By Liz Allison
Darlington Raceway has been a cornerstone of the NASCAR racing scene since 1950, when the first race was held on the 1.366-mile track.
For over 50 years, summer officially ended on Labor Day weekend in the low country of South Carolina until the NASCAR schedule was realigned in 2004. This realignment that didn’t fare well for the historic track.
After years of trying different dates at Darlington, NASCAR finally returned in 2015 to the longstanding tradition of racing at the track “Too Tough to Tame” on Labor Day weekend.
In an effort to bring the energy and excitement back to Darlington after years of struggling to fill the grandstands, Darlington track president Chip Wile spearheaded “The Throwback Campaign”. Wile realized the importance of getting teams and fans back on board with the rich racing tradition at NASCAR’s oldest track.
The eighteen month campaign started with Wile hiring Tony Sizemore, a former Anheuser-Busch marketing executive. Sizemore was hired as Darlington’s senior director of consumer marketing. Wile and Sizemore began the process of getting as many people as possible to be involved with the event, including NASCAR, race teams, sponsors, network partners, and (most importantly) the fans.
Wile and his team met with each race team to explain their plan to highlight/honor drivers and paint schemes from years past. Once NASCAR approved the plan, it was off to the races. It didn’t take long for Wile and his team to realize their dream was becoming a reality.
The 2015 Throwback weekend was an enormous success. Thirty-six cars were racing throwback paint schemes and, better yet, the grandstands were sold out. Teams weren’t the only ones on board with the retro theme; sponsors used throwback advertising and signage, race commentators dressed the part, and fans dusted off their old race shirts from the attic.
Chip Wile left Darlington in 2016 to assume the role as track President of NASCAR’s flagship track Daytona International Speedway, leaving former NASCAR Spokesperson Kerry Tharpe to man the ship at Darlington. It’s safe to say that Wile’s lasting mark on Darlington is the much-anticipated annual Darlington Throwback Weekend.