Tharp a solid choice to run the track Too Tough To Tame

col-cathyelliottI’m trying to figure out why anyone would want to be the president of anything.

Take the United States, for example. When election time rolls around, the winner – and I use that term loosely – is tasked with smoothing the ruffled feathers and balancing the checkbook of a diverse nation which has now become so cynical that the “Show me what you’ve got” attitude has replaced “We’re so glad you’re here” in the collective conversation.

When Mitt Romney ran for president in 2012, his platform was based on a plan to run the country like a business. Not only did he vow to make America great again, but he explained exactly how he was going to do it.

I liked that concept (although the majority of American voters did not), but realistically, it must be awfully difficult to become the president of something overnight, kind of like moving into someone else’s house and trying to figure out where they keep the Doritos, and how to cook with gas rather than electricity. Imagine Bill Gates walking into the corporate offices of Apple and saying “Hey, y’all, here I am.” Chaos.

Long story short, “top dog” turnovers can be stressful, from the Oval Office to – you knew it was coming – the president’s office at a legendary NASCAR speedway.

In case you missed it, Darlington Raceway has a new president. The track “Too Tough To Tame” announced on June 29 that Kerry Tharp would be taking over the seat vacated by Chip Wile, who was recently named president of Daytona International Speedway. Tharp will be Darlington’s fifth president since 2000, following in the racing grooves of Jim Hunter, Andrew Gurtis, Chris Browning, and Wile.

At this point you might be thinking that Darlington Raceway is beginning to sound a little bit like Elizabeth Taylor in the marriage department, but I have to tell you, I think this one might stick around for a while.

Tharp has an impressive sports resume, having worked at the University of Tennessee and the University of Oklahoma, but Gamecock fans will probably best remember him as the associate athletic director for media relations at the University of South Carolina, a position he held for 20 years before being snatched up by NASCAR, where he was the senior director of racing communications.

“I am deeply humbled and honored to have this opportunity,” Tharp said. “I love the state of South Carolina and its people. I know how special Darlington Raceway is to this state and to the sport of NASCAR. The track’s rich tradition, history, and popularity resonate with the competitors, partners, media and most importantly, the fans. I look forward to working with our team to help keep Darlington as one of our sport’s crown jewels.”

This is a guy with staying power.

This is also a guy tasked with overseeing one of NASCAR’s most successful marketing initiatives in recent memory, the hugely popular and award-winning “throwback” campaign. Daunting? A little bit, but if you’re looking for a guy who doesn’t back down from a challenge, you’ve found one. There is a reason, after all, why Tharp is affectionately referred to throughout NASCAR as “Commander.”

Darlington Raceway has been busy since 2000: Regrouping and reorganizing with a new president every three to five years. Losing one of her two annual race weekends. Losing the Labor Day weekend race, the most historic weekend in NASCAR history. Being given a Mother’s Day weekend event, formerly known in the industry as the “unsellable date” (Darlington sold it out). Branding the Mother’s Day race as a beloved family event, then losing it. Bringing the legendary Southern 500 back to Labor Day, and making it one of the must-see events of the year. It’s enough to make a girl break down and cry, and it has. More than once.

It takes a strong and experienced hand to navigate such a complicated ship. Fortunately, the “Lady in Black” has been given a strong and experienced commander to take on the task, allowing me to say with complete confidence that Darlington’s 1.366-mile egg-shaped Oval Office is in very good hands indeed.

Cathy Elliott is the former director of public relations for Darlington Raceway and author of the book Darlington Raceway: Too Tough To Tame.

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