The Darlington Raceway continues to be an economic boon for South Carolina. A 2009 study estimated that the raceway generates about $54 million to the economy annually. The highlight event each year is the NASCAR Sprint Cup Bojangles Southern 500. The 55th edition of the race was won by Jimmie Johnson Saturday night.
One South Carolinian attending her first Southern 500 was Governor Nikki Haley.
“Not only is it a tough track, not only does it bring the best of drivers, but you’ve got 60,000 people out there from 50 states and 10 different countries that came to South Carolina to see this race,” the Governor told reporters, ”And that doesn’t even count the impact that it has on tv. This is South Carolina in prime time the way we want it and she couldn’t look prettier.”
Haley admitted she has been following with great interest the exploits of Danica Patrick, while her husband is an avid fan of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Haley says the NASCAR race at Darlington is not only important for sports enthusiasts, but it’s an integral part of South Carolina’s $18 billion dollar tourism industry. “We talk about having a great coastline, great mountains, great golf courses, but what a lot of people don’t realize is look at the thousands of people who have come (to South Carolina) for great racing. This is racing at its best. It is one of the most historical and traditional tracks. It’s a tough race track and if you talk to the drivers, they love it here. The sponsors love it here, and that is what makes South Carolina special.”
For many years Darlington was the site of two annual Sprint Cup Series races. One, the Rebel 400, was held in the spring and the Southern 500 was always held on Labor Day weekend. In 2003, the Labor Day event was given to California Speedway, and the Southern 500 was later moved to Mother’s Day Weekend. Haley said she would love to see the track get the backing to host two NASCAR races each year.
“You’ve got tons of families that like to come out to this race. You’ve got tons of people across this country and world that watch this race,” she said. ”If we could turn around and bring a second one we would in a minute, and the drivers would love it. But it’s their schedule we’d have to fight with and they have a busy one, but we would absolutely like to get back to two.”