Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5 Page 6 Page 7 Page 8 Page 9 Page 10 Page 11 Page 12 Page 13 Page 14 Page 15 Page 16 Page 17 Page 18 Page 19 Page 20 Page 21 Page 22 Page 23 Page 24 Page 25 Page 26 Page 27 Page 28 Page 29 Page 30 Page 31 Page 32 Page 33 Page 34 Page 35 Page 36 Page 37 Page 38 Page 39 Page 409 8 In an era of constant change, the staff at Darlington Dragway is using an old- fashioned approach to find success. The dragway, which was named the IHRA Track of the Year in 2016, isn’t opposed to change. In fact, many improvements have been made to the 1/4-mile drag strip since Russell Miller took over ownership and Jimmy Bradshaw came on board as general manager. But, those improvements are part of a bigger goal of making the experience better for the racers and the fans. “With racing you have to evolve, but you have to have the fundamentals,” Bradshaw said. “Without the racers, without the fans, there is absolutely none of this. If we don’t put on something entertaining for the fans, they’re not going to come. There are too many things out there nowadays. You have to have shows which are entertaining. On the other side, you have to take care of the racers. If the racers don’t come out, you don’t have a show. You have to remember if you take care of these people, the racers and the fans, they will take care of you.” Bradshaw came to Darlington from Capitol Raceway in Maryland where his father, Jim, is the track owner. The family took the same approach in operating the race track as they did in running their automotive repair business. They took a customer-service approach and thought more about long-term goals instead of just worrying about the next day or the next week. The younger Bradshaw has brought that same vision to Darlington. “Some of the tracks are thinking just week-to-week,” he said. “My vision is what can I do this year to make it better next year? If you’re looking week-to-week, that’s pretty much all you’re going to be. You really have to stick with the fundamentals. Of course you need sponsors and all that, but you have to take care of the racers and fans, and that’s what your program has to be based on.” It has certainly worked out so far with big car counts and a full schedule of events from the first of March until after Thanksgiving. They include an IHRA Summit Sportsman National Championship race on March 24-26. “I came from Maryland and the footprint there is almost identical to the footprint here in Darlington,” Bradshaw said. “I saw when Russell took over the place and he was doing the same things my father and I were doing in Maryland. The renovations he did were really, really nice. It’s like a dream I had once before and now I’m living that dream again. But, our car counts are steadily increasing from our weekly bracket programs to the Pro Mods. Even the testing, we have a lot of the top teams coming to test.” The track was already was steeped in racing history, with ties to the famous oval just five miles down the road. Harold Brasington, who built Darlington Raceway in 1950, teamed with local businessman Woodrow Hall to construct the dragway under the guidance of IHRA founder Larry Carrier. They constructed two towers, innovative at the time, as the cars drove between them in their own staging lanes eliminating a problem of congestion near the starting line. Since the track opened in 1976, Bradshaw pointed out some of the milestones achieved. The first national event, the IHRA Winter Nationals in 1977, attracted such stars as “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, Connie Kalitta and Kenny Bernstein. “The dragway has a lot of history, the first five-second pass by a door car and the first 200 mph pass by a door car,” Bradshaw said. “Those are things you can’t replace. It’s why Russell and I have put so much into it. It’s not only exciting for us, but exciting for the fans and racers. I hear it time and time again, that it’s how it used to be. I’m grateful to be part of bringing something like that with so much history back.” Going back to the concept of taking care of the racers, they literally put their money where their mouths were recently. They doubled the winner’s purse when the car count at a recent event turned out to be much larger than expected. Bradshaw explained, “Sometimes, it takes spending a little more to be smart with your money.” They’ve also tried to learn from other promoters and even traveled to Georgia recently to support the drivers who were running Darlington stickers on their cars. Bradshaw, who worked on a crew as a clutch specialist on Jim Cunningham’s Ford Pro Stock team from 2000-05, also knows what it means to the racers to compete in front of a packed house. It’s one reason he decided to bring in the fan- favorite Pro Mods to run along with the Summit Sportsman National Series. “It’s a win for the Pro Mods guys who get to be on TV and a win for the Sportsman guys who get to run in front of the fans and get a little taste of fame,” he said. “To see the stands packed, that’s exciting for everybody.” JIMMY BRADSHAW, GENERAL MANAGER DARLINGTON DRAGWAY BY JEFF BIRCHFIELD DRAGWAY SPOTLIGHT