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Darlington hopes lower ticket prices lure crowds

The old saying "It's the economy, stupid" rings as true today as it did during Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, and Darlington Raceway officials are smart enough to realize that.

Last year's Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway marked the first time the event did not sell out since the NASCAR Sprint Cup race moved to Mother's Day weekend in 2005.

"We've seen the economy affect us like everybody else," Darlington spokesman Jake Harris said. "People are paying the bills first, and they're being very careful with their discretionary income."

Although 59,000 tickets were sold last year for the grandstand, which has a capacity of 62,000, track officials were determined not to stand pat. They decided on an aggressive approach last summer to lure fans back for Saturday night's Southern 500 by cutting prices on 40,000 seats.

That's in addition to the repricing of 9,000 tickets a year ago, which means that 79 percent of tickets being sold this year are cheaper than in 2008, with the cheapest tickets priced between $10 and $35. Some tickets were slashed from $85 to $59, with the most expensive tickets priced at $99.

The track, which had its food vendor lower meal and drink prices a year ago, also offers free parking on-site. Fans even can bring their own food and beverages under certain guidelines.

"We've tried to make it easier for folks to get in here and enjoy the race," Harris said. "We've done just about everything we can to make it as affordable as possible."

But race officials know they're continuing to run uphill in tough economic times. A number of NASCAR races have fallen well short of capacity crowds this season.

Harris concedes as much when discussing the Southern 500. "To be honest, a sellout for 2010 is probably a long shot," he said.

But he is encouraged by a flurry of recent sales and expects a strong week of walk-up sales, especially as word of lower prices spreads and if anticipated good weather holds.