COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Darlington Raceway President Chip Wile likes where his old, country track stands in NASCAR, even if it's no longer the sports' backdrop for honoring mothers this week.
The 65-year-old facility had spent the previous nine years building the formerly off weekend of Mother's Day into a can't-miss race for NASCAR moms, who walked across the stage with their sons or daughters during driver introductions and combined for the combined for the unique call of "Drivers and sons, start your engines!"
But Wile believes that the switch in is Darlington's best interest long term and will keep NASCAR's oldest superspeedway relevant with a new generation of race fans.
"Look, it's an old place, but there's lots of things going on," Wile said Thursday.
Wile said he's heard little except raves from NASCAR leaders and officials at Darlington's parent company, International Speedway Corp. The compliments about the strong crowd and the good show continued last week at Talladega where Wile was in attendance.
The racing didn't hurt either. Fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. was out front near the end until he was passed by Kevin Harvick with two laps left to win the Southern 500.
"Harvick kept texting me since saying, 'We've got to do this or that at your track,'" Wile said. "So drivers understand this place is important."
After a few weeks to review numbers and catch their breaths, Wile says track leaders have started plans to make things even better in 2015. He's confident the April race weekend will stick and give fans something to count on each season.
That was certainly the case for more than a half century when the Southern 500, one of NASCAR's crown jewel races, capped the summer season with its Labor Day weekend running. The tradition ended after 2003 when the event shifted to California. After the 2004 season, Darlington was reduced to just one Sprint Cup weekend each season. Night racing began the next year with the first of the "Lady in Black's" first Mother's Day runnings.