the 1.366-mile facility. The next step is finding uses for the track for the other 51 weekends a year when NASCAR’s biggest show isn’t in town.
The president said he’s most concerned with enhancing fan experiences. He never forgot a trip to the Super Bowl held at the Dallas Cowboys’ mammoth AT&T Stadium in 2011.
“Everyone from the people taking tickets to officials to the people at the concession stand said, `Welcome the stadium. We hope you have a great time,’” Wile said. “That sticks with you.”
Wile is still in the fact-finding stage since arriving at Darlington less than three weeks ago. He was in Richmond last weekend, shadowing track President Dennis Bickmeier to learn what he could for when he oversees his first race as president next May.
“It seems like a long time, but it’ll be here fast,” Wile said.
Darlington was one of the sports’ crown jewels, hosting the iconic Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend for more than a half-century. Things changed for the country track when NASCAR relocated one of Darlington’s two yearly race weekends to California in the early 2000s, and moved its lone event to Mother’s Day weekend for the first time in 2005.
ISC is locked in to having just one race, but still has put considerable money in the facility the past decade. Officials have added lights for night racing, repaved the track for improved competition and added a large infield access tunnel to make it easier for race teams to get in and out.
“Darlington has always done racing right,” Wile said. “That’s something that won’t change.”
Wile is friends with driver Kevin Harvick, who told him after getting the presidency that Sprint Cup drivers consider the track one of the best and most fun they come too each year.
Wile’s background has largely been in marketing. He also worked on championship teams in the Camping World Truck Series for Bill Davis Racing and Turner Scott Motorsports before moving on to the Motor Racing Network as a sponsor liaison in 2012, in part to escape the long weeks on the road away from his growing family. He and wife Catherine have 3-year-old twin boys, Woodson and Rigsby, and a 7-month-old daughter, Janealyce.
One of Wile’s best memories of Darlington is from this past May, when he took his twins to a race track for the first time. They watched the Southern 500.
“Seeing their eyes wide at the big cars and loud noises is something I won’t ever forget,” he said.
Now, Wile’s family will have an up-close view of Darlington events whenever they want it.
Wile isn’t just looking to expand local events for his family and other fans to see, he would consider other racing series like the trucks the events make financial sense for the race track. The last time the trucks raced at Darlington was in March 2011.
“This is a very special place,” Wile said. “We hope to keep it that way for a long time.”
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