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The Legendary Darlington Dragway: A brief history
Drag racing has become quite a popular sport in the US in recent years. However, during the 1970s, there were very few facilities in the country built specifically for drag racing. As word got around that a new dragway was being built near Darlington, South Carolina, many sanctioning bodies leaped at the opportunity to partner with what was to become the holy grail of racetracks at the time. The founder of NHRA, Wally Parks, approached Brasington to form an alliance, but they were unable to come to a contractual agreement. Larry Carrier of the IHRA took a chance, and having shared history with Brasington on the construction of Rockingham Dragway; they were able to come to terms on a seven-year sanctioning agreement, on the condition of hosting one major IHRA sanctioned race every year.
Once it was made official, Carrier and Brasington would work together to design the track. Today, if you visit the track, you’ll be able to identify similarities to Bristol and Rockingham. This was by design, as the spectator viewing area and racer pit are more or less the same on all three tracks. The purpose of this was to accommodate the racer while also giving fans the best vantage point to view the race.
A major difference in Darlington's debut was a separate tower for corporate America. The dual-tower design would go on to have a huge impact on how fans were able to view the start of the race while accommodating the professional racers and sportsmen in a way that both would benefit from the change.
The contemporary tower design would provide racers their own respective staging lanes, reducing congestion and confusion between racers during the chaotic and fast-paced race days. Fans would be able to anticipate the arrival of Top Fuel Dragsters and Funny cars by the sounds carrying through the air. This built-up suspense and the glorious entrance of drivers from between the towers would bring the dragway to life and enhance fans' viewing experience. The new design was so successful that most tracks built after 1980 would incorporate it.
The construction of Darlington Dragway was completed in 1976 in anticipation of the IHRA Summer Nationals, which were scheduled to take place later in June. However, due to unpredictable weather, the race was rained out only to be rescheduled to another date with a similar fate. The future of the dragway seemed bleak as bills began to pile up and the track started bleeding money, so Brasington and Carrier convened to discuss the future of their racetrack. They were aware that the weather in the South wasn’t as harsh as other parts of the country, and they decided to host the race early in the season when fans and racers were likelier to show up and show out. IHRA would kick off its National Event Circuit at Darlington starting from the 1977 race season with the Winter Nationals.
Once Brasington set th for fans and racers to pour in, the new racing facility's mettle would be tested after the official start, which was long overdue. Journalists from across the US came to Darlington and met with the official media relations chair – Alan Miller. This historic race attracted well-known racing legends like Connie Kalitta, Don Garlits, Bob Glidden, and Kenny Bernstein. Fans were welcomed by local racers like Ronnie Sox and Roy Hill, who were based nearby in North Carolina. The event had a major impact on the racing world and earned itself a permanent spot on the acclaimed IHRA National Event Tour.
The immense popularity of the Darlington Dragway would attract the largest crowds of drag racing enthusiasts from across the country. This led to the creation of IHRA’s All-Sportsman National Event known as the Pro-Am Nationals. Larry Stott would go on to win his first National Event on his debut race at Darlington. Many other champions would eventually join the list and stake their claim of victory at Darlington, including Mike Boyles, Curtis Smith, and multiple-time NHRA champion David Rampy. For many IHRA racers, the Divisional and National events' timing was vital in making or breaking a championship, so it was quite a prestigious stage for them.
In recent years, the new owners Russell and Dee Miller have brought about a massive transformation, turning it into one of the country's premier racing facilities. Beyond a total overhaul upon purchasing the facility, they introduced a new drainage system. The initial 750 feet of the track, including the burnout box and about 150 feet past the 1/8th finish line were redone and made all-concrete. Their efforts earned them the IHRA track of the year award in 2016.
Darlington Dragway is scheduled to host Season 4 of Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings on July 30-31. The race is sure to have you sitting on the edge of your seats with the fastest drag racers in America competing for a cool $500,000 cash prize! You can purchase your tickets here!